The community of Mesa del Caballo, whose name is Spanish for "Mesa of the Horse," was developed in the 1950s as a horse community and a sizable portion of the people who live there still have an affinity for horses.
This was demonstrated recently when a resident who had a scrape with the law moved to the Valley and left a horse behind at his abandoned Mesa del home. For two months, a group of Mesa del neighbors banded together along with some Rim country friends, the Payson Horseman's Association, and local horse veterinarian Drew Justice to feed and care for Mare Margaret, a 20-year-old Arabian, while they simultaneously tried to find a government agency willing to step in and help the horse.
Margaret was finally moved to Queen Creek Saturday. Martin and Tracy Vallecillo, who have relatives living across the street from Margaret, were able to buy the horse from the man who abandoned her for their 9-year-old daughter, Serena.
While the story appears to have a happy ending at least for Margaret and Serena the people who came together to save her went through weeks of frustration as they were passed from county to state and agency to agency.
Susan Campbell, because she lives next door to Margaret, was the point person in the effort.
"Between us, we called just about everybody in the state," Campbell said. "Nobody wants to do anything."
Among the agencies contacted were the Gila County Health Department, Gila County Animal Control, the Payson Humane Society and the Animal Services division of the Arizona Department of Agriculture, which apparently is the ultimate authority.
"We just deal with rabies and check for licenses," said Ty Goodman, animal control officer for northern Gila County. "The livestock inspector (in Animal Services) is the one that has to do it."
After numerous calls to Animal Services, an agent finally drove by the abandoned house, saw hay on the property and drove away.
"I talked to the livestock inspector and they told me someone was feeding the horse so don't worry about it," Mesa del resident Carol Antonides said.
But the fact that there was hay on the property didn't mean the horse was being fed. A Gila County sheriff's deputy had warned the neighbors they would be trespassing if they stepped onto the property to give the hay to the horse.
Rather than watch the horse starve, Mesa del resident Kathy Rosentel climbed the fence to feed her anyway. Eventually, the neighbors stored food on Campbell's property and fed the horse over the fence.
"What happened last year when (the state) had all those budget woes, they cut 25 inspector positions and that's why you can't get a hold of anybody now," Justice said.
Mesa del residents originally noticed the horse's plight a few days after the owner left. Mesa del resident Jacquie Lynn Zumach made the discovery.
"I went by as I was headed for Phoenix and I could tell the horse was colicking," Zumach said. "We called (Dr. Justice) and he donated his services. If he hadn't, the horse would be dead now."
Once the horse literally got back on her feet, the group of concerned neighbors and others organized to make sure Margaret would receive at least minimal care. Besides Campbell, Rosentel, Antonides and Zumach, others who helped included Mesa del residents Jenny and Denise Strickland, Peg Cumpton, Mary Barton, Barbara Graepler and Jackie Stevens; Payson Horseman's Association President Mary Little; and Marty Gauthier, who works with Campbell at the Payson Unified School District office.
Near the end of their two-month odyssey, when it looked like the situation was no closer to a resolution than when they began, the frustrated neighbors met at Campbell's house to regroup. At that point, they decided their only recourse was to contact the Roundup.
"A sheriff's deputy told us that when the horse is dead, they'll come out and do something," Zumach said. "That's not acceptable, and everybody else we called was just as worthless."
"Everybody just passes you on to someone else," Graepler said.
Margaret wasn't the first neglected horse Justice had seen, or his first experience with Animal Services.
"The problem is for them to be able to confiscate the animal there has to be willful signs of neglect or abuse," he said. "When they come down and see the horse is not skin and bones, it's got shelter and it's got water, their hands are tied."
Nicole Waldron, assistant director of Animal Services, confirmed Justice's assessment.
"It was one of those rare situations where you did have the community rallying behind this animal, which is a great thing, but unless we can show signs of neglect or that it was a stray off its property, there's nothing we can do," Waldron said. "The law protects the horse's owner to an extent."
Fortunately, the Vallecillo's happened to visit their relatives in Mesa del as the saga was unfolding. Mesa del resident Ray Romero, Tracy Vallecillo's brother, said it turned out to be the break Margaret needed.
"My niece saw the horse and pretty much fell in love with it right off the bat," Romero said. "They asked me to try and get ahold of (the owner), which we finally did. The Payson Horseman's Association told him he'd be better off selling the horse and we finally were able to buy her for $300."
While the sale was made through the sister of the man who abandoned the horse, he will get the money.
So Margaret is now living the good life in Queen Creek.
"We have a big barn and a green, 1-acre pasture," Martin Vallecillo said.
"With trees," Serena added.
Life will return to normal for the people who stepped in and saved Margaret, but they're still frustrated by the experience.
"Isn't it terrible that the state does nothing," Zumach said.