Gardner could face prison sentence
Slick Gardner posed with some of the many horses in the background for this picture in June 2003

Buellton rancher Slick Gardner may find out this week if he's going to spend some time in state prison.

A Superior Court judge threw Gardner into county jail last week after ruling he may have violated his probation. Judge Art Garcia scheduled a hearing Friday to formally determine whether Gardner violated his probation by trying to block the removal of horses from his ranch off Highway 246 between Solvang and Buellton. If Gardner is found to be in violation, he could face a maximum of more than three years in state prison.

A probation report released last Friday recommended Gardner spend two years, eight months in prison for the alleged violation.

"The defendant has made a conscious decision to ignore the court's directives and has shown that he is not amenable to probation supervision," Deputy Probation Officer Shawna Coleman wrote in the report.

Until this week's hearing, the 57-year-old rancher is free on $50,000 bail, pending appeal of his conviction for felony animal cruelty and grand theft relating to horses kept on his ranch.

As part of his settlement, Gardner agreed to relinquish about 300 wild horses to qualified adopters. However, he allegedly refused to approve a Wednesday seizure of about 50 wild horses by Santa Barbara County Animal Services.

Gardner's attorney, Steve Balash, maintains his client does not oppose the removal of the horses but just wants to have a say in their destination.

Senior Deputy District Attorney Mag Nicola said the county would try to remove the horses soon, since winter is approaching. Gardner has provided a list of adopters he would approve, and the county is trying to determine whether the facilities meet their standards.

Santa Barbara County has already spent more than $200,000 on the seizure of horses from Gardner Ranch, and officials are trying to recover those expenses from Gardner through civil proceedings. Gardner Ranch is apparently in foreclosure, Balash said.

The defendant's girlfriend and ranch hands on the property will likely tend to the horses while Gardner is in county jail, Nicola said.

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