UTAH COUNTY — Every day, Rory Childs wakes up and wonders how he's going to get enough money to feed his family's horses.
"Every dollar I make is going to just try and keep the feed coming," Childs said.
He and his mother, Trudy, run Smokey Mountain Ranch in Utah County, near Spanish Fork and Mapleton. They currently have about 100 horses in a snowy field, and most of them aren't getting enough to eat.
"They're hungry," Trudy Childs said. "We're hoping to make it until spring, until we can put them out on the grass."
Once spring comes and the grass starts growing, the burden will be eased. But until then, the mother and son are faced with the reality that they are almost out of money to feed the animals.
To save money, Rory Childs, his wife and newborn son are living with a friend. His mother is living with a friend as well. Some people have suggested selling a few of the horses to pay for food for the other horses, but they can't.
It's the horses who have been hurt in all of this.
–Trudy Childs, Smokey Mountain Ranch
"We can't move them or sell them or even give them away until the lawsuit is settled," Rory Childs said.
Last year, the Childs wanted to save some money and cut ranch costs, so they signed a contract with another rancher, Justin Barrow, to help keep and feed their horses.
"It's sad how this is all turning out," said Barrow, who helps run Barrow Land and Livestock in Weber County. "We love horses, and we were just trying to help while looking at what we thought was a good business opportunity."
However, the business deal turned sour this past fall when the Childs complained that Barrow wasn't taking care of their horses.
"We felt like they weren't living up to their side of the contract," Rory Childs said. "Our horses looked like they were in real poor condition."
Barrow said he had the horses thoroughly inspected by a veterinarian when they took on them in. At the time, Barrow said the horses were in poor condition, but he insisted they are doing fine now.
The quarrel between the Childs and Barrow doesn't end there; Barrow claims the Childs haven't paid him for months of feeding the horses. Because of that, he decided to sell a few at an auction to raise money to feed the others.
"We've still not received one dime of payment, and they're trying to make it look like we didn't care for them. And that's not the truth," Barrow said.
Before the auction took place, the Childs started asking for their horses back. But Barrow said he and the Childs signed a lien on the horses, meaning they would stay with Barrow until the Childs could pay him.
"That's when they snuck onto our property and took most of the rest of the mares," Barrow said.
The Childs' account of what happened is a little different. They said they took some of their horses back after the Forest Service called them and reported the horses were on public land near the Utah-Idaho border in Cache County.
As it turned out, Barrow's family owns a ranch in Logan Canyon and he said brought the horses there to help them get back to health. He admitted some of the horses got away, but said it happens occasionally.
While the Childs weren't aware their horses were so far north, they took action to take back some some of the animals. That's when the two families filed a lawsuit against one another.
Both sides claim the other party violated the contract: the Childs claim Barrow didn't take good care of the horses, while Barrow claims the Childs took the horses without being paid according to their contract.
The lawsuit will be settled in court; meanwhile, the horses will continue to starve. The Childs said two of their horses have already died this winter, and another 10 are unaccounted for.
"It's the horses who have been hurt in all of this," Trudy Childs said.
If you would like to donate hay to help feed these horses, visit http://smokeymountainranch.com/ for information on how to do so.