HiCaliber Horse Rescue, which has faced animal cruelty and fraud allegations for months, was evicted Thursday from the Valley Center ranch where it has operated for more than four years.

inewsource has been investigating the nonprofit since February and was the first news outlet allowed on the property to document the eviction, which began at 11 a.m. when a handful of sheriff’s deputies arrived in patrol vehicles.

For the next two hours, HiCaliber founder Michelle Knuttila and several of her supporters walked horses off the property or drove them out in trailers. Some of the horses were taken to an adjacent property where they were tethered to poles and trees. It was unknown how long the horses would remain there.

The ranch’s owners are suing HiCaliber, Knuttila and rescue co-founder Romney Snyder for $4 million, alleging damage to the property, breach of contract and negligence. The Brenda Markstein Living Trust owns the property and has leased it to HiCaliber since September 2014.

After everyone from HiCaliber had left the ranch, Markstein and her family toured houses and stables on the property. inewsource was allowed to accompany them to take photos and video, but the family declined to be interviewed.

What they found was trash and belongings scattered throughout the homes, which reeked of urine. Outside, the ground was littered with horse gear, stuffed trash bags and furniture.

Sheriff’s Deputy Mike Gildersleeve told inewsource about 23 horses were at the ranch when authorities arrived. They were all moved off the land by about 1 p.m.

Giving HiCaliber time, he said, “made it easier for them to move the horses,” and freed the property owners from having to care for them.

Several smaller animals, including chickens and cows, were left behind. Gildersleeve said HiCaliber will have to arrange with the property owners to remove those animals at a later time.

UPDATED at 10:45 a.m. on Dec. 14, 2018: The original version of the story has been updated to say inewsource was the first news outlet allowed on the ranch following HiCaliber’s eviction. NBC 7 was given a tour later in the day.

Photos from the eviction (by Megan Wood):

About the HiCaliber investigation

An inewsource investigation of HiCaliber Horse Rescue that began in February has uncovered allegations of fraud, animal cruelty and improper veterinary practices at the Valley Center nonprofit. Multiple state and local government agencies also have been involved in investigating HiCaliber, including the California Veterinary Medical Board and state Attorney General’s Office. 

To read all of our coverage of HiCaliber, click here.

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Megan Wood was a multimedia journalist for inewsource. To contact inewsource with questions, tips or corrections, email contact@inewsource.org.