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Unhappy trails at Sagebrush Ranch in Clark County

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Photo: Video by ktnv.com

Unhappy trails at Sagebrush Ranch in Clark County

By Darcy Spears. CREATED Jul 24, 2014

Clark County, NV (KTNV) -- Dozens of horses in unacceptable conditions. Dozens of citations from animal control. But the business behind it all keeps on running.

So why can't the county seem to get Sagebrush Ranch to do the right thing.?

The horses? "They're not treated very well at all," said Patti Converse.

The trail rides? "We were up on trails that obviously we weren't supposed to be," said Tracy Kelleher.

And the business? "How she gets away with practicing business is beyond anyone's comprehension," said Mandi Gervasio.

Especially because, according to county records, it's illegal. Business owner Jacque Fitzgerald admits it, "I'm in the wrong there and I will take that."

The women we spoke with are all past volunteers with Fitzgerald. But now, "I can't stand back any longer and watch it," said Kelleher.

Fitzgerald and her business, Sagebrush Ranch, have been on the wrong side of the law for years.

Contact 13 examined more than 400 pages of county documents and photos, including dozens of citations dating back to 2007.

"So as far as her getting citations and violations. It means nothing to her," said former volunteer Diann Dunne. "She's so used to it, it means nothing."

County Code Enforcement calls Fitzgerald a "huge problem." She's currently facing trial in August on citations for using sickly horses for tours, depriving horses of hoof care, leaving them in "stalls overwhelmed" with urine and manure at levels called "excessive and inexcusable" and attracting "hundreds of flies."

Fitzgerald isn't shying away from her problems.

"The county thinks you're not taking care of your horses, you're not feeding your horses and you're overworking them," said Darcy Spears.

"Well, that is just absolutely not true," said Fitzgerald.

County records show she hasn't had a business license since the Spring of 2009. Yet she continues to advertise on a website, book trail rides like the one we took in June and an email from County Code Enforcement claims she's been caught "running an illegal camp for children," which got us to wondering, who's teaching the kids?

"I don't do the kind of background checks that, like, through the police department or anything," Fitzgerald told us. "But I make sure I know the people."

She said she has no choice but to keep doing business so she can afford to feed her horses.

But Frank Snyder, who leases the property on Deer Springs Way where Jacque keeps her horses, said she's failing to do even that.

"She's supposed to have somebody out here taking care of them all the time. This is not happening."

He said if he didn't shell out his own money to buy them hay and make sure they had water, "In this type of weather, most of them would be dead."

Fitzgerald said she's never neglected her horses.

"My husband would get mad at me because I'd use my social security check to buy hay," she said through tears. "I never let them go without. Not one day did my horses ever, I would swear that before the Lord, not one day did my horses ever go without food."

Heidi Vega, who currently works at the Deer Springs property, paints a much different picture, "These horses need to be taken from her and she should not be allowed to have them."

As of now, she doesn't technically have them anymore. 

On July 15, county animal control served a warrant, posting notices and taking all 36 of Jacque Fitzgerald's horses under impound out of concern for their health and welfare. They took five for immediate medical care.

Records show "all of Jacque Fitzgerald's horses examined were in need of vet care and were underfed."

Some were lame, one so severely it couldn't hold its own weight on one leg. Another had penile paralysis. Another was blind.

"I've never mistreated a horse," Fitzgerald declared, saying a lot of her horses are old and not used for rides or lessons.

She blames the county for most of her problems, saying they're denying her license applications and they've had a vendetta against her for years.

Fitzgerald is also under investigation by the BLM, the Southern Nevada Health District and the State Childcare Licensing Division.

Darcy Spears

Darcy Spears

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Darcy Spears is currently the Chief Investigative Reporter for Action News.