Texas Ranch owner, wife taken into custody during investigation into horse neglect

Author: Syan Rhodes, Reporter, srhodes@click2houston.com
Phil Archer, Reporter, parcher@kprc.com  as published on Click2Houston.com

“Sadly, this is right in our own backyard…you just never know the depths of depravity that human beings have the ability and desire to sink to.” ~ R.T.

Investigation in alleged neglect of 200 horses widens

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CONROE, TexasA Montgomery County couple faces several counts of animal cruelty after local officials seized control over 200 horses from their property at the Premium Star Ranch near Conroe.

Herman Hoffman and Kathleen Hoffman were taken into custody just before 10 p.m. Wednesday at their ranch off League Line Road. They are each charged with three misdemeanor counts of cruelty to livestock. Bond has been set at $30,000 each.

County Attorney J.D. Lambright was among a small army of law officers who served a search warrant at the ranch around 2 p.m. Wednesday, including Montgomery County District Attorney Britt Ligon, deputy constables from Montgomery County Precinct 4 and 5, investigators from the Houston Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and two veterinarians.

“Some of the horses are thriving. There are obviously some that are not in good shape at all,” Ligon said.

Investigators seized the ranch business records and brought in a backhoe to dig for carcasses that may have been buried.

During a previous investigation in October, Precinct 5 deputy constables found malnourished horses on the ranch and ordered owner Herman Hoffman to comply with a reasonable standards of care.

The new investigation was sparked by the death of a 3-month-old colt over the weekend, as reported Tuesday by KPRC 2 News. The horse was rushed to a Navasota veterinarian clinic on Saturday by animal rescue volunteer Christal Griffiths but died a few hours later.

“He was extremely emaciated with rain rot, lice all over his body. He could barely walk, barely stand,” Griffith said. “He died within a few hours.”

Dr. Benjamin R. Buchanan said that the horse weighed 94 pounds at the time of death. A normal weight for a horse his age would have been between 150 to 175 pounds.

Buchanan stated in his report, “This colt appears to have been starved to the point of death.”

The district attorney also took statements from five former ranch employees, who told KPRC 2 News Tuesday more than 30 horses had died at the ranch since March due to neglect and malnutrition.

“Most of them are emaciated. Their tail bones are sticking out, their rib bones, their back bones, you name it. You can count every bone on their body,” former employee Kayla Kidd told KPRC 2 News Tuesday.

Ambulances were called for Herman Hoffman and Kathleen Hoffman, but only Herman was taken to the hospital to be checked out for chest pains.

Kidd and several other employees quit their jobs Saturday after they say Herman Hoffman fired two shots into the ground from a small caliber pistol after becoming angry. Hoffman said he fired the shots to demonstrate to his wife that the gun was loaded. Montgomery County Precinct 5 deputy constables responded to the disturbance but made no arrests.

Hoffman blames Kidd and the other employees for the colt’s death. He claims they didn’t give the horse appropriate feed as instructed and didn’t feed him regularly.

“They did not do what they were told,” Hoffman said. “They did not feed the animals they were told. They were lying to us.”

Hoffman admits about 10 horses have died on the ranch since January, but not the 30 plus claimed by former employees. He insists none of the horses died as a result of mistreatment.

Hoffman’s horse operation was investigated by Montgomery County Precinct 5 Constable David Hill in October after neighbor and former employee J.J. Hill alleged many horses were undernourished.

“I’ve been around horses my entire life. They’re not supposed to look that way. Period. They need proper foot care, proper feed, proper hay,” Hill said.

The district attorney is now trying to determine if any criminal violations have been committed since the October visit.

“We are looking for destruction of any evidence, tampering of any evidence, moving carcasses, those types of deals,” Ligon said.

Late Wednesday, a judge issued an order granting Montgomery County control over the animals, which will be kept on the property until the Houston SPCA can help find other housing.