Hundreds of horses later, this has proven true almost never. . .
(The above mare is an example of an after and before in a short time frame. Her owner gave many reasons for her condition, but it was easy to establish starvation was responsible)
To date, in all but one very senior mare with extremely advanced COPD/Heaves, a medical condition, parasites or age has never prevented total rehab to a perfect weight in a rescue that arrived into Heart of Phoenix Equine Rescue.
I have known of cases that where a privately owned very aged and ill horse an owner couldn’t let go of soon enough out of attachment to become very thin before passing on, yet this is rare. I would hate for this to be used to say sometimes old horses are just thin. That isn’t true.
Keep in mind, weight loss due to anything except starvation is rare. In the senior horse, this is something quite unusual when the horse is receiving great care unless the horse has an extreme condition where humane euthanasia is the best choice before the horse wastes away.
Another example of weight loss where starvation isn’t involved would be documented surgery or horrible illness requiring hospitalization or critical care. Horses sometimes can go off feed where some condition can drop (ending up skeletal isn’t something we’ve seen).
While if you don’t worm your horse and the horse needs it, you are being negligent, the weight loss is generally very marginal from parasites. Poisoning? This always shouts of a tall tale, and to date, each time is has been told to us, the horse began to improve the moment they walked into the rescue. A colt will only a pull a mare down if she isn’t fed enough. If you have an illness or dental issues causing emaciation, you likely will have a vet record of a diagnosis and be able to show improvement week to week.
I have entered many properties with animal control over the years and am always (but always) told that the horse has lost weight because of “worms,” “poisoning,” “a colt pulling them down” or some “unknown illness.” As you would expect, so far, none of these tales have proven true. Always. No one ever just looks me in the eye and says, “I am starving my horse.” But so far, that has always been what was taking place when we’ve been involved on a call with animal control.
Sadly, many a horse is left in harm’s way by law enforcement or by animal control because they do not know enough about horses to know these stories are just tales told by the negligent parties to protect themselves. I hear these reports all of the time. They simply believe the stories told them by owners. They are banking on an expert to not being there to know better, and too often, this is what happens.
We work hard to dispel these common “reasons,” and we try to empower the general public, LE and ACOs with sufficient education to know when a horse is truly in harm’s way and needs help.
What do we do to establish a horse is truly being neglected beyond looking at a low body score of 1, 2 or 3?
- We assess the area.
- Is it maintained?
- Is the fence safe?
- Is water provided in sufficient supply? Is the water clean?
- If the horse is stalled, is the area reasonably clean and free from filth?
- Are the horse’s hooves maintained by farrier care? Do the hooves have thrush?
- Can the owner tell you when the horse last received any vet care or dental care? Can vet and farrier information be verified?
- Does the horse’s coat receive attention? Is there rain rot present?
- Take the time to ask the owner about how much and how often they feed and what they feed. Ask for the feed source and hay source. Look to see if there is feed and hay storage on the property. Establish whether the hay provided (if any) is able sustain a horse. Do the same for the grain provided (if any.)
- Assess the land to see whether plants horses would usually not eat appear to have been consumed. Have the trees been debarked? Has the area the horses are kept been denuded to indicate extreme hunger and willingness to eat anything available?
- Does the amount of manure observed seem consistent with a healthy horse’s output.
Taking all of the above into account, as well as an accurate body score, tells a humane officer, a sheriff, a vet or a rescue called out enough to make a call as to whether a horse is being neglected and needs removed.
Once a horse can be vetted, other aspects like blood work, fecal egg count, temperature, monitoring immediate manure, hydration levels and the like will assist in painting a full picture for a court case, if one is likely.
Please share to help further the education surrounding the “neglected” horse and the reasons often given for poor condition.