Prosecutor alleges fatal neglect of horses in Montana

By Susan Gallagher
Helena,Montana (AP) 12-08

Bob Bedard says he had good intentions in operating a Blackfeet Reservation ranch inhabited by dozens of Spanish mustangs, horses now at the center of a felony animal-cruelty charge against Bedard.

His Blackfeet Buffalo Horse Coalition, established about 14 years ago, touted Seven Eagles Ranch near Glacier National Park as a place where visiting children could learn about horses, ranching and the traditional crafts of the Blackfeet Tribe.

Now Bedard, also known as Bob Black Bull, is accused of neglecting the horses this year and last, some to the point of starvation and death. A charge of aggravated animal cruelty has been filed by Glacier County Attorney Larry Epstein, who says 75 to 80 mustangs were found with no hay or grass on the 640-acre ranch west of Browning.

An undetermined number of others died, said Epstein, whose complaint does not pinpoint the time of the alleged neglect.

Volunteers were recently there moving 76 horses off the Seven Eagles Ranch so they can go to adoptive homes, mostly ranches in Montana and Wyoming, said Rick Ground, a volunteer and friend of Bedard.

Bedard, who does not have an attorney, denies allegations of animal cruelty. Horse care slipped out of his control after he suffered near-fatal injuries in an all-terrain vehicle crash a year ago in Montana, Bedard said from Cumberland, R.I., where he now lives with his mother.

Bedard, 57, said he continues to recover.

Friends and associates did their best to aid his herd of more than 100 horses during his period of disability, he said, but were limited in what they could do, particularly when heavy snowfall early this year cut access to the ranch.

“We lost about 13 horses last winter,” Bedard said.

Critics say neglect was a problem well before Bedard was hurt.

“I don’t think it was deliberate,” said Abigail Hornick-Minckler, formerly on the Blackfeet Buffalo Horse Coalition board. “I just think this person got in over his head.”


Testimonials on the coalition’s Web site include a letter in which a former mental-health administrator in Browning, William Dilworth, said a troubled boy showed improvement after time with horses at the Bedard ranch. But Katherine Puceta, a current administrator for the Center for Mental Health, said she checked the ranch last year as a potential location for equine psychotherapy and found “the condition of the horses so poor and the condition of the ranch so bad that it would not have been safe to take kids out there.”

The horses have “started eating and plumping up,” said Hornick-Minckler, who has homes in Billings and New York City and is a leader in Browning Horse Rescue.

“These Spanish mustangs are one of the heartiest breeds you’ll find in the horse world,” she said. “They are remarkably resilient.”

County Attorney Epstein said he has focused only on the quality of horse care in 2007 and 2008 and will not respond to allegations of earlier neglect. The prosecutor said he does not know how many horses died, but he has been to the ranch and “I’ve seen the skulls and horse skeletons down in the willows.”

Animal deaths are common on Montana ranches when the weather turns harsh, said volunteer Ground.

Had the volunteers not arranged relocation of the horses, Epstein said, they likely would have gone to slaughter because Glacier County is “not in the horse-raising business.” He called the work of the volunteers “an amazing effort.”

Epstein charged Bedard during November. The prosecutor said he did not act earlier because of the mistaken belief that Bedard was a tribal member on the reservation, and thus was subject to tribal law.

Although not an enrolled member of the tribe, Bedard was ceremonially adopted, much as Barack Obama gained special status in the Crow Tribe when he visited Montana in May, said Ground, a member of the Blackfeet Tribe.

“That doesn’t necessarily make him a Crow, but it makes him a brother with those Crow tribal members,” Ground said. “That’s the same case with Bob.”

Obama was adopted into the Crow’s Whistling Water clan and received a Crow name. Ground said Bedard received the name Black Bull similarly.

A call seeking comment from Blackfeet tribal officials was not returned.