The horses died after vandals cut off the water supplies inside a private preserve in Elko County.

Investigators say they have few leads about the identity of the criminals whose actions led to agonizing deaths for more than a dozen wild horses in the Goshute Valley, part of the sprawling Mustang Monument project owned by Madeleine Pickens.

State agriculture officials say they won’t comment about their investigation, but did — pointing a finger at Pickens.

This week, two more dead horses were found, along with other spots where her fencing had been cut by vandals. The Elko County Sheriff’s Office which is a partner in the investigation, said it appears that some of the horses had been dead for weeks.  Pickens said the ranch hand she hired was supposed to make regular checks on the Goshute herd.  It’s more than an hour’s drive from the main herd and ranch house, but investigators reportedly have not spoke to him about how often he checked on the herd.  Pickens paid to rescue the horses and installed the water system that worked fine until someone sabotaged it.

“No question, this was not an accident,” Pickens said. “This wasn’t just one well that went off or something in the solar panel that didn’t work. Everything was shut off, cut off, fences cut, rolled back.”

Pickens says the Goshute herd was essentially self sufficient, living as wild horses do on the open range, with plenty of food and water.

Pickens offers $100K reward

The Elko Sheriff’s Office told the I-Team that one theory is that good samaritans or horse advocates might have done it in order to free the horses from their 12,000 acre fenced range. Animal activists have been critical of Pickens plan to create a sanctuary for rescued mustangs. Comments posted in the Elko newspaper show many in that cattle-friendly community harbor harsh opinions about Pickens’ operation.

But Pickens says, the fact that the perpetrators turned off the water suggests it was an act of violence aimed at the horses. Her property has been vandalized several times before, and gun-toting locals have pumped bullets into her facilities. The sheriff’s office says it has received no tips from the public so far.

A state hotline is also up and running. Pickens has offered a $100,000 reward for information and is asking that tips be directed to her organization rather than to state investigators or police.

The Nevada Department of Agriculture’s tip line is (775) 738-8076 or you can call Secret Witness at (775)738-4357.

The deaths of Pickens’ horses, as well as rescued wild horse at another sanctuary, were the subject of a story in the Idaho Statesman recently.