CHUBBUCK, Idaho -

Today Bannock County sheriffs deputies and the Portneuf Animal Wellness Society rescued 16 horses from a Bannock County ranch.

After receiving at least two calls each day from local people passing by the ranch who were concerned about the well-being of the malnourished horses, the sheriff's office decided it was time to further the investigation.

Captain Kevin Fonnesbeck of the sheriff's office along with PAWS investigator Jo Lynn Anderson said the horses' owner David "Wolf" Hart was not intentionally abusing these animals.

"I think he's just a broken-down guy that has more horses than he knows what to do with," Anderson said. "Wolf is a cowboy, and he was a good cowboy in his day. He could have been a world-champion bronc rider."

Fonnesbeck also noted Hart was amicable and understanding during the seizure of his horses and agreed it was time the horses find a better home.

Anderson said all of the horses were found alive, however crews still rescued them just in time.

"There isn't adequate water in this 80-acre pasture and there isn't any feed. Wolf tends to not feed unless he's forced to," Anderson said.

Fonnesbeck said he and his deputies have been investigating Hart's situation since October. However, for the past 15 years, sheriffs deputies have responded to numerous other calls to Hart's property, where they have had to charge him with offenses such as animal cruelty.

On Wednesday, Hart is scheduled to appear in court for his preliminary trial hearing, and Anderson said his jury trial will not take place until sometime in January of February.

This time, the same wild horses were finally taken away from the pasture and driven to the Bannock County fairgrounds where they will be temporarily housed and examined by veterinarians within the next few days.

Fonnesbeck said investigators look at a few features to clue them in on whether or not these animals have been abused.

First, he said you can see their rib cages. Second, their hooves usually are not trimmed or groomed. Third, he mentioned their rear withers start sinking in, looking emaciated. On a healthier horse, that area usually has more fat. 

"They're made to endure these kinds of climates," Fonnesbeck said in regards to the cold weather. "But at the same time, they have to have good food so they can generate heat to survive, too."

Anderson said the horses were provided with one water spigot on the far side of the pasture, however due to the chilly weather, the water froze.

Current charges on Hart are still pending with the county prosecutor.