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Equine Neglect-Let’s Be Objective

November 23, 2016

During the November Animal Care Wednesday Webinar, Liv Sandberg, University of Wisconsin Equine Extension Specialist, discussed the basic definitions of abuse, cruelty, neglect, and hoarding while sharing how to be objective (unbiased) when evaluating horses within their home environments.

Know the Terms
Whenever we deal with sensitive topics, it is critical to be clear in our understanding of the vocabulary used and that animals are viewed as “property” of the owner. Let’s review a few key terms, but remember each state has their own legal definitions of these terms.

  • Cruelty or abuse. Crime of intentionally inflicting pain, suffering or death on an animal.
  • Neglect. Failure to provide basic care required for an animal to survive or thrive, may be deliberate or unintentional type of cruelty.
  • Hoarding. “Neglect on a large scale involving numbers of animals and frequently inadequate housing and husbandry conditions,” according to the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP).

Challenge of Unwanted Horses
Many people ask, why does there seem to be more problems with horse welfare than other species? Looking back at a few changes occurring in the United States provides some insight. In 2007, three U.S. horse slaughter plants closed leaving more than 80,000 additional horses in need of care each year. Over breeding increased the number of available horses; though there is starting to be a decline in breed registries which could denote this is becoming less of an issue. The economic decline impacted family’s available “recreational” income when people lost jobs, which subsequently led to a weakening of the horse selling market. Another factor was the drought conditions in various regions of the U.S. during 2011 and 2012.

In addition to these variables, there are a few characteristics specific to horses that need to be considered.

  • Horses are not marketed as meat animals, so its marketability depends on training.
  • Cost of euthanasia (>$300/case) and carcass disposal (>$75/case) vs. continuing to board an aging or ill horse.
  • Lack of understanding of costs associated with annual horse care (hay alone at 2% of body weight is approximately $500/horse annually).
  • Lack of understanding of costs associated with a rescued horse due to extra health care and feed requirements (>$1,000/case to restore health + approximately $2,000 annual care).

Evaluating the Big Picture
Sandberg provided scenarios to address the key aspects that should be observed when determining the level of care and well-being of horses in their home environment. Especially important is rationally thinking about the duration of time that a horse has been exposed to the poor conditions to result in its visual appearance, and how many horses in a group are impacted. People should consider the following items (not a comprehensive list):

  • Feed and water – availability, amount, quality
  • Facilities – dry area accessible, shelter (trees or barn), harmful objects in horse area, new looking facilities can be misleading of level of care
  • Body condition score (1-9) – fat deposits, muscling, any scores below 3 (1=emaciated)
  • Wounds or illness – chronic or open wounds, granulating wounds, disease, weather stress
  • Feet – severe overgrowth, cracks
  • Coat condition – severe overgrowth, dull or damaged, mud or burr presence, parasites
  • Equipment – poor fitting halters, lead ropes, winter blankets, fly masks
  • Pasture quality – green doesn’t indicate nutritionally valuable, length of growth, plant type

The take home message Sandberg shared of how to help in these situations was, “Be safe while monitoring a situation you may be concerned with. Understand the state procedures and start at the local law enforcement. However, most of all be patient and let law enforcement handle the situation to ensure the animals receive proper legal assistance.”

For questions about objectively evaluating equine body condition and welfare, contact Liv Sandberg.

Source: South Dakota State University