Park County, which borders sprawling Jefferson and Douglas counties, is where Colorado's genuine horse country collides with the commuters of the Front Range who dream of pastures and idyllic canters through the mountain woods and meadows. So it's no surprise that equine matters there can escalate into turf wars.
That would at least begin to explain a series of advertisements that have run over the past several weeks in the Hustler, a free weekly shopper covering the Route 285 corridor that runs approximately from Tiny Town through Bailey, 25 miles southwest. The Hustler has a circulation of about 15,000.
"If you have had problems with Richmond Hill Stables," begins the ad, surrounded by notices for excavators, well-drillers and used 4x4s, "please contact the State Department of Agriculture at 303-239-4161." That phone number connects to the department's Animal Industry Division.
"It says what?" asks an alarmed Jim Miller, an ag department spokesman. That sort of thing, he says, just isn't done.
"We have, in the past, put ads in newspapers," he explains. "But only general ones--for example, to remind people that if they are a kennel open for business, they need to be registered. But we never mention a specific company, and we certainly never use blind ads in the course of an investigation."
"This is the first time we've encountered this," he adds. "This is really out of the ordinary. Just off the top of my head, I'd say that somebody's got a real grudge against Richmond Hill Stables."
That somebody turns out to be Kerri Beery, a horse buyer fed up with lame excuses. And up in eastern Park County, the fuss has spread beyond just those stables.
Despite its size, Park County can be a very small place. From Bailey east, the horse-training and -boarding community spreads news and gossip at High Country Feed, in Pine Junction. That is where Julie Boucher works part-time when she is not training horses at Richmond Hill, where she leases 22 stables and 35 acres of land.
"It's me the ad is referring to," Boucher confirms. "But she [Beery] should've known; it's a buyer-beware market. Now she just wants to ruin my name."
Which explains the mysterious ads. "Julie Boucher was a friend of mine...for awhile," says Beery, who shares a small house on the rim of a valley just outside of Bailey with her husband, four dogs, three cats and three children. "I trusted Julie. I'm new at buying horses, and she knew that."
"I wouldn't really call her a friend," Boucher says. "I knew her by association."
Beery says all she wanted to do was get her husband a hunting horse. "I had horses growing up," she says, "but I haven't had one in ten years. I looked at several horses that day, but I fell in love with this one. It was a two-year-old buckskin. We agreed on $1,800; I put $500 down. All this would be different if I had money to blow. But I don't."
Boucher, 27, who has been training horses since she was sixteen, didn't own the buckskin--she was merely acting as a seller's agent for the owner. And she insists that she advised Beery to have a veterinarian check the horse.
"That's my policy," says Boucher. "Everyone who buys a horse should get it checked by a vet. But she didn't get one."
"How was I supposed to know I should get a vet check?" Beery says.
She bought the horse on March 25 and left it at Richmond Hill, with the understanding that it would be trained and trail-ready for her husband's elk hunting later in the year. "She told me the horse would be hunting this year," Beery says. "But knowing what I know now, there was just no way."
Boucher confirms that the horse was supposed to have thirty days of training. But she also says Beery was eager to take her new horse home. Beery says she was forced to take the horse earlier than she'd planned.
"I heard from a friend that the horse had gotten sick at Richmond Hill," Beery says. "When I went to look at it, it was standing out in the rain and the mud. He had lost 100 pounds. So I took him away."
She brought him to Cindy Wolfe, a trainer who leases space at Tandem Park Stables, which is outside of Conifer near Richmond Hill. Wolfe confirms that the horse appeared to have "a respiratory problem."
But the horse's illness prevented Boucher from completing its training. "She came and got it before it was ready," says Boucher. "So of course her husband jumped up on the horse and it bucked him off."
As Beery recalls, "My husband went about eight feet in the air. The horse just went wild for about five minutes."
In the meantime, Beery finally took her horse in for a vet check on May 2. The news was not good: The vet judged him to have a "high potential for arthritis." That's when the conflict between Beery and Boucher really escalated.
"[The vet] told me the horse would be completely crippled by the time he was six," Beery says. "If Julie was any kind of horse person like she's supposed to be, she had to know it was lame."
"I had told her it needed corrective shoeing, but again, she never took it to the vet," says Boucher.
"There's no way this horse could be a good trail horse," Beery says.
"He's a good trail horse," Boucher says.
"If I had known about his feet, I wouldn't have bought him. So I tried to return it to her and get my deposit back," Beery says.
But Boucher didn't want it back. "I'm not a horse trader," she says. So Beery contacted the original owners, who agreed to take the horse back--but not to refund Beery's deposit.
"I'm not a sue-happy person, but I contacted my lawyer," Beery says. "He said I could take her to small-claims court. In the meantime, he told me to try putting an ad in the local paper. I've run it for about two or three weeks. I wanted to see if I could get other people with complaints."
"Everything's fine with me--people are still bringing me horses to train," says Boucher. "Nobody's mad at me, because I deal with people straight."
"It's not a huge deal. But she still might be trying to sell this horse to someone else," Beery says.
"The horse has been resold, and its owner is as happy as can be," Boucher says.
"I may still sue her," Beery says. "Since I've run the ads, she has been slandering me and my husband's company, Aspen Drilling, saying we've been drilling illegal water wells. I have sworn statements from six High Country Feed customers saying that nasty things have been said against me while they were in the store."
After checking around the office, Miller has some more information about Beery's advertisement. "Well," he says, "we've gotten four phone calls. But all of them have been inquiries asking what the advertisement is about. Our own inspection records going back to June of last year show that our veterinarian found no problems during his visits to Richmond Hill.
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