ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) – A group that finds homes for retired racehorses is raising money to care for 177 neglected horses seized from prominent breeder Ernie Paragallo and offering to oversee rehabilitation and placement of the animals.

Paragallo, however, said Monday that only about 20 horses on his upstate farm were underweight and that was due to a harsh winter and competition at the feed trough, with dominant mares pushing others aside.

“To me, it sounds like they got pushed by some of these animal rights activists that like to see horses look a little different than my horses look,” he said. “They’re racehorses. They’re not supposed to be big and round and fat.”

Diana Pikulski, executive director of the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, said Monday that the group is working with horse breeders, the New York Racing Association and other racing entities to raise money for the care of malnourished and neglected horses on Paragallo’s farm in Coxsackie, 20 miles south of Albany.

Paragallo, who lives on Long Island, was charged with 22 counts of animal cruelty Friday.

His horses are now under the care of the local humane society, which raided the farm along with state police last week.

In addition to being malnourished, many of the horses at Paragallo’s Center Brook Farm suffered from untreated cuts and scrapes, infections, and internal and external parasites, said Ron Perez, president of the Columbia Greene Humane Society.

Broodmares carrying foals had no bedding in their stalls, he said.

Prior to the raid, several horse rescue farms had taken in some sickly Paragallo thoroughbreds, including seven that were in a kill pen being fattened up for slaughter.

Pikulski said her group is offering to nurse the animals to health, evaluate them, and place them at appropriate farms.

“It takes a short period of time for a horse to fall off and lose a dangerous amount of weight, but it takes a long time to get it back up,” Pikulski said.

“You have to be very careful how you feed them. Their digestive tracts are sensitive. They can get colic.”

A number of factors must be considered before a horse is placed, such as whether it’s an untrained yearling, a former racehorse that’s easy to handle, or a stallion that will have to be gelded, Pikulski said.

The Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation cares for about 1,200 horses on 32 farms around the country as well as adopting horses out to private farms.

“TRF has the capability to place a large number of horses,” Pikulski said.

New York Thoroughbred Breeders, an owners’ group, has proposed a task force to broaden programs that assist thoroughbred owners forced by financial hardship to sell their horses, while developing a policy that punishes any owner, breeder or trainer who either directly or indirectly allows a horse to be sent to slaughter.

Paragallo, who has started more than 4,500 runners and earned more than $20.6 million in purses over the years, didn’t blame economic hardship for the situation at Center Brook. He said it was “mismanagement,” and said he had not visited the farm for more than nine months.

Paragallo said he had given the humane society permission to visit his farm any time and asked them to inform him if anything was amiss. He said the group inspected his horses on March 22 and 29 and instructed his manager to give extra feed to 25-30 mares, but never called him.

Paragallo said typically, about a half dozen horses are thin after winter but they fatten up in six weeks.

“Maybe the winter was a little rougher this year, maybe what we were feeding them wasn’t enough,” he said. “But we’ve been doing the same routine year after year and we’ve had good results getting those horses to the racetrack.”

Paragallo said the horses look unhealthier than they really are because they’re shedding their winter coats and many of them have “rain rot,” a fungal skin infection that develops under heavy, rain-soaked hair.

“They look funky, but that’s not a malnourished horse when they’re just missing hair,” he said.

Paragallo said he has the receipts to prove he was providing feed for the horses.

“It’s my responsibility to make sure those horses are taken care of. I thought I was providing what I was supposed to,” Paragallo said. “Am I happy about the situation? Absolutely not. Do I feel bad? I feel like throwing up every day.”

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