Can You Keep or Sell Stray Horses That Wander Onto Your Property If the Owner Doesn't Show Up to Claim Them?


A man from Texas called our office who recently had 4 horses wander onto his property over the course of several days. He placed them in a pasture with his other horses and waited to hear if anyone was looking for them. The man is interested in keeping the horses and wants to know how long he has to wait until the horses are considered legally abandoned and he can claim them as his own?

Finding stray livestock in Texas is not a case of “finders keepers, losers weepers”. The law of livestock estrays, found in Chapter 142 of the Texas Agriculture Code, as well as the livestock estray laws particular to each county in Texas apply here. This law requires people who find stray livestock to notify the sheriff immediately about the discovery of the livestock. Once the sheriff’s department is notified of the presence of the stray horses, they will attempt to find the owner and/or impound the horses. If the sheriff cannot find the owner, they will, at the landowner’s request, impound the horse and eventually auction them off if the owner does not claim them within 18 days after impoundment.

Someone who finds stray horses on their property should::

1) Notify the sheriff about the stray horses (with detailed descriptions) in writing, via fax, or some other way that provides proof that you sent notice. The sheriff must be notified within five days of discovery of the animals if you later wish to seek compensation for your costs of caring for the animals.

2) Ask the sheriff where you can find a copy of your county-specific livestock estray laws, if any;

3) Keep detailed records and receipts of everything you spend on the horses. If the owner returns to claim the horses, or the sheriff auctions off the horses, you are entitled to receive reimbursement for costs related to the care of the animal; and

4) If you wish to own the horses, you should keep in touch with the sheriff to find out when and where the sheriff’s sale will occur. You can bid on the horses there.

Note: If the sheriff locates the owner or if the owner returns to claim the horses and there is a disagreement over the amount owed for their care, the landowner may file a petition under the Section 142.007 of the Texas Agriculture Code in the justice of the peace court in their county and have the matter settled in justice court.


Trackbacks (0) Links to blogs that reference this article Trackback URL
Comments (3) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Paul Husband - April 30, 2010 10:02 PM

Excellent Advice!

Do the same procedures apply if a horse owner abandons a horse that a land owner has been boarding? Assume that the ranch owner knows who the owner is, but either cannot find them or the owner refuses to communicate.

Alison Rowe - May 3, 2010 9:32 AM

Thanks Paul! You could try calling the sheriff when someone abandons a boarded horse, but a lot of times, the sheriff will say it's a "civil matter" and will not impound the horse or try to seek the owner. But, you might get lucky and the sheriff might help you.

A ranch owner in your scenario should best proceed with the stableman's lien foreclosure procedures in their state. In Texas, a boarding facility is not required to give written notice to the owner when the owner's address is not known.

Cory - July 19, 2011 12:58 AM

Well this sucks! My horses recently got out someone had left the gate open (we ALWAYS have it chained because of our horses)when looking for my horses found another horse in the middle of the road notified the sheriff with in an hour of finding the horses they sent out animal control who said they would pick up the found horse the following day that was 5 days ago and they have yet to pick up. I am not complaining about that because would love to take care of this horse. We have talked to all the surrounding horse neighbors and no one is missing a horse and still leaves the issue of the unchained open gate issue. My guess is someone was dumping the horse. No I do have the ability to care for the horse along with my other two horses but not the funds to go to an open auctions to try and bid and from what I have heard the auction winners are slaughter houses. This is a less than two year old horse who has been trained and around people we were able to saddle him the second day we had him. Now does a horse like that deserve the slaughter house just because someone cant care for him? Also I guess animal control can take their sweet time picking up the horse as they see fit but if the horse were to get off my property and say cause an accident then I could be sued since the horse would be my property but according to the laws he is not my property. Damned if you do damned if you dont just trying to keep a beautiful horse out of the slaughter house.

Post A Comment / Question Use this form to add a comment to this entry.

Remember personal info?