Horse owners warned to watch for rustlers

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Two horses have been stolen from southwest Ohio farms on each of the last two Thursday nights. The thefts have horse owners in that area and central Ohio on the alert because they think the activity is related and the timing is intentional.

A dozen horse auctions take place each Friday in Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky, and there is concern that the horses were taken to one of those sales.

A pair of chestnut Arabian horses were stolen on Nov. 28 from their pasture near Goshen in Clermont County, 80 miles southwest of Columbus.

The next theft occurred on Dec. 5 at a site 20 miles farther north, near Waynesville in Warren County. Tracks in the snow showed that three thieves led two Tennessee walking horses from a corral and into a carrier parked on the road.

"Word is getting out," said Rose Volkert, a Columbus resident who has sent e-mail alerts to hundreds of fellow horse owners. "If people are not worried, they should be. People must watch their horses. These families who lost their horses are in a lot of pain."

Volkert, who keeps four Arabian horses near Ashville, said she wishes the old frontier rules for horse thieves. "Unfortunately, they changed the law. These thieves ought to be hanged."

Rustling didn't disappear with the Old West, but survives as a modern-day crime in rural America.

About 55,000 horses -- 150 a day -- are stolen annually in the United States, with many thought to be sold at auction and slaughtered for meat, according to the American Horse Protection Association.

Holly and Helge Buflod own the stolen walking horses and are particularly upset because their 7-year-old son, Houston, learned to ride on one of the two, named Midnight.

"He perhaps would bring a few hundred dollars. Midnight does not have a lot of value in the horse world, but to us he is everything because he is a part of family," Helge Buflod said.

The Buflods have posted a notice on the Internet with photos of the animals.

Tim Waechter said his two stolen Arabians probably are too valuable to be sold for meat, so he believes they're alive.

"They are part of our family and they are very special to us," Waechter said. "That's what's killing us -- not knowing what is going on with them right now, how they are being treated."

There are no estimates on the number of horses stolen annually in Ohio. Permanent identifying marks used on Thoroughbreds and Standardbreds are credited with generally scaring thieves away from the valuable race horses. Other horses aren't required to have such marks.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)