By Joel Hall
The Georgia Department of Agriculture is holding several horses owned by Phillip Benton, of Jonesboro, after determining some of them were highly emaciated.
The state agency confiscated nine horses from the Jonesboro horse ranch, located at 8875 Camp Ave., after receiving complaints from local residents that horses at the ranch were allegedly starving.
According to Department of Agriculture Public Affairs Director Arty Schronce, investigators found two dead horses on the property when they raided the ranch on Tuesday.
"We sent people out there to investigate the animals, and a veterinarian determined that they were suffering from neglect," he said. "We found two dead horses there. We don't know how they died. One thing that I know of was, the need for more food. The horses were so hungry that one of the horses came up to one of our inspectors and started eating papers out of her hand."
Schronce said the Department of Agriculture used Purdue University's Equine Body Condition Scoring System to judge the horses, which ranks equine health on a scale of one to ten, "ten" being obese and "one" being emaciated.
"A good range is four to five ... that is normal," said Schronce. "Most of these ranked one to two."
The ranch on Camp Avenue is a common sight for commuters traveling to and from Henry County, along Lake Jodeco Road. A reporter was asked to leave the property on Tuesday. Phone calls made on Wednesday to Phillip Benton, the owner of the private horse ranch, went directly to a voice mailbox system that was full.
Schronce said the Department of Agriculture has received previous complaints about the horse ranch, including past reports of thin horses, and one complaint about an in-grown halter that was boring into the skin of a colt.
Stan Walsh, a Jonesboro resident, who reported the horses to the Clayton County Animal Control Department, said he grew concerned that the horses were not receiving proper food or shelter. "I go by and see these animals standing there, day in and day out, and grazing conditions are next to nothing," he said. "It was pretty obvious that they were not doing a real good job. It was just apparent based on the condition of the horses. You can look and see that there wasn't any kind of proper shelter for them to get in."
Walsh said he worried that this past weekend's snowfall may have been harmful to some of the horses.
Schronce said that, as the economy has worsened, the Department of Agriculture is seeing more cases of horse malnutrition and starvation. "Over the past couple of years, you have had a drought to deal with when hay is much more expensive and harder to come by," he said. "During hard economic times, this is more common. I don't know anything about his [Benton's] particular situation."
Schronce said that investigators allowed 10 horses to remain on the property, and gave Benton specific care instructions. He said the nine confiscated horses would be put on a regimented treatment program by the Department of Agriculture, in which they would receive quality feed and adequate nutrition.
"We allowed 10 to stay on the property," said Schronce. "We will be monitoring those animals to make sure that they are cared for, and left written instructions of what that owner needs to do to care for those horses. I hope that he will follow our written instructions and make sure those remaining horses are taken care of."