Carrying a bucket of oats, Autrey Ehler anxiously joined a group of people waiting for the Orange County Animal Shelter to open Friday morning. But while most were there to pick up runaway cats and dogs, Ehler was there to retrieve a larger pet: his horse.
When Ehler arrived at his Nellie Gail Ranch home Thursday afternoon, he discovered that his quarter horse Mystique was missing. In her place was a citation from the Orange County Animal Control Department saying the horse had been impounded.
A neighbor, who wished to remain anonymous for the sake of neighborhood harmony, contacted the county out of concern for the animal’s safety, said Richard Wilson, general manager of the Nellie Gail Homeowner’s Assn.
“Autrey has been letting his horse out in the morning to graze, which is a violation of the rules and considered a hazardous way to take care of your animals,” Wilson said. “He looks at it like it’s his little pet who he can let wander around the grass, but it’s not acceptable to the rest of the neighborhood.”
Animal control officers found the 18-year-old mare wandering in a grassy field about 40 yards from busy Oso Parkway and 300 yards from Ehler’s home in the exclusive, equestrian-oriented community. Mystique was deemed a “horse at-large” and brought to the shelter in Orange to spend the night.
“We had to pick up the horse for the purposes of animal safety and human safety,” Animal Control Sgt. Ronald Wheeler said. “If that horse had wandered into the street, which it very easily could have done, it could have caused one heck of an accident.”
An angry Ehler said officials overreacted.
“I think they made a big play over a situation that could have been solved in a much easier way,” he said. “The horse had to spend the night in a strange pen and I’m pretty upset about that. They probably acted within the law, but they didn’t act with compassion when they took her away.”
Wheeler said his department has occasion to impound horses only about 10 times a year. He said Mystique was seized because her owner was not home when she was discovered loose.
The fact that Mystique was found outside her corral came as no surprise to Ehler, who said he has been leaving her gate unlocked for the past month in order to let the horse graze near his home.
Ehler had to pay a $40 fine for allowing Mystique to graze on public land and $15 for her overnight stay at the shelter.
Ehler said the entire episode has been stressful for Mystique, who he said isn’t used to riding in horse trailers or sleeping in strange pens. There will be no more free grazing for the horse, he said.
“I’m not going to let her out of my sight,” Ehler said. “I may take her out to let her eat the grass, but I’ll have her on a rope. I wouldn’t want her to have to go through this again.”