MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Local News

December 10, 2013

City detains group's horses

Trail riders on trip to honor veterans delayed by seizure

Muskogee’s image of a city that has “all of the charm and nostalgia that permeate small towns” may have been tarnished for some trail riders whose horses were confiscated.

The group of trail riders consists of veterans and supporters who are making the Great American Trail Ride “to honor every veteran.” The group also hopes to rekindle the spirit of national responsibility during stops along the 30,000-mile trail ride.

Steven Hawke of Pensacola, Fla., said the riders in his group have spent more than 20 months in the saddle. They have ridden more than 5,200 miles as part of a public relations tour they expect will take them through 48 states — now that their horses have been returned.

In most cities, Hawke said, he and his riders are met by public officials who welcome them to town and offer some hometown hospitality. But when they rode into Muskogee this past Thursday — looking for horse feed and a place to warm their bones as a winter storm bore down on the state — they were met by an animal control officer who apparently saw little value in the group’s mission.

“This is the reception we usually get,” Hawke said, showing pictures of the group with mayors, congressmen and other officials who have welcomed them to numerous other places they have visited. “It used to be in a small town you would get to know your neighbors, and ironically we are in a small town and we get our horses confiscated.”

Hawke said that when the riders arrived in Muskogee, they were granted permission by a restaurateur to secure their horses on the premises while they went to look for horse feed. While they were gone, somebody reportedly unhitched one of the horses and led it into the median of U.S. 69 near Okmulgee Avenue, where it was left unattended when a police officer approached the area.

The animal control officer, Hawke said, contacted him to assess the situation but reportedly decided to summons a wrecker service and order the confiscation after learning it would take 45 minutes or more for Hawke and his fellow riders to return. Hawke said he pleaded with the city worker to reconsider, promising to saddle up and leave town, but was told he and his associates would be arrested for riding horses inside city limits.

Hawke said he and his associates spent the next few days trying to raise the money needed to retrieve the horses from impoundment. But the winter storm that closed area schools, some government offices and local businesses thwarted those efforts.

Interim City Manager Roy Tucker said he was sympathetic with Hawke and his fellow riders and what became a four-day ordeal. But the circumstances necessitated the confiscation of the horses because of the threat to public safety caused by the loose horse on the highway.

Tucker said it was after midnight when city workers contacted Hawke about the horse that had gotten loose. The city’s emergency management director contacted Hawke to tell him about the loose horse and to express concern about the welfare of the other horses, which Tucker said the restaurateur believed were in a trailer.

Tucker said the city extended some courtesy to Hawke by not issuing any citations for allowing an animal to run loose. And Tucker said he negotiated a $100 discount off the impoundment fee that on Friday would have been $225.

“I was obviously sympathetic to his plight ... (but) it was in the middle of the night, and one of the horses was in the middle of the road, ” Tucker said, noting advance notice of the group’s arrival would have been appropriate. “They were very nice people, and I have no doubt that this is one of those things that just by circumstance happened — we were willing to do what we could.”

Hawke acknowledged that everybody he spoke with at City Hall on Friday was cordial, but he believes the confiscation of the group’s horses went too far. He expressed gratitude for the turn of events on Monday and looked forward to getting “our horses back in the morning and shooting our video.”

Nik Morgan of Morgan Sons Towing Service, which responded to the animal control officer’s call for service, said after he learned more about the group and its mission, he decided to “give these horses back to him (Hawke) for free.” Morgan said the horses were well-fed and sheltered while they were in his care.

“We did what we were told to do by law. We didn’t go out there looking for them and decide we were going to load them up and haul them away,” Morgan said Monday afternoon. “Obviously, at first, we needed to do our job, but now that we know a little more, we’re going to step up to the plate and give these horses back to him for free.”

Hawke, who had described himself earlier as “confused, broke and worried” about the horses, agreed Morgan was doing his job.

Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or dsmoot@muskogeephoenix.com.

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