DECATUR — Who would steal the hair right off a horse's head?
Probably someone who knows how much it's worth.
Horse hair can be used to make everything from purses to high-end furniture — and that's why it is a growing target for thieves.
Criminals recently trespassed on Sue Owen's property in Decatur and sheared her horses three times. Owen then had to make a difficult phone call to the owner of a young show horse she was boarding.
"I had been turning her out in the evening so she wouldn't get sunburned," Owen said. "She had a beautiful mane and tail... a competition horse."
The thieves cut off the horse's mane and tail the day before it was to have been returned to its owner in England.
At first, Owen thought it was a cruel, but one-time prank.
Then it happened again — six days later.
And again, just weeks ago, to an American miniature horse.
Owen started calling around, and discovered the same thing had happened to seven other horses in the Decatur and Boyd areas within the last two months.
"I came up here, and all I saw was her tail cut," said 11-year-old Savana Long, whose horse named Jingle Bells was victimized.
Horse hair is valuable. "There is a big market for horse hair abroad," Owen said. "It sells for up to $350 a pound."
The hair is used to make everything from jewelry to pottery to brushes. Slaughterhouses have closed, so the hair is harder to get.
The regrowth of a mane and tail is a slow process that can take up to four years, depending on how much is cut.
Owen had to pay the owner of that show horse $2,500 in restitution, and she believes the owner was kind not to ask for more.
For Savana, the cost is in the unwelcome knowledge that her Jingle Bells may no longer be safe.
"When these guys get caught, I'm glad they're going to be caught because I love this horse more than anything in the world," she said.
Owen hopes USDA investigators can use shipping records to track and arrest the thieves — that is, she says, if they don't surprise the wrong horse owner first.
Men and women like her, she says, stand ready to defend their homes — and their horses.