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SPANISH FORK — A Utah County horse owner who was arrested on more than 100 counts of animal cruelty headed to court for the first time Tuesday.
The judge decided to allow Trudy Childs another week to decide what to do with her horses. She'll have to choose whether to sell them or allow a rancher in Weber County to take over their care.
"This has been one of the most severe and large cases of animal neglect and abuse I've seen in my 35 years," said Utah County Sheriff Jim Tracy.
A week after they were discovered, the horses are already looking better. When investigators first went to the Spanish Fork property, several horses were already dead.
"There were none that were in good shape," Tracy said.
Childs' horses were found emaciated — the back bones and rib cages visible on many of the animals.
You don't have to be an expert to see these horses have suffered for an extended period of time from lack of care.
–Sgt. Spencer Cannon, Utah County Sheriff's Office
"Anybody who has spent any time around animals, and in this case horses, knows these horses are in bad conditions," said Sgt. Spencer Cannon with the Utah County Sheriff's Office. "You don't have to be an expert to see these horses have suffered for an extended period of time from lack of care."
Photos taken by investigators who first helped the horses are heartbreaking. Some of the animals could barely stand up. One horse was stuck in a fence, while another was stuck in a tree.
"When I let go, he would fall back down," said Sean Peterson with the Utah County Sheriff's Office. "Both horses passed away that night. It was sick."
Childs was arrested last week, along with her son Rory. They've been released from jail but appeared in court Tuesday for bail hearings. Trudy Childs also had to appear for a probation violation.
Neither have been officially charged with animal cruelty at this point.
Trudy's attorney, Richard Gale, said this case is complicated because the horses are caught in the middle of an ugly lawsuit.
"Miss Childs obviously has a lot of horses that it's very difficult for her to take care of them," said Gale. "Some of her land is tied up in a lawsuit, so she can't sell some of her assets to have the money to take care of her horses. It's something she's been struggling with."
They're doing their best to take care of them, but I think it's just a difficult and unmanageable number to take care of.
–Richard Gale, Childs' attorney
He said Childs truly loves her horses.
"They're doing their best to take care of them, but I think it's just a difficult and unmanageable number to take care of," he said.
Justin Barrow is a Weber County rancher who was contracted by the Childs to help keep and feed their horses. The Childs claimed he wasn't holding up his end of the contract, so they took the horses back.
Barrow said he was feeding the horses and was about to sell the animals because the Childs never paid him.
"We have vet reports that will come up in our civil case that they were well fed and well cared for," Barrow said. Barrow attended the court hearings Tuesday and expressed disappointment in the judge's decision to grant Childs more time, saying he was ready to take the horses immediately.
As for the horses, they're now getting the food and care they desperately needed.