HELENA — Lewis and Clark County authorities have filed aggravated animal cruelty charges against three men, after a neglect investigation into 58 horses seized from a Helena Valley property.
According to court documents, the suspects are 71-year-old Robert Edwin Erickson, 44-year-old Alan Edwin Erickson and 35-year-old Clayton Ray Erickson.
The documents say the men were apparently operating a quarter horse breeding business.
On June 1, the Lewis and Clark County Sheriff’s Office executed a search warrant at a property in the 6700 block of Applegate Road.
They seized the 58 horses and transported them to the Lewis and Clark County Fairgrounds, where they are currently being kept.
Court documents say, when a veterinarian conducted a thorough assessment of the horses, they found eight were underweight. 19 had overgrown hooves, which veterinarians said could change the way a horse walks and lead to permanent health damage.
Five were found to have abdominal hernias, and many of the horses had lice.
According to the documents, Lewis and Clark County authorities say they have received numerous calls since 2013, raising concerns about the welfare of horses believed to belong to the Ericksons.
The documents say, in 2018, animal control officers observed injured horses that had received inadequate medical care, a barn that was full of mud and waste, and poorly maintained pastures.
They say they told the Ericksons then to clean up the facilities and get the horses proper treatment.
Documents say the Ericksons eventually moved their horses to another location after being evicted from that property.
They say, in May 2021, animal control twice responded to injured horses that were under the Ericksons’ care, and that they determined the men had apparently not been purchasing enough hay to meet their horses’ minimum nutritional needs.
According to court documents, Robert Erickson had previously been convicted of cruelty to horses in Phillips County in 1997, and he and Alan Erickson had been charged with neglecting horses again in the same county in 2008.
As part of a deferred prosecution agreement in that latter case, documents say the men were required to reduce the number of horses in their possession and provide adequate food and water for them.
The three men are set to make initial appearances in Lewis and Clark Justice Court by July 9.
The Lewis and Clark County Sheriff’s Office is still caring for the horses at the fairgrounds, and they are asking the public not to interfere with them.
In a post on Facebook, LCSO said someone jumped a fence Saturday night and threw apples to the horses.
They said the horses are currently on a strict diet that does not include apples, and that the veterinarian had to be called to treat injuries the animals received while fighting over the apples.
“These horses are not pets, and they are being taken care of properly,” Sheriff Leo Dutton said in a statement. “Tampering with them is tampering with evidence, and that is a crime.”
Dutton said the best way for people to help the horses is still to donate hay or money to purchase hay.