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MILLTOWN TOWNSHIP, Wis. - Polk County authorities are investigating a local ranch after several horses were found dead on the property.

Otter Creek Ranch resides right on Highway 46 in Milltown Township. It's a ranch that offers horseback riding for those of all abilities, and as of Thursday night, its owners are under investigation for animal abuse.

"There were horses that were in distress and 4 dead horses on the property," Polk County Sheriff's Department Chief Deputy Steven Moe confirmed Thursday night.

Over the last year, Moe says people have complained about the ranch saying they have seen malnourished horses roaming the pasture.

Milltown Township Town Chair Harlen Hegdal says he's seen the emaciated animals firsthand.

"I have never seen anything like that before in my life," Hegdal said, recalling the day last week he was at the ranch with investigators when the perished horses were found.

"There were dead horses. There were horses that were literally eating their stalls," he said.

Since then,Hegdal says he and others in the area have broughtthe horsesgrain and hay. He says the ranch owner has, so far, accepted that help.

But those who work at the ranch tell a different story. Theydeny any abuse.

"These horses are not being starved. They are not being abused in any way shape or form," Otter Creek Ranch volunteer Michelle Thayer said.

Thayer says she has volunteered at the ranch with her son for the last year. They claim every horse, and there are at least 80 on site, is fed properly.

"I know how much they spent. I carried those checks, delivered those checks, and hauled that hay. I know," Thayer said.

As of Thursday the owner of the ranch has not been charged with any crime.

But the questions into what is happening at that ranch, according to investigators, have just begun.

"We expect an extensive investigation," Moe said.

Authorities say the ranch owner has been cooperating with the investigation. He did not respond to KARE 11's requests for comment.

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