Some of the horse skeletons on Larry Browning's Pendleton County farm were found still wearing halters. Some were so starved their ribs showed through their skin.
There was very little hay for the horses to eat, some of it in pools of water along with horse carcasses, county animal control officials said.
Browning told them he planned to sell all the horses, either to private owners or to slaughterhouses outside the country by May.
"In nine years, this is the worst case of animal cruelty I've seen," said Scott Pracht, the county's equine investigator.
Browning was cited Monday by Kentucky State Police on 49 counts of not disposing of an animal carcass within 48 hours. Investigators found 49 dead horses and removed 15 emaciated horses to undisclosed locations. Browning was also charged with 15 counts of animal cruelty.
The Pendleton County Animal Shelter cannot house horses, so those that were rescued were delivered to foster care in Kenton County. About three dozen horses were left on the farm, Pracht said.
At the farm Tuesday, Browning said he has been buying and selling horses for more than 50 years.
He said people drive up to the farm and drop off their horses, leaving Browning to deal with them. He estimated about 100 horses have been dropped off in the past two years.
According to Animals' Angels, a Maryland-based advocacy group, there have been problems at Browning's farm before.
In a report on its website, the group said 10 horses had to be euthanized in 2011 because of their poor condition. The group also visited in 2013 and found what it described as poor conditions.
Slaughterhouses are not allowed in the U.S., so traders such as Browning truck the horses to Canada or Mexico, Pracht added. He said horse owners probably were getting bare minimum, maybe $100, for the horses they sold to Browning.
In January 2013, the U.S. Department of Agriculture amended regulations for transporting livestock - including horses - across state lines. Each horse must be officially identified and have a certificate indicating that a veterinarian has examined the animal and determined it is disease free.
Browning couldn't produce any paperwork showing prices or transactions, Pracht said.
Beckey Reiter, director of Boone County Animal Care and Control, said these sorts of cases have occurred since slaughterhouses quit processing horse meat in 2007. The horses are no longer profitable; the price to feed them is more than what the owner would make by slaughtering them.
"So people (are keeping) horses now because they are more companion animals than animals that are used for profit like cattle and hogs, chickens, things along that line," Reiter said.
Reiter said to sell a horse for almost any reason, it needs to be of a healthy weight.
But a worker at the Pendleton County Animal Shelter said most of the horses rescued from Browning's farm had a Henneke body score of 1 1/2 to 3. A horse with a body condition score of 1 is considered emaciated, according to the Kentucky Horse Council.
Healthy horses have a body condition score of 4 to 7.
Pendleton County passed an ordinance in January 2013 to help prevent caregivers or owners from starving or neglecting their horses.
The ordinance defines equine abuse and outlines consequences. It also cites an increase in equine neglect as the reason for its creation.
Browning said he doesn't mistreat horses and in some cases slaughtering them is the right thing to do.
"I don't believe in slaughtering good horses," he said. "But when they get mean or crazy or a certain age, or they're crippled or they're really, really old, I think it's more humane to slaughter them than to let them starve to death, a slow miserable death. I really do."
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