Skip to main content

LATEST UPDATES: Tracking COVID-19 | Vaccines | Racial Injustice

HiCaliber Horse Rescue Evicted From Valley Center Ranch

HiCaliber Horse Rescue, after being evicted from its Valley Center ranch on D...

Photo by Megan Wood / inewsource

Above: HiCaliber Horse Rescue, after being evicted from its Valley Center ranch on Dec. 13, 2018, tethered some of its horses to trees and poles at an adjacent property.

UPDATED: 10:45 a.m., Dec. 14, 2018

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 only 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.

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.

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.

Photo by Megan Wood / inewsource

Trash and belongings filled a bedroom in one of the houses on the Valley Center ranch where HiCaliber Horse Rescue operated before being evicted on Dec. 13, 2018.

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.

Editor's Note: 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.


San Diego News Now podcast branding

San Diego news; when you want it, where you want it. Get local stories on politics, education, health, environment, the border and more. New episodes are ready weekday mornings. Hosted by Anica Colbert and produced by KPBS, San Diego and the Imperial County's NPR and PBS station.

  • Need help keeping up with the news that matters most? Get the day's top news — ranging from local to international — straight to your inbox each weekday morning.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Curious San Diego banner

Want more KPBS news?
Find us on Twitter and Facebook, or sign up for our newsletters.

To view PDF documents, Download Acrobat Reader.