Sunday, December 8, 2002

Owners of stolen horses try 'net

Web postings by national group offer some hope

By Karen Vance
Enquirer contributor

A national group that tracks horse thefts might be the best hope for two local families whose horses were stolen from their farms in the past 10 days.

Stolen Horse International (SHI) circulates fliers and uses the Internet to post pictures of stolen horses, and also attends auctions where horses are sold, hoping to find one that's missing.

Tim Waechter is offering a reward for information leading to the return of Rainbow and Princess. If you have any information, call Mr. Waechter at 583-9862, 677-8952 or 284-7519. Anyone with information about the thefts from the Wayne Township farm can contact the Warren County Sheriff's Office at (513) 695-1289. For information about Stolen Horse International, go online at
Descriptions of the horses:
Princess is a 10-year-old purebred chestnut Arabian mare with a blond mane and stands 14 hands high. She has a scar near her left eye. She also has a thyroid problem and requires medication or will become seriously ill.
Rainbow is a 15-year-old chestnut Arabian/saddlebred mare who stands 14.3 hands high. She has white partially covering her back legs.
Blackjack is a 4-year-old gelding who stands 14.1 hands high, is black and white, and has three teardrop-shaped markings on the left side of his neck. He also has a white "w" on his left hindquarter, and all four of his legs are white to his knees.
Midnight is a 14-year-old gelding who stands 14.3 hands high. He is black with a white mark on his forehead and a wart on an ear.
Debi Metcalfe, coordinator and founder of SHI, knows first-hand the pain that families feel when a beloved horse is taken. Hers was stolen in 1997, leading her to form the group.

Horses are "very hard to trace, there is no national database of stolen horses," Mrs. Metcalfe said. "Horses don't have VIN numbers. The best you can hope for is that the horse is visibly recognized."

Police in Warren and Clermont counties don't know if the thefts of four horses, two in each county, are related. But horse experts and police agree: rustling is rare here. And once horses are gone, finding them is difficult.

The thieves hit Tim Waechter's farm in Clermont County on Thanksgiving night, taking two mares, Princess and Rainbow. Then, two geldings, Blackjack and Midnight, were taken from Holly Buflod's farm on New Burlington Road in Warren County overnight Thursday.

Ms. Metcalfe says horse theft is more common than most people realize. SHI estimates nearly 40,000 to 55,000 horses are stolen each year.

So far, horse thieves have not attracted much attention in Ohio. Neither the State Department of Agriculture nor the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation and Identification tracks the crime.

Even counties with high horse populations, such as Fayette and Warren, report a low number of thefts.

Tracy Foy, secretary at Midland Acres - the largest horse farm in Fayette County, with up to 800 horses a day on hand - said distinct branding discourages rustlers.

Standard breeds, like those kept at Midland Acres, are branded with a number on their necks using dry ice, and Thoroughbreds are usually branded with a tattoo on the inside of the lips, Ms. Foy said.

Rustling is "pretty rare among most of the breeds at the professional farms in this area," she said.

In Clermont County, Lt. Robert Evans of the sheriff's investigative unit recalls only a couple of cases in the more than 20 years he's been with the sheriff's office.

Before Friday, the Warren County Sheriff's Office had investigated two horse thefts in the last two years. One was resolved as a domestic dispute. In the other case, the horse has not been recovered, said Capt. John Newsom, public information officer for the sheriff's office.

It's horses like that one, unbranded and taken from family farms, that Mrs. Metcalfe and Stolen Horse International are working to find.

Members of SHI's "Netposse" group go to horse shows and auctions looking for horses matching those on the fliers distributed via the Internet. The group has a 25 percent to 30 percent recovery rate.

But the work takes time and sometimes more money than the horses are worth. A stolen horse is often sold, sometimes several times - and can end up in a slaughterhouse.

And that's what the Waechters fear most.

"I'm just hoping they're still around here somewhere and they're OK, but I fear the worst," Mr. Waechter said.

So does Ms. Buflod, who owns Blackjack and Midnight.

She said Saturday she fears the thieves took the horses straight to an auction, regularly held on Fridays, and a meat buyer bought them. She's especially concerned about Midnight. Because he is an older horse, he's a prime target for meat buyers. Midnight is her 7-year-old son's horse.

On Saturday, the Waechters distributed fliers at the annual Lebanon Horse Carriage Parade, hopeful that some of the people in the horse field have seen Rainbow and Princess.

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