Social media posts circulated this week with photos of a horse ostensibly found in the Sonora area with a saddle and reins and no rider.

The posts and photos have captured the hearts, minds and imaginations of online animal rescue advocates and other people who are concerned about what happened to the rider.

What’s not clear is if any of the information is factual.

It’s not clear who took the photos. It’s not clear when the photos were taken. And it’s not clear where the photos were taken, although it says the horse was found in Sonora Hills.

Representatives for the Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Office, Sonora Police, county animal control and the Forest Service did not respond to requests for comment.

Kimberly Weick-Machado, who runs Lazy Horse Ranch in Placerville, shared social media posts Friday with The Union Democrat. She emailed the posts and said, “Hi, I was wondering if anyone heard of a rider falling off their horse? A horse was found fully tacked in Sonora Hills.”

The social media posts appear to be time-stamped Thursday and Wednesday this week. One was posted by Pamela Hauck Valencia of Sacramento at 2:11 a.m. Thursday. It has a photo of a saddled, tacked-up horse eating grass next to a pond or reservoir.

Hauck Valencia’s post reads, “Horse friends, anyone recognize this baby, it was found in Sonora, CA apparently by a homeless person and then traveled with it to Modesto, CA. They are now seeking help for the horse that is NOT theirs as it’s not eaten, skinny, and needs shoes!! Oh My!! Please, it needs help ASAP. Was posted on a pet lost/found/rescue but seems very suspicious!! Original poster: Honey Gonzales”

Hauck Valencia said in a phone interview Friday she tried to message Honey Gonzales, but didn’t get a response.

“There have been three other people involved. Myself, a horse person named Jennifer Trabucco, and a girl,” she said. “Nobody has been able to track down the person who owns the horse. Everybody has come to a dead end, from what I’ve been told.”

Gonzales did not respond to a request for comment Friday.

Weick-Machado said in a phone interview Friday she’s active with animal rescues and she advocates for wild horses. She said, “When you hear something like this, you’re also concerned for the rider. A horse found fully tacked means either a rider fell off, got bucked off, had a heart attack, or could be injured somewhere up in the hills.”

Weick-Machado also contacted Dawn Coultrap, a range management specialist with Stanislaus National Forest, who told Weick-Machado she hadn’t heard anything about the riderless horse and asked for more information.

Coultrap did not respond to requests for comment Friday.

Asked where the location Sonora Hills came from in her email, Weick-Machado said the information she sent, part of it came from Honey Gonzales on a lost and found rescue page and “Maybe somewhere along the line somebody threw a hills in there, I don’t know where I got hills from, sometimes things get tossed in there.”

Weick-Machado also shared screen shots of personal message texts from someone named Jennifer Trabucco, who said the horse was probably still out there.

Trabucco did not respond to a request for comment Friday.

Sonora Hills is a gated retirement community in a hillside neighborhood between Adventist Health Sonora, Sonora Elementary School and Tuolumne County Library just west of Greenley Road.

Jenny Arnold is a real estate agent on-site inside the gated complex. She said Friday in phone interviews the gates at Sonora Hills are open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and there’s no pond or reservoir in or near the hillside neighborhood. She there was absolutely no rumor, hearsay or gossip about a riderless, tacked-up horse found there in recent days.

Arnold said there’s a pond in Phoenix Lake Country Club Estates that resembles the body of water in one of the social media posts, “but there are a lot of ponds in our area that look similar, it's going to be difficult to track down which one it is.”

Arnold said she thinks online references to Sonora Hills are probably referring to the Sonora area and the hills around the Sonora area, not the Sonora Hills retirement community off Greenley Road.

One of the social media posts shared by Weick-Machado was from an animal advocate group called NetPosse.com. Contacted by phone Friday, Debi Metcalfe in Shelby, North Carolina, with NetPosse.com said her information about the “Found Horse Near Sonora Hills, CA, 00000” came to her second-hand and third-hand from somebody on Facebook called Jennifer, who shared info from somebody named Honey Gonzales.

Metcalfe said it's not clear when and where the photos of the saddled horse were taken.

Hauck Valencia told Weick-Machado in a public online post, “she and I got our hands slapped and post taken down on a Tuolumne County lost/found site. The more info you can obtain the better. Can you get contact for the mother or the person who found the horse? Jennifer has had no luck”

Both Weick-Machado and Metcalfe said Friday in phone interviews they have no way of knowing whether the riderless horse story is true, if it’s a combination of two unrelated incidents, or if it’s a hoax.

Contact Guy McCarthy at gmccarthy@uniondemocrat.com or 588-4585. Follow him on Twitter at @GuyMcCarthy.

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