By Therese Apel
JACKSON, Miss. (Reuters) - Authorities found at least 10 dead horses on a Mississippi ranch after receiving a report that more than 170 of the animals, many of them malnourished, were on the property, officials said on Monday.
Some of the horses were missing eyes, others were walking on three legs and several had open wounds with pus coming out of them, said Alisha Armstrong, who made the discovery in Crystal Springs, about 25 miles south of Jackson, on Saturday together with her husband before notifying authorities.
The couple, visiting the property with an eye toward buying it, counted 179 horses, most of them appearing to be malnourished and at least 20 of which were dead, Armstrong said.
Some of the dead animals appeared to have been moved into piles, including two carcasses befouling a creek supplying the 175-acre property with water, she said.
"This was something that you see and hear in horror movies. This is a nightmare," Armstrong said.
When the Armstrongs returned to the property on Sunday, most of the horses, including the most sickly ones, had been removed, she said.
Copiah County Sheriff Harold Jones said investigators instructed the horses' owner, Jerry Earls, to bury the dead animals.
Earls transported 45 of the horses north to Hinds County, with authorities there quarantining them and seeking to determine if any of them were stolen, a Hinds County Sheriff's Office spokesman said.
The roughly 45 horses remaining on the property were found by animal health officials to be in decent condition, and there are no grounds for charges against Earls at present, Jones said.
Earls, who court records show was convicted of grand larceny of livestock in 2012 after being indicted on charges of stealing 42 head of cattle, is on probation through November 2015, according to the Mississippi Department of Corrections.
Animal welfare advocates said the case raises concerns.
"Having that many deceased animals, and horses with various injuries going untreated, when you combine that with [Earls'] criminal history... I think it would be hard not to find something in violation of state statute," said Lydia Sattler, director of the Mississippi chapter of the Humane Society of the United States.
Earls could not be reached for comment. A phone number listed in his name was not receiving calls.
(Editing by Jonathan Kaminsky and Eric Walsh)