By LAUREN DONOVAN
A barrel horse that won the recent Dickinson Roughrider Rodeo and took third at Killdeer's Fourth of July rodeo Saturday was stolen from a South Dakota rodeo grounds Sunday and abused, if not tortured.
The 12-year-old Dually remains under a veterinarian's care in South Dakota, where it was taken Sunday afternoon after its owner and the Stanley County (S.D.) sheriff were informed where it had been dropped off in a holding pen.
The horse was taken from a rodeo pen at Fort Pierre, S.D., sometime after 4:30 a.m. Sunday and discovered several hours later in a pen in town, said Sheriff Brad Rathbun.
Its owner, Wendy Halweg of Mitchell, S.D., said it isn't certain whether the prize-winning horse she says is "priceless," but valued at $75,000, will ever compete again.
Halweg competed at Killdeer and then drove to Fort Pierre for a rodeo. She said she was sleeping in a horse-trailer bunk not 50 feet away, when at least one person, and likely more, removed Dually from a secure pen.
The major abuse was to the horse's legs, which were severely rope-burned deep into the tissue and muscle, she said. The horse is wrapped in bandages and is being sedated.
Rathbun said the incident remains under investigation, and he hopes to make at least one arrest by the end of the week.
The sheriff said he doesn't know if the abuse was intentional, or the outcome of bad judgment.
He said the incident is being discussed on Internet blogs, making it difficult to separate what people really know, from what they read, as he conducts his investigation.
"It's (blogging) kind of gotten in the way," the sheriff said.
Halweg won't speculate about how her horse was so severely injured, though she expects to have her day in court.
Her friend and co-rodeo rider, Heidi Uecker of Hettinger, said what is known "is he was absolutely tortured."
Uecker said she believes after it was stolen from the pen, the horse was roped repeatedly and ridden with a wire cable around its neck. She said it was stretched with ropes to its neck and back legs, possibly between two pickups.
Uecker has started a benefit fund to help pay Dually's veterinarian bills at justicefordually@;gmail.com. The South Dakota Rodeo Association is offering a reward for information.
Besides the expense of driving 180 miles every day after work to see the horse, Halweg said she'll lose any rodeo income she might have earned this summer and a chance to defend her standings.
Right now, she's most concerned about a horse that's been hers all its life and one she trained to become a champion.
"I don't have any kids. I guess he's like my firstborn," she said.
She does hope for justice and consequences.
"This horse is innocent, and if they can do it to a horse, where does it go from here? If this is OK, what else is OK?" she said.
JUSTICE FOR DUALLY