The 35-count complaint against Lowell Friday came after 17 starving horses were seized within months last year by investigators.
After years of complaints about malnourished horses, many of the animals infested with parasites and living in hazardous conditions, an East Bethel ranch owner was charged Thursday with 35 gross misdemeanor counts alleging animal cruelty and neglect.
Lowell Friday, 72, who runs a horse-boarding business, saw 17 of his horses seized last year by authorities from Anoka County and the Animal Humane Society.
"It's been a long time coming," said Humane Society investigator Keith Streff, who said he's been called to Friday's ranch numerous times over the past decade. "This is a unique case and I think the charges reflect that."
Streff was joined by Anoka County Sheriff's Cmdr. Paul Sommer at the Humane Society in Golden Valley to discuss the case, which was described in a complaint filed in Anoka County. Friday could not be reached for comment.
Ten horses were seized from Friday's ranch in August and September and another seven in November. One horse, Crystal, a Paint filly, was so weak that her hindquarters collapsed when authorities tried to load her into a trailer two months ago. With a heart murmur from malnourishment, Crystal was nearly euthanized before veterinarians administered a steroid to give her enough strength to load into the trailer. Other seized horses were described in the complaint released Thursday as dangerously thin, with ribs, pelvises, shoulders and spines nearly bursting through their skin.
On a scale of 1 to 9, with 1 being emaciated and 9 grossly overweight, three of Friday's horses graded at 1 (Crystal among them) and several at 1.5 by veterinarians who accompanied authorities to his ranch, according to the complaint.
The emaciated horses were infested with lice and parasites, the documents said. Their overgrown hooves were chipped and cracked. The horses were found by authorities in pens deep in manure, with sharp, antiquated fencing. Their water was caked with algae, according to the documents.
"Obviously, this has needed to be done," said Drew Fitzpatrick, who also was at Thursday's press conference and who runs the Minnesota Hooved Animal Rescue Foundation in Zimmer-man, where some of Friday's horses have been rehabilitating. "This has been going on far too long. It's nice to see that the courts agree."
Fitzpatrick said the horses seized from Friday's ranch are "recovering nicely." All are gaining weight, parasites have been eliminated and a couple of horses have had "major" dental work. Several from the August-September raid of Friday's farm have been adopted.
But many of the starving horses are damaged psychologically, Fitzpatrick said. "They've come from a hard environment," Fitzpatrick said. "The most aggressive get the food. The weak ones die."
Friday claimed last month that he cared for his horses, 26 of which are still on his ranch, Sommer said.
Last week, an Anoka County judge denied a request by Friday to have one of the seized horses returned to him.
Friday had testified last month before Judge Jenny Walker Jasper that his mare Special Effects was graded a 5 on a scale of 1 to 9 during a summer exam. But later, another veterinarian, called by the Animal Humane Society to Friday's ranch, found an emaciated 930-pound animal with a heart murmur, cracked hooves, riddled with lice and parasites, and graded the animal at 1.5.
The horses were brought to the University of Minnesota, nursed to health and then sent to rescue ranches such as Fitzpatrick's for further rehabilitation.
The charges against Friday are "significant," Sommer said. They are the latest warning the courts have issued against abusing horses.
Across the state, the plight of horses has been a concern in difficult times. Streff estimates that more than 600 Minnesota horses have starved to death through neglect or have been slaughtered over the past four years.
In Swift County, in west-central Minnesota, three members of an Appleton family were charged last summer with felony counts of animal cruelty - the first felony charges ever in the starving of horses. That case has yet to be decided.
Some accused horse owners have histories of abuse allegations, including Friday. He pleaded guilty in 2009 to one misdemeanor count of mistreating horses, dating to a 2007 complaint.
Streff said authorities could not take Friday's other horses, because they did not fit the criteria of alleged abuse.
"My hope would be the court will give us a wider authority of supervision of the remaining horses on the farm," Streff said.
Paul Levy • 612-673-4419