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History of unhappy trails at Sagebrush Ranch

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History of unhappy trails at Sagebrush Ranch

By Darcy Spears. CREATED Jul 25, 2014

Clark County, NV (KTNV) -- When you book a horseback riding lesson or a trail ride, what do you know about the horse whose back you're sitting on?

Contact 13 Chief Investigator Darcy Spears has uncovered a tale of unhappy trails that's turned into a multi-agency investigation.

"She works her horses to the bone and it's all about the bottom dollar," said Tracy Kelleher.

"There were days where the horses would not have food," added Diann Dunne. "Their feet were always in horrible condition."

Both women and several others we spoke to have all worked with Jacque Fitzgerald in past years.

Their experiences are backed up by hundreds of pages of county records about Fitzgerald and her business, Sagebrush Ranch.

"What do you think about this, Jacque?" Contact 13 Chief Investigator Darcy Spears asked Fitzgerald about her latest run-in with the law.

"It breaks my heart," Fitzgerald answered.   

She's talking about what happened on July 15 when the county impounded all 36 of her horses out of concern for their health and welfare.

"That's the most horrible thing that a horse person can have happen to them, is for people to think that they're cruel. And that is the last thing that I would ever be."

But the pink impound notices on all her horse corrals are just the latest in a long string of citations and violations.

The county has cited Fitzgerald numerous times for not giving the horses enough food or water, for not cleaning out their stalls.

She's facing trial in August, and county photos from October 2012 will be part of that.

One shows a horse with a mouth abscess. Another, which is hard to look at, shows a serious condition between a horse's buttocks, which Fitzgerald said are benign tumors.

"We had a special cream that we put on it to make it more comfortable for him. And he went a year not being used, or better, and I finally, I just put him down."

Some horses the county photographed this May appear very skinny. There are also some empty water bins, others green with algae, and horses with untrimmed hooves and scars from old saddle sores.

When asked whether the horses were underfed, have ever gone without water or are they overworked, Fitzgerald said no. When asked whether they have enough shade and shelter, "That, we could do more shade."

County records dating back to 2007 show animal control officers in Moapa cited her for a fire that broke out in a horse pen, caused by an excessive build-up of manure.

The fire department said she refused to remove the horses to another pen.

"Well, they put the fire out. They did their job. What was the reason?"

Also in 2007, she was found guilty and fined for confining animals in an inhumane manner with inadequate water and depriving them of medical care.

In 2008, officers found two horses dead in a back pasture and two more with embedded halters with sores. She was found guilty in March of that year for depriving horses of hay. By that September, she was in jail on a bench warrant after she failed to show up in court.

"And I was in jail 28 days," she recalled.

During that time, animal control said no water was available to the horses other than a mud puddle created by a trickle of water. They found a barely conscious white mare laying on her side with pressure sores, her eyes and mouth covered with flies.

"I had to do a plea bargain that I really didn't want to do in order to go home and take care of my horses. And they kept me from them."

County records show her customers may have been in danger too. In a search warrant affidavit from April 2012, authorities said Fitzgerald's unlicensed business was also operating an unpermitted food establishment, serving meals to the public as part of her trail riding packages.

When asked about serving food, Fitzgerald said they don't serve food anymore, despite photos on their website, which she claimed were from years ago.

The health district is actively investigating and so is the BLM. It's looking at alleged illegal trail rides on federal land.

The county calls Fitzgerald a "repeat offender" who gets cited, pays fines, then goes out and does it all over again.

"You feel you've been treated unfairly by authorities over all of these years?" asked Darcy Spears.

"Except for, except for, yes, I have operated the last six years, without the horseback riding license. I'm in the wrong there and I will take that," said Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald said she's working on a plea deal with the county right now to avoid going to trial in August because she can't afford to fight.

Darcy Spears

Darcy Spears

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Darcy Spears is currently the Chief Investigative Reporter for Action News.