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Owner says she was afraid for stolen horses

By Elisabeth Arriero
earriero@charlotteobserver.com

After days of looking for her seven stolen horses, Charlotte resident Amanda Bechtel got the call she’d been hoping for.

“How soon can you get here?” Forsyth County Sheriff’s Cpl. Barry Sales asked her when he called Thursday.

It didn’t take her long.

“I was afraid for them,” she said. “They’re like family. I didn’t know if they were even being fed. I hoped they’d have decent grass and some water to drink, at least.”

“When he found them, he actually went out to the location where they were located and sat and waited for me to get them,” Bechtel said. “I just thought he went above and beyond.”

Within three hours, Bechtel joined Sales to recover her seven horses in Walkertown, northeast of Winston-Salem.

In late April, when she started making arrangements to transfer the horses from a boarding facility in Winston-Salem to Charlotte, Bechtel discovered they had been stolen.

Bechtel trains horses for a variety of purposes, including showing and teaching.

The owner of the boarding facility told her he had no idea what had happened to the horses. She later heard from neighbors of the boarding facility that they saw two horse trailers pick up the horses days before they were discovered stolen.

Bechtel first asked the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office for help. She then started posting advertisements on Craigslist, asking anyone who saw the horses to contact her.

A number of people responded and suggested Bechtel reach out to the Shelby-based Stolen Horse International.

Also known as Net Posse, the organization is “the equivalent to the missing children’s network in the horse industry,” founder Deb Metcalfe said.

Metcalfe started the organization when her horse, Idaho, was stolen in 1997.

Idaho, who was stolen from a pasture near Metcalfe’s Cleveland County home, was recovered 51 weeks later, after an extensive awareness campaign.

Once Stolen Horse International became involved with Bechtel’s case, Metcalfe launched a campaign online, providing printable “Lost” fliers, pictures of the missing horses and contact information for Bechtel.

Within days, searchers received dozens of tips that ultimately helped Sales find the horses in Walkertown on Thursday.

The horses – Jewl, Money, Mazoul, Rebel, Trouble, Stormy and Hector – and their related equipment had been sold to a third party at 5 percent of their value, about $2,000 for all seven, Metcalfe said.

“Horse theft is not dead in the 21st century,” Metcalfe said. “There’s a lot of it going on all across the country.”

Metcalfe said that stealing a horse is easy because when people see someone transporting such a large animal, “many assume that no one would be so brazen.”

That was why the neighbors didn’t call police when Bechtel’s horses were stolen.

“They just didn’t think they were being stolen because who steals a horse that big right in front of you?” Metcalfe said.

Bechtel said that three of the horses were more than 200 pounds underweight when she found them.

“When horses are stolen and shifted out of a safe place, they get scared, just like people do,” Metcalfe said. “Their body goes into a mode where it burns fat quicker.”

All seven were expected to recover.

Bechtel declined to say the location of the horses because the case is still pending. But as soon as she has all of her horses back, Bechtel plans to brand them.

She also said authorities told her that they expect to charge two people soon.

Arriero: 704-804-2637; Twitter: @earriero
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