Horses returned to Lee County pasture

One of the horses returned to the pasture of Jeff Graber in Donnellson, Iowa on Saturday

More than 30 horses were returned to their Donnellson, Iowa owner Saturday after spending more than a month in rescue operations across the state.

A Lee County judge ordered the horses' return

to owner Jeffrey Graber citing a procedural error by the Lee County Sheriff's Office.

The court order said the sheriff's office served a seizure notice under the wrong Iowa code in late January when the horses were confiscated.

It was an emotional day for some concerned Lee County residents who say they're fed up with horse neglect in their county.

"I'm mortified," concerned resident and horse lover Theresa Potter said. "It's probably one of the worst cases. I looked at the horses. If these horses live under the conditions -- I'm cold, I'm shivering. These horses have lost their hide. They have mange. They are so thin, and this is after they've been rescued and put tons of money into. I hate to think what the rescue groups put into these horses only to get them turned back to the conditions where the chances of them living are very slim."

Potter said she did not file a complaint this year, but she and another concerned resident did file a complaint about Graber's horses in August 2011. No charges were ever filed at that time.

"He's done this before," she said. "He'll do it again. To me, this is his chance of letting these horses go to a home that are going to be very well cared for. I happened to know people who offered to buy these horses, but he wants $500 a piece, which actually if the horses live tomorrow, they'll be lucky. There's no sale value in them. Not even a killer market. They are skin and bone horses that have mange. They need good homes."

The court's ruling has no effect on the pending neglect charges against Graber.

He was arrested Jan. 8 and charged with one count of livestock neglect.

KHQA contacted Graber for comment or reaction. Our calls have not yet been returned.

This was Lee County's first animal rescue operation.