Closure of the Judge Riddel Boys Ranch is leaving Sedgwick County with an unusual surplus of equipment: eight horses.
The county is looking for homes for the animals, who are 13 to 25 years old. Some of the horses are healthier than others.
The county hopes to move the horses to new homes by July 15, a task that’s just one of many as it prepares to close the residential center for troubled boys.
Commissioners expressed sadness Wednesday as they voted to move the horses out of the ranch at Lake Afton.
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Board member Richard Ranzau said he wanted to say “thank you to all the people who have worked out at Judge Riddel Boys Ranch. Words cannot express my gratitude for everything you people have done out there.”
Ranzau and Commissioner Karl Peterjohn oppose closing the ranch, which opened in 1961 and is operated by the county for the state.
A funding gap in what the state pays the county and what the county says it costs to operate the ranch led County Manager William Buchanan to recommend closing the facility two years ago.
The state has paid the county $126 per boy per day, but the county’s cost has been about $200 per boy per day. The Kansas Legislature gave the county $750,000 in additional funding in the fiscal year that ends June 30. No additional money was budgeted for the fiscal year that starts July 1.
Buchanan asked Mark Masterson, director of the county’s department of corrections, to stop taking additional boys May 5.
An email Buchanan sent to commissioners said that 14 boys would remain at the ranch until July 18 to complete summer school and that the last boy was scheduled to leave July 20. The county likely will lay off a few employees at the ranch. Some already have taken other positions.
The county will mothball the building after it closes, and the corrections department will distribute any usable equipment — with the exception of the horses.
People interested in them may call Glenda Martens at 316-660-1623 by June 18. Public safety director Marvin Duncan said the county would do a background check to make sure prospective owners have not neglected or abused an animal, conduct a visit to make sure there is adequate space and shelter and ask for veterinary references. Ten people have already expressed interest, Duncan told commissioners Wednesday.
If the county gets more takers than it has horses, a committee will determine through interviews which home would be the best. Some of the horses require special medical attention, and potential adopters must be willing to provide for care.
One of the horses, Stonewall, participated in an inaugural parade for President George W. Bush. Fort Riley donated the horse to the county.
“If you’re interested in Stonewall, you have to be a strong, very experienced rider,” Duncan said. “Stonewall is a very determined, strong horse.”
On the other end of the spectrum, Duncan said, is Scooter, a 24-year-old horse that he described as a “cute little horse who is good with kids.”
Stonewall is 19 and suffers from navicular disease, which causes a shortened stride and persistent lameness. Li’l Joe and Colonel are 16 and considered healthy, as is Colby, who is 14. Pepi is 13 and has diabetes and requires a special diet and feed. Cap is 25 and considered “good for his age.” Kid is 17 and has chronic navicular disease.
There is no cost to adopt the horses, which will come with equipment such as their blanket, saddle, soap and combs, breast collar, bridle and cinch.