When her dog got loose and ran into a neighbor's barn, Diana Ragula never expected to find what she did.
As written about here and elsewhere, she walked into the barn and found it strewn with the bodies of dead horses. In some cases there were tarps covering rotting horse bodies.
Along side the dead were almost a dozen emaciated horses were near dead than alive.
In all, 14 horse carcasses were found in the barn -- and ten horses severely malnourished.
The owner of the horses has been identified as Sherri Brunzell. And yes, more about her later.
As for the surviving horses, one was a renowned stallion known as Dual Peppy -- which was once a runner-up in a world championship competition whose offspring are highly coveted.
The valuable stallion was down to skin and bones with his ribs clearly visible, as shown above.
When viewing photos of the horses found in the barn, horse trainer Carrie Terroux-Barrett told KRDO that she recognized Dual Peppy almost instantly.
"When you look at a horse like this, you really are looking at a fairly well known horse in the industry," Terroux-Barrett said. "It’s been eye-opening … to see a horse of this caliber in this particular situation."
Fifteen years ago, Dual Peppy was a well-known, well-muscled, world champion cutting stallion commanding $2,500 stud fees.
Dual Peppy started his life on a ranch in California.
This champion is a son of AQHA Hall of Fame stallion Peppy San Badger and Miss Dual Doc, the sorrel stallion with three white socks and a distinctive blaze packs the GW freeze brand of Ward Ranches on his left hip.
Dual Peppy is a full brother to cutting legend Dual Pep.
When news video of malnourished horses found standing in an equine graveyard began circulating, anyone who had known Dual Peppy recognized him immediately, and was outraged and sickened.
C.T. Babcock, son of Jim Babcock, of Babcock Ranches in Texas, said his dad recognized the horse from a video on Facebook.
“He called and said, ‘You’re not going to believe this.’ He was such a big, strong horse it made you sick to see the pictures of him. It was drastic.”
Many people have offered to donate money, and many, including Jim Babcock, have offered to take the horses or buy the horses and give them a good home.
Jim Babcock started a Facebook group called Justice for Dual Peppy in the wake of the stallion’s discovery. As of Monday morning, the group had over 10,800 followers.
"We’d love to have him back. We’d love to be able to take care of him, but that wasn’t our motivation (in starting the Facebook page). Our main motivation was to get him [Dual Peppy] taken care of," Jim Babcock said.
Jim Babcock said he and Brunzell were part of the Dual Peppy Partnership, which purchased Dual Peppy from the Wards and several brood mares from Kay Floyd in 1998.
Jim Babcock said the Brunzells had already owned horses.
"When they came to me they wanted to step up and get a better quality of horses. We went out and put together a program of some of the best mares in the history of the NCHA (National Cutting Horse Association). They were some of the best mares and being bred to Dual Pep’s full brother, so we put together a heck of a program."
One of the mares was Playboys Madera, a world champion and NCHA Hall of Fame inductee. Another was world champion Play Like a Lena, out of Freckles Playboy and Havealena.
News reports say the Brunzells paid $650,000 for Dual Peppy, with the total cost of the horses being over $1.5 million.
Considering that deal was made 16 years ago, and Playboys Madera was foaled in 1982, and Play Like a Lena in 1985, most of the mares in that original program would be elderly now.
No one is sure which horses were still under the Brunzells’ care.
Kay Floyd said she had heard what happened and couldn’t talk about it. “I’ve been around him (Dual Peppy) a lot too and it’s just real emotional. I’m totally confused why. I just can’t imagine something like this happening.”
Jason Grant trained and showed Dual Peppy while he was at the Babcock Ranch.
"I think the Brunzells were just pretty green to the business and not very knowledgeable about the breeding program. Within one week they had about 10 Playboy mares or more and this real high-power stud. I think it was a little bit overwhelming for them."
Grant said he gets a phone call from Rick Brunzell about once a year, just checking in. Brunzell called about a year ago, and Grant had no idea there were problems.
"It sounds like a terrible tragedy. They were all in back then (when they got started). I don’t know what’s happened. It sure sounds like the train went off the rails though."
The Babcock Ranch stood Dual Peppy at stud and managed the mares for a year and a half. While Dual Peppy was with the Babcocks he earned Reserve World Champion and Congress Champion.
"He was one of those horses you look back on in your career--I’ve been training for 20 years--he’s one of those I’d sure like to have back,” Grant said. “He was a really sweet-minded horse, real special."
Jim Babcock said Dual Peppy’s stall was 20 feet from his office.
"I was close to him. I was at every show he ever went to. He was a gentle giant. He was big, he was strong, he was gentle, he was quiet, he was athletic. He would give his heart every time. No matter how many times we asked him to go cut, or how many we went to in a row he was always game for every trip."
After a year and a half, the partnership ended and the Brunzells moved the horses elsewhere in Texas, then to Colorado.
"It wasn’t on the best of terms when they left," Jim Babcock said. "It was a disappointment when they took him away. I saw a few ads for him over the years, but I hadn’t followed him. This was the first time I’d heard of or seen him in 10-plus years."
According to AQHA records, Dual Peppy sired 351 registered foals, starting when he was a 2-year-old. In 2001, 43 of his registered offspring were born.
The number of foals he sired steadily decreased from 2001 until 2009, when he sired only two foals.
As of today, 51 of his offspring are still in the performance ring, and the horses he has sired have earned more than $700,000.
Considering his stud fees were $2,500 in 2002, his stud fees alone have earned his owners nearly $800,000.
Once the story hit the news, it went viral.
Horse lovers from around the country have contacted the El Paso Sheriff’s Office, the AQHA, NCHA, the Colorado state veterinarian’s office, El Paso County commissioners, and even the governor of Colorado.
