Animal Advocate: Horse Neglect Soars

Jennifer Clarke
By Jennifer Clarke March 15, 2011 10:32

Jennifer Clarke with Gideon

Amid the economic downturn, horse neglect cases in the foothills have soared.

We now investigate twice as many cases – two to three per month compared to one a month. At least four horses have been simply dumped in our area, and ReHorse Rescue, the area’s only equine rescue center, is now holding 44 horses.

Animal Control departments enforce laws and ordinances related to public safety and animal welfare. Cases run the gamut from unintentional lack of care to extreme cruelty. With horses, the most common complaint is about underweight animals. We first locate the horse and verify the complaint (many horses reported lying dead in a field turn out to be napping in the afternoon sun). Next, we talk to the owner about the feed and care regimen. Often, he or she is not knowledgeable about equine care, and education can help rectify the problem.

Some horses are not being fed enough or the right type of feed for the animal’s breed, age, or activity level. When we see one or two thin horses and the rest are normal weight, a dominant horse may be bullying the others and getting most of the feed. This can be solved easily by separating them during feeding time.

If a horse has trouble chewing or is dropping feed, a trip to the equine dentist may be in order. Horses’ teeth grow continuously and, if they do not occlude properly, may develop sharp points that need to be filed down, common in older horses. Senior horses also do not digest as efficiently, and may need specialized feed.

Internal parasites can contribute to weight loss. Many people don’t realize that horses need to be wormed regularly. Horses’ hooves require regular trimming and/or shoeing. Some neglected horses develop a crippling condition called “elves toes” – hooves so overgrown that they curl up in front.

If we find horses that are injured or ill, we require a veterinary evaluation and may seize neglected animals. In cases of intentional neglect or cruelty, criminal charges are filed. In one recent case, a horse named Gabriel collapsed while being ridden along Highway 108. He was 250-300 pounds underweight with various sores and injuries. Another horse, 200 pounds underweight with a festering wound on his withers, was also seized from the same owner, who faces criminal charges.

Gabriel is recovering at ReHorse Rescue, while the second horse, Gideon, is at Tuolumne County Animal Control. With proper feed and care, both animals are now normal weight and healing. Gideon is looking for an experienced person to give him a loving home – one that will be carefully screened, as we do a complete background check on prospective horse adopters.

Anyone considering owning a horse should first learn the requirements for proper care. Then, they should evaluate whether they can really afford a horse. Costs vary widely, from $50 to $500 a month, depending on whether you have pasture or have to board the animal, along with farrier and vet bills, supplemental feed and more.

It’s not a decision to be taken lightly, as anyone who has cared for neglected and abused horses will tell you.

Jennifer Clarke, shown here with Gideon, is the manager of Tuolumne County Animal Control, 694-2730. Contact ReHorse Rescue at 337-5886, rehorserescue.org. Both organizations welcome donations to help neglected and abused horses.

© 2011 Friends and Neighbors

Jennifer Clarke
By Jennifer Clarke March 15, 2011 10:32