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When Coffman discovered abuse by horse trader, he had no idea he had stumbled upon historic case of animal neglect

Sun., Nov. 24, 2013

Dave Coffman’s story tells like a western drama complete with stolen horses, a “smoking gun” and a fugitive on the run. It ends with this Spokane engineer unknowingly exposing perhaps the largest horse neglect case in Spokane County.

The star of the show is Jan Hickerson, a known horse trader in the area and familiar face at livestock sales. The 49-year-old blonde, also known as Janice Lyn Long, has a $100,000 warrant for her arrest after 91 horses were confiscated, or had already died of starvation, on her West Plains property. She’s also charged with horse theft, after allegedly stealing seven of Coffman’s horses.

Hickerson skipped town sometime likely in October – when she stopped showing up for her court appearances – shutting off the power to her place and leaving 63 horses, including a few foals, and two dogs and a cat without food or water.

“We’ve got to stop this woman,” said Coffman, whose horses were found during the initial seizure of animals on Hickerson’s property July 20. Cocheesh, one of his geldings, was found dead in a pen with other horses.

Before the raid, Hickerson had returned one horse to Coffman, claiming its emaciated state and illness were caused by cancer. After three weeks of good feed and care, Coffman said Jingles looked like a healthy horse.

Coffman said the “before-and-after” photos were like a smoking gun that caused the Sheriff’s Department to realize the tangle between Hickerson and Coffman was more than a dispute over a feed bill. The photos of Jingles also were what SCRAPS needed to get a search warrant for the property, said Nancy Hill, director of the animal protection and control agency. SCRAPS officials had heard many stories about the ranch but never any hard proof of neglect and abuse, Hill said.

Under the name Janice Long, Hickerson has an extensive history of animal cruelty charges in Washington and Idaho, according to SCRAPS. In 2004, she was charged with 12 counts of second-degree animal cruelty in Pacific County. In 2007, she was charged with permitting animals to go without care in Kootenai County.

Coffman met Hickerson when a friend told him about a woman who buys and sells horses. Coffman wanted to give away a feisty, hard-to-train gelding to a good home. The horse was too much work for the 65-year-old man.

“You trust people,” he said. “It sounded like she knew what she was doing.”

He gave her the horse, then asked if she knew anyone selling good alfalfa hay. Hickerson offered to sell him some. He gave Hickerson a $1,500 check, reserving 10 tons (about 250 bales). She returned with 50 bales and 25 the next day but never the rest.

That’s when Coffman’s story gets long and complex. As winter set in, Hickerson offered to feed Coffman’s seven horses for a couple months on her property in lieu of the hay. He agreed. That was the last time he saw his animals until SCRAPS raided the ranch in July.

After the July raid, Hickerson told KXLY she denies mistreating the animals in her possession. She said she took in unwanted horses and the ones that didn’t sell at auction she attempted to nurse back to health. She repeated that story to KHQ. In August, after charges had been filed, her husband, Jeff Hickerson, launched in to a profanity-laced tirade against a KREM reporter, denying the allegations and accusing the media of ruining their lives.

During the first seizure, SCRAPS took 26 horses and found two dead horses on the property. On Nov. 15, SCRAPS seized 63 more. So how did Hickerson come up with so many more horses in a few months?

Easy. Just look at Craigslist under the farm and garden section. On Thursday, there were at least five free horses and ponies advertised and as many priced at less than $500. Horses also are sold at regional stockyards.

Neither the local brand inspector nor a representative from Stockland Livestock Auction in Davenport wanted to comment, but both said they were aware of Hickerson and both agreed it’s not difficult to buy a horse. The state livestock investigator working on Hickerson’s case didn’t return phone calls.

Beyond Craigslist, people buy and sell horses among themselves all the time. Coffman worries that Hickerson’s motive is to prey on people who can’t afford to feed and care for their horses. He said she guesses she likely “saves” the horses, which potentially end up on a slaughter truck headed for Canada, leaving a few hundred dollars in Hickerson’s pocket. Coffman added that Hickerson has a trailer large enough to haul about 15 horses.

At this point, it’s all speculation but it is clear the horses on her property suffered severe neglect.

Staff writer Kip Hill contributed to this report.

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