AMERICAN FALLS — A 6-year-old mustang mare named Dee was found dead inside her pasture Sunday from what appeared to be at least one stab wound to her gut. The bay horse would have delivered a colt next month.

Further, after a 10-day stay at A Little Piece of Heaven Horse Rescue, located on Fish Hatchery Road just outside of American Falls, Dee had been adopted and her new owner was planning to pick her up later that day.

Kim Clark operates A Little Piece of Heaven, along with her daughter, Erin McGuire, and Erin’s partner, Ian Beddo. Rainah, Erin’s 7-year-old daughter, also resides on the 90-acre ranch adjacent to the Snake River.

Clark said the family suspects that Dee was attacked at about 2:30 a.m.

“The dogs all started barking, but we get a lot of coyotes, porcupines and skunks out here and that’s what we thought it was,” Clark said.

But the next day, she found the mare dead in the middle of the field. The animal had received a deep slice near its flank. Dee also had trauma to her face — enough trauma that the veterinarian said her nasal cavity was shattered.

Max Sprague with the Power County Sheriff’s Office and Deputy Prosecutor Anson Call were at the ranch Monday. But Sprague said it will take time to process the scene and determine how Dee was killed.

In a press release Monday, Sheriff Jim Jeffries said that circumstances surrounding Dee’s death may be suspicious and he urges anyone with information in the case to call the Power County Sheriff’s Office at 208-226-2311.

Dee was born wild on the rangelands in Washington, but she grew to like people and was starting to trust them.

“She liked to play in the sprinkler, like a dog. She would bite at the water and jump around it,” Clark said. “And she would eat out of your hand. She just seemed to like people.”

The mare was part of band of eight wild horses rescued from slaughter in Yakima, Wash.

Matt and Lauri Armstrong own and operate Chilly Pepper Miracle Mustangs, currently based in Nevada.

Lauri said they worked with the Yakima tribe to rescue the wild horses that were about to be sold by the pound and trucked to a slaughterhouse.

Miracle Mustangs specializes in foal rescue, but Lauri said they were able to rescue Dee’s entire band at a cost of about $7,000.

This year, Miracle Mustangs has rescued and homed 42 colts and 11 adult horses.

“We usually rescue the sick and orphaned babies that the wild stallions are going to kill,” Lauri said. “This is the first time we’ve been able to save a whole band.”

Lauri said she was devastated when she learned of Dee’s Fate.

“Just the fact that she was starting trust people, and that maybe that was her downfall, was tragic,” Lauri said.

The ponies were hauled to A Little Piece of Heaven just over a week ago and Clark said everyone quickly became attached to Dee.

Clark said she managed to get through Sunday as nine other mustangs were pick up for transport to their new homes.

“But when everyone left, I just about lost it,” Clark said. “I felt like I let (Dee) down.”

Much like her equine charge, Clark is also a survivor.

Clark has undergone four separate surgeries, the last in January, as well as chemotherapy for bladder cancer.

She returned to her job as a truck driver in May and she drives at night and cares for mustangs during the day along with assistance from Erin and Ian.

A Little Piece of Heaven is located at the end of a long dirt drive; Clark has leased the ranch for the past five years.

The family-operated ranch overlooks the Snake River. It consists of horse pastures, horse pens, a green shady yard where speckled chickens and a calm turkey peck the lawn. Several friendly dogs, a striped kitten, a comfortable log home and a shady pond complete with geese.

The ranch has cared for and homed 30 wild mustangs this year through Miracle Mustangs and other rescue groups.

Clark said she got involved in Mustang rescue five years ago while she was driving through North Dakota.

“I saw them unload these five horses, and I thought they were having an auction,” Clark said. “But the guy said, “They’re going to be sold at 23 cents a pound.’ I ended up buying all five horses and I came back and leased a place where I could have them and I’ve been doing it since then.”

There are currently 13 horses on the ranch. They include a blind Appaloosa, a Shetland pony and two miniature horses that Clark ended up adopting, and a tall lean, buckskin colt that Erin took on.

For the most part, Clark said the family funds the operation on their own, but she does get some donations and discounted vet fees.

Before a mustang can be adopted, the new owner must submit to a background check and an inspection of the property where the animal will be kept. Stallions are gelded and mares cannot be bred.

Clark said Mustangs are healthier and heartier than other breeds.

“They just have to learn that they can trust you, that they’re not going to get hurt,” Clark said.

To learn more about Mustang rescue and adoption or to make a donation, go to www.chillypepper.org, or call Clark at 208-252-1949.