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The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office has launched a criminal investigation into a Riverview horse rescue, saying the operation mistreated two horses the Sheriff's Office had placed there earlier this year.

Detectives said two horses, an Arabian mare named Valentine and a Tennessee pinto mare named Flower, were found underweight and apparently malnourished during an April 2 visit to RVR Horse Rescue at 12611 Hayes Clan Road. The animals were taken to a Sheriff's Office facility against the rescue's wishes.

Sheriff's spokesman Larry McKinnon said the agency had a positive relationship with the rescue, among others, and was alarmed when RVR Horse Rescue did not want to release the horses so the Sheriff's Office could care for them.

"We were just absolutely bewildered on why they would obstruct that," he said.

The horses were donated to the rescue in January by the Sheriff's Office, which took custody of them following an animal neglect hearing.

Veterinarians confirmed the horses were malnourished and had gained little to no weight since then, when they should have gained at least 1 pound a day if taken care of properly, according to the Sheriff's Office. In a petition filed Friday, the Sheriff's Office asserted the rescue had not fed the horses enough, or followed veterinary recommendations.

When weighed during a Jan. 28 examination, Valentine weighed about 700 pounds, according to court records. The horse had lost weight when examined by a detective April 2, weighing about 696 pounds.

Flower had gained about 17 pounds between Jan. 28 and April 2, weighing about 617 pounds when examined by the detective. Yet it had gone down from a March 19 medical evaluation, where it weighed around 644 pounds, according to records.

The petition also asserts their feed was not according to veterinary guidelines, and recommendations including antibiotics for Flower's pneumonia-related lung tissue issues were not indicated to have been taken.

The rescue did not want to voluntarily surrender the animals and said no neglect had taken place, detectives said.

Attempts to reach RVR Horse Rescue by phone Friday were unsuccessful. The rescue's founder, Shawn Jayroe, said in a 2012 interview with the Times that she works as a hairstylist to help fund the rescue and relies on volunteers and donations.

McKinnon said he understood that many rescues can struggle to accommodate the number of horses in need.

"We know a lot of these rescues are under a lot of stress because a lot of it is based on their capacity to take care of the horses," he said.

However, he said the agency needed to take legal action because the rescue would not voluntarily return the horses.

"We had asked them to take them back so we could simply feed them," he said. "That's all we wanted to do."