Protecting Our Four Hooved Friends

I saw a post on our local Facebook horse group regarding a suspected neglected horse and, after my trolling, thought about how timely this post came.

March 1st is National Horse Protection Day.  I had originally planned to discuss the wild equines but I want to address the ones that rely on us daily for their basic needs.  We’ll get to mustangs, they are still WILDLY important to me (pun intended).

If you passed this horse would you think he’s neglected?

Let’s play a game.

Is it neglect?

  1. You drive to work and pass by a farm every day.  On your daily route you pass by a small farm with a horse or two.  The horse is on a dry lot (no grass) and you don’t see hay.
  2. You visit a farm with some horses and one doesn’t look right.  It’s coat is dull, it’s ribs are showing.
  3. There’s another very fancy looking farm.  The horses outside are fancy show horses and they have shiny coats.
  4. You’re visiting a farm and you notice the stalls look dirty.  The horses are all dirty.
  5. You’re wandering a new neighborhood and you pass a farm with some horses.  You notice one or two with their ribs showing.
  6. You pass by another farm and see a horse outside in the paddock.  Its back sags, its coat is a little shaggy, and you can see the horse’s hip bones.
  7. You drive by yet another farm.  The horses are all in individual paddocks, always wearing fancy rugs and turnout blankets.  They have haynets.  The paddocks are a very muddy.

Which cases above are neglect?

It’s simple.

You don’t have enough details to know.

I just described a Tennessee Walker farm that sores horses, a horse with ulcers, a cushings horse, a senior horse, a show stable, an average farm, and a rescue farm.


We are now living in a very litigiou

s society where everyone want to fight the world.  While it’s excellent that we are actively trying to promote animal welfare we must also take into consideration the facts and details.  Imagine if someone looks at your horse sideways and decided to accuse you of abuse? I bet it won’t feel too good because I’m sure you take excellent care of him/her.

As horse owners we are faced with many different opinions and there is no one absolute way to care for a horse.  Argue as you will but I truly believe there’s no one way to keep a horse happy and healthy; just a way I’d prefer.

In addition to the equine critics, we’re also facing the rest of the world.  The rest of the world admires the beauty and proud stature of a horse, but doesn’t really know a lot about them.  How many non-horse people do you know?  Show them a picture of a horse with sway back or a dirty horse and see if they think it’s neglected.  To the rest of the world if it’s not Black Beauty in a field of wildflowers then you’re doing something wrong.  But us horse people realize it’s quite the opposite.  Horses poop, roll in mud, get sick, find creative ways to get injured, and age.  We aren’t always given the perfect circumstances, but most of us make the best of them.

One recent local case that comes to mind for me is a local farmer who was wrongfully accused of mistreating his animals.  I won’t go into details but it was very clear to any horse owner that authorities had overstepped on this case.  His name was momentarily tarnished, life upturned, his horses taken away, and legal fees to pay.  Fortunately he was released and got his horses back.  He still operates his farm and participates in a wonderful CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program selling pasture raised meats.

Wrongful Arrest

On the other side of things another local case still roils my stomach. This one is closer to me in that I know people who were directly affected by this person.  A local farrier, who was trusted to care for other people’s horses, had failed to provide adequate care for the animals on his farm.  A friend’s horse had spent a couple months with him and was brought home with a much lower body score.  The images that were shown from his farm (sorry the news reports don’t show them) depict a half rotten carcass of a horse in it’s stall.  This is what led to the farrier’s arre

st, but I still wonder if he’ll even be charged for how it had become this bad?  As far as I know this man is still living his life as usual and people seem to speculate that he’ll be fined and let go (though we can hope that’s not the case).

Another Local Horse Case

These are a couple of extremes that are very recent and very local for me. I’m sure that you can find some in your local area as well.  In the first, people had wrongfully accused a good horse owner making it both difficult and expensive for him. In the next case not enough has been done to ensure he won’t harm another animal.

When you suspect neglect, please do your due diligence first.  If we accuse everyone authorities will prosecute no-one.  Good horse owners should not have to worry about being accused for wrongful care. If we take horses from the good owners more unwanted horses will fall into the hands of killpens.

Some older horses have shaggier coats and have difficulty maintaining muscle

If you suspect neglect, consider these things:

  • Does the horse look to be in immediate need?
    • If it is so skinny it doesn’t look like it can survive, I would call authorities.
    • If the horse doesn’t look to be in immediate need, I would observe from afar.  Visit more often and at different times of day.
  • Are there other horses on the property and how do they look?
  • Is there hay or evidence of hay from earlier?
    • Some horses are hoovers and devour all their hay within hours so this is why I would check at different times of day.  My horse can polish off 4-5 flakes overnight and there’s rarely evidence of spare hay.
  • Is there water?
  • How is the horse’s body and coat condition?
    • Older horses lose condition and have trouble keeping weight
    • Horses with previous injury might look decrepit
    • Cushings can cause a dulled shaggy look
    • Ulcers can cause a dull coat and ribby look
    • Parasites can cause a ribby dull look as well
    • Many other health conditions might cause a horse to look less than perfect
  • How do the hooves look?
    • Some horses have crappy feet and develop cracks, abscesses, or even injure themselves
    • Does it appear the hooves have been trimmed in the last 2 months?

A horse that doesn’t meet your standards doesn’t necessarily mean it’s being neglected.  How a person chooses to care for certain conditions may not meet your level of care, but it doesn’t immediately point to neglect or cruelty.  As with many aspects of life we must respectfully agree to disagree on a lot of things.

That said, if it truly is a case of neglect or cruelty by all means contact the authorities.  At the end of the day the horse’s well-fare is of the upmost importance.  I just hope you exercise good judgement.

New York State – How to Report Suspected Abuse

…and don’t think all that constitutes neglect or cruelty involves appearances.  Docking tails, soring feet, overloading, and beating are all horrible acts of cruelty but the horses may appear to be fit, healthy, and well cared for.

Finally….the top picture of the miserable black horse in the rain?  Did you think that was neglect?

That was my handsome fella, feeling sorry about the situation of him being out in the rain.  It was a warm summer day and his mustang mate was happy to laugh at his dilemma.

Neglect? No.  Just a case of a sometimes overly doted on thoroughbred (he’s the star of a blog, for one) with a clear opinion on how things ought to be.  He gets ulcery, he gets ribby, and his coat becomes dull.  He doesn’t get much of a winter coat but what he gets makes him look dull and shaggy.



“winter coat”

Further Reading

New York State Department of Agriculture Animal Cruelty Laws Article 26

New York State – How to Report Suspected Abuse or Neglect

Equine Advocates

EquiManagement – A Veterinarian’s Responsibility in Horse Abuse Cases

American Association of Equine Practitioners – FAQs: Equine Cruelty, Abuse and Neglect

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