SPANISH FORK, Utah -- Dozens of horses part of a high-profile animal abuse case in Utah County were auctioned off Wednesday night.
The man accused of starving his herd said the horses were his livelihood. animal rights advocates were concerned the horses would be auctioned off to companies that would kill the horses, but most of the buyers were ranchers.
The battle over the horses began back in February when the owner, Rory Childs, was arrested for 20 counts of animal abuse. The story of how 40 horses ended up at an auction begins with two men. Childs and the man contracted to care for them: Justin Barrow.
Childs told Fox 13, "I didn't starve them at all," referring to the horses.
Barrow, however, says otherwise, "We just wanted to make sure that Childs didn't get them back."
Somewhere in between the two men's version of events, the Utah County Sheriff's Office stepped in and arrested Childs and his mother, Trudy, for animal abuse. Sgt. Spencer Cannon with the Utah County Sheriff’s Office said the horses have come a long way since then.
"Three months ago I would have been afraid that if I got on the back of one of these horses it wouldn't be able to hold me up because of their condition, and you look at them now, they're lively, they're full of energy, they're engaging. They're like horses are supposed to be," he said.
Dozens of Childs' horses were taken under the sheriff’s wing, which fed them hay to fatten them up. Police said the animals were malnourished and the bill to keep them alive was more than $15,000.
Since Childs' didn't pay back the money for taking care of the herd, the horses were auctioned off at the Spanish Fork Fairgrounds.
Animal rights groups were worried the horses would go to companies that kill and sell the meat, but they went to ranchers instead. One buyer, Barbara Phillips, paid several hundred dollars for each of the eight horses she purchased.
"I feel good that I was able to help, that I stuck with it in the rescue effort and took it as far as I could take it," she said.
In the meantime, Childs says what happened is all a misunderstanding.
"I think it's just ridiculous that they come in, the sheriff's department comes in, and blamed us basically,” he said.
Barrow had a different view of the situation.
"The Childs may be good people, maybe not, but they could not afford to be in the horse business,” he said.” They couldn't pay us to feed them. They stole them back, obviously couldn't afford to feed them. They don't belong in the business."
Childs and his mother Trudy are each facing 20 counts of animal abuse. That's a Class A misdemeanor. They are due in court June 11.