In what now sounds a lot like back tracking and covering their butts, Sargent Greg White, public information officer with the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office, said that the public outcry was unnecessary -- saying, "We always intended to go back."
Until the investigation is finished, the horses will stay in the facility used for horses in these situations.
While officials at that facility have asked to not be identified for the security of the horses and the integrity of the investigation, they have said that a lot of horses in that area are in the same or worse condition.
They took care of 162 horses last year and adopted out about 40 percent of them. The remaining horses were returned to the agencies that brought them in, or are still in the facility because of ongoing investigations.
Dual Peppy’s former owner, Pete Bowling, a well-known horse breeder based in California, is also stepping in, saying he plans on doing whatever he can to nurse Dual Peppy back to health.
"I put him in this hell," Bowling told KRDO. "I am responsible for selling him to those people. I owe him; I told these people I will take him and give him a home for the rest of his life and take care of him like he deserves to be taken care of."
Besides spending big money on these horses, there is another aspect of Sherri Brunzell and her husband Rick Brunzell that should be looked at.
It has to do with their strange behavior.
While we now know that the El Paso County Sheriff's Office served Sherri Brunzell a citation for cruelty of animals, believe it or not, reports are now surfacing out of Colorado that the former chairman of the El Paso County Republican Party said the woman facing animal cruelty charges was previously documented as a "security threat."
Besides being a "security threat" to the El Paso County Republican Party, reports are now coming out about other aspects of their strange behavior.
County commissioner Amy Lathen said the couple is memorable.
Sherri Brunzell and her husband Rick Brunzell have spoken before the El Paso County commissioners numerous times, the strange thing is their use of names other than their own.
"They are quite confrontational, often angry about different things the board has been doing," said Lathen.
Lathen said she saw Rick Brunzell give an interview to a reporter, and used a different name. The move prompted her to investigate the couple.
"We said, 'Hey, wait a minute, why are they in here, at Republican headquarters at the time, giving false identities and causing all these issues. What's going on with that?" said Lathen.
The issue was brought to the then chairman of the El Paso County Republican party, Eli Bremer.
"From what we could tell, at least three different names that people had come to me and said, 'I think that person is going by this name, I think that person is going by this name.' Then we caught them at our office one day using a fake name," said Bremer.
Bremer sent an email to the couple, banning them from the Republican Party headquarters in Colorado Springs.
Bremer said the Brunzells posed a security threat.
"If what you want to do is promote your ideas, you use your own name. If what you want to do is a little more sinister, then it makes sense to start using other names," said Bremer.
In an email exchange between the executive director of the El Paso County Republican Party Bill Roy and Bremer, Roy said Rick Brunzell admitted to using the fake name "Juan Valdez."
Yes, believe it or not, he used the alias "Juan Valdez".
Bremer lifted the ban on the Brunzells. However, he said his employees continued to monitor the couple.
"They are involved with a lot of shady political groups that we are always tracking and wondering what they are up to," said Bremer.
And yes, their strange behavior even extends to their home as it's been reported that the Brunzells fly an upside down American flag outside of their Colorado Springs home.
According to the search warrant, Sherri Brunzell said the horses did not have a regular vet because of the expense and unsatisfactory results.
"She felt it would be better to spend the money on feed for the horses than on veterinary bills," it read.
The warrant said 14 skeletons were found in the barn, covered in tarps and lye.
Sherri Brunzell said the horses had died of colic over the last year and a half and she didn’t have the money to properly dispose of them.
According to one veterinarian in the area, many horses are hauled to the landfill because most landowners don’t have enough property to bury the horses as the regulations require.
The vet said it usually costs about $250 to dispose of a horse.
While the dead horses are a mystery, the fate of the live horses caught the world’s attention.
The warrant read:
"Inside the barn ten live horses were seen. They appeared to be in good health and weight except for two. These two horses were thin but not emaciated. The hooves on five of the horses were excessively long…Therefore based on the above described facts and circumstances, it is necessary to have the veterinarian used by the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office in equine investigation cases, to examine the condition of the live horses."
Dr. Randy Parker was called in by the sheriff’s office and recommended the remaining horses be removed from the Brunzells’ care. He said he had done some work for Sherri Brunzell about 15 years ago, but hadn’t seen the horses since.
Dr. Parker is an equine specialist and works with the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office on most of their horse-related animal cruelty cases.
The sheriff’s office got the report of neglected horses on Friday, September 19th, and investigated.
For some reason they determined that the horses had food and water and were not in immediate danger.
But on Monday, September 22nd, Deputies returned with Dr. Parker and a search warrant.
"In this case it’s going to be difficult to determine exactly what happened so I think they did things right so far," Dr. Parker said.
"Once we were out there and able to investigate to the best of our abilities, it was determined that something wrong has happened here and we needed to get the horses in a safe place and try to find out exactly what happened."
After receiving a flood of complaints about their handling of this crime, last Monday the Colorado's El Paso County Sheriff’s Office removed 10 horses, including Dual Peppy, from the property.
The property in Black Forest is just a few miles from the city limits of Colorado Springs.
The 10 horses and 4 llamas were transported to a large animal care facility, according to a press release from the El Paso County Sheriff’s office.
The owner of the horses, Sherri Brunzell, has now been charged with cruelty to animals, a class one misdemeanor.
But not to worry as Colorado also allows animal cruelty cases to be prosecuted as felonies, depending on whether the act of cruelty was intentional or reckless.
And yes, the charges may even change depending on the result of the investigation.
The person responsibly for the deaths of over a dozen horses and the starvation of another 10 including Dual Peppy, Sherri Brunzell, has a hearing set for December 31st.
Maybe, just maybe, justice will prevail.