An article in yesterday's Metro section gave the wrong date for a hearing in Fauquier County General District Court on what to do with 36 confiscated horses. The correct date is Jan. 2.

Fauquier County officials have seized 36 thoroughbred horses, many of them in foal, from a Marshall, Va., farm in what they said could be the state's largest and worst reported case of animal neglect.

The mares, their ribs showing and hip bones sticking out, were taken Wednesday from a pasture on Rte. 647, near I-66, and put on five private farms nearby, where they will be cared for until a hearing to determine what should be done with them. The hearing is scheduled for Wednesday in Fauquier County General District Court.

"I've had horse cases before this, but usually you find one or two or three," said Charles B. Foley, Fauquier County commonwealth's attorney. "This is obviously a very rare situation."

"This is the biggest neglect case we've ever been aware of," said Dee Hoeffel, executive director of the Virginia Thoroughbred Association.

Dennis McCarty III of Marshall, who authorities say had been caring for the mares since September at the farm he rents, could not be reached for comment yesterday. But, McCarty apparently did not own them, Foley said, and McCarty's agreement to care for them had lapsed, though he had continued to provide some food for the animals.

"The lines of ownership are very unclear," said Randy Pennington, of the Fauquier County Humane Office, who was involved in Wednesday's seizure. The ownership of the animals is under investigation, officials said.

Hoeffel and others say they became aware of the plight of the horses several weeks ago. The animals were kept in what was described as a large pasture area of approximately 20 acres. However, the food provided by McCarty was not enough, officials said. And "there were no pastures at all -- it had all been eaten down to nothing," Pennington said.

Bill Jackson, owner of Warrenton's Tri-County Feed, said he saw the horses daily when he drove by the pasture.

Jackson estimated that the average 1,200-pound mare had dropped 300 to 350 pounds off its normal weight.

"Most of the mares were in foal," said Hoeffel. " . . . But, they were definitely undernourished to the point where they had lost muscle tone. Their ribs showed, their hip bones stuck up and their backbones stuck up."

When the thoroughbred association became aware of the problem, it gave Jackson almost $1,000 to provide the animals with food. Other individuals also took grain and hay to the farm.

On Tuesday, Pennington and W. Rufus Humphrey, a Middleburg veterinarian, went to the farm to check the horses, many of which are believed to be former racehorses, and all of which are between three and seven years old.

Based on their inspection, Foley authorized the confiscating of the horses under the provisions of the Virginia State Animal Welfare Act. Foley also petitioned the court for a hearing that will determine whether the animals were neglected. The court can order the animals sold, placed under adoption or destroyed.