This is a touchy subject but one I wanted to cover after seeing some very iffy situations being publicly posted on social media and it’s a situation a lot of people don’t like to talk about.
I have been in the horse industry for a LONG time. Growing up our ranch had a fairly big breeding and training operation. I have seen horses coming from champions to back yard pets and everything in-between. Having sold many horses over the years I have also seen some amazing homes that will forever touch my heart but some of our horses were returned in horrible conditions because owners were to prideful to call for us to come get the horse when they couldn’t afford to feed them until they were nearly dead. (Thankfully it was a rare occasion but it did happen)
In todays day and age the internet is literally at our finger tips. We are able to send information out to various social medias with just a few clicks of a button but there are times when doing so is a VERY bad idea. Recently I ran crossed a lady on a public local horse forum spouting off a neglect case.
Normally I don’t get embroiled in stuff like this but what this young whipper-snapper was saying was (and this is paraphrased) “This horse is standing in a huge heap of poop, in a TINY back yard with no food or water or shelter and it’s an obvious neglect case. I’ve owned horses I know neglect. This horse lives by such and such and here are the pictures. Who do I call to report this?”
I have a few issues with what this lady, who in all honesty believed she was doing the right thing, did to not only herself but the people with the mule. (It was a mule not a horse). This “expert” posted pictures and a rough address of this mule. A pretty good, albeit old, looking mule that had a shelter and a rather large one at that in the background that she apparently didn’t see. He was not skinny, in fact his ribs were not even showing and he was bordering on fat for mule. His top line wasn’t there (possibly due to age) but his feet were trimmed and his mane combed and he was not sucked up from lack of water. Other then the poop in the pen there was no obvious signs of neglect.
All this woman saw was the “huge” amount of poop and no visible water/food source and posted publicly that these people were neglecting their animal. Without knowing the situation, without even trying to contact anyone who knew this animal she threw wild allegations around that these people are animal abusers and this mule (oh “horse”) was being starved and in a very small community form.
What she did right there, my good friends, is called Slander. And it will get you sued faster then you can blink. When pointed out the fact that the MULE was not being neglected and given reasons why from the the pictures she posted, the woman threw an even bigger fit saying she should not be contradicted and she just knew this horse was getting neglected. So to prevent anyone from getting into a situation where you can possibly get sued, but you think there might be a neglect case here are a few steps you can take:
**Note** Please refrain from trespassing or breaking any laws while following the helpful tips below. If you’re unsure if it would break a law please don’t do it!
1.) Look at the situation as a whole: Is it truly neglect? Is it just less then perfect living arrangements. Trust me I have seen less then stellar living arrangements, some that even made me cringe but the animal itself was in good condition and seems to be alert and happy. Do they have water? Do they have food.?Do they LOOK neglected (Ie. Matted hair, untrimmed feet).
**Late add in** As a friend reminded me, just because you see a super skinny or neglected looking horse does not mean it’s current situation is one of neglect. As I mentioned above we got horses back nearly starved to death, and if you just happened to see them in a pen by themselves you could think that they were in a bad situation when in fact they had already been removed from the bad situation!! Which leads right to my next bullet….
2.) Try to contact the owners and find out their situation. This is a very hard thing to do as most people do not like being told that someone thinks they are neglecting their animals BUT sometimes said people are beginners/new to animals and in mild cases may not realize what they are doing wrong and a HELPFUL person can help straighten out the situation. They could be someone who is also hurting for money temporarily and doing the best they can. I’m not saying it justifies neglecting an animal but we could help someone out, rather then start blaming them for neglect. Sometimes all someone needs is a helping hand for a minuet to get back on their feet. Also like mentioned in bullet #1, the horse may have been removed from a bad situation and is in recovery mode but still looks skinny/in bad shape. Don’t just rush up to their front door and start yelling at them. No one appreciates that and in fact will probably not listen to a word you say and just call the cops for trespassing. Be polite please. Use honey not vinegar!
3.) Contact a local vetrinarian. If you are that concerned spend a few bucks and have a vet come look at the horse, if possible without trespassing, and check the body score and living conditions. (They are way better at body scoring then the average person normally) If seeing them well from a road isn’t possible try to take them really good pictures and ask if they can give you an assesment. Many times vets will have contacts with local animal groups such as animal control and ASPCA so further action can be taken should the vet deem they are being starved/neglected. His/her words will have much more weight then yours in this type of situation. You can also check a horses condition score (and even your own using charts like the one posted below)
**Note** Not all vets will do this if they are not your animal, and they don’t have a request from an animal group mentioned below. Don’t get upset with your vet if they choose not to give an opinion because they are trying to protect themselves and their business.
4.) Contact your local Animal control/ASPCA/Humane society. I know in many areas animal control isn’t much help with equine related issues but if you begin contacting these groups eventually they will have to come and assess the situation, especially if there are more then one complaint about it. It may not be overnight but if you get the ball rolling, many times it will work out in your favor IF proven to be neglect/starvation case.
Now just because we see a situation that is not ideal or one we think is neglect does not mean that there is a good case for the above mentioned animal groups. You can do all you can and sometimes nothing happens. Sometimes they meet just enough of the wickets, or the horses are in just good enough condition they cannot do anything but warn them and do welfare checks. Sadly this happens and at this point you can try going to the internet but like mentioned above do so at your own risk.
Seeing neglect and starvation in horses is horrible and something I sincerely hope no animal ever has to go through but it is a sad fact that it does happen and sometimes quite often. If you are unsure if it even merits a call talk with your trainer, or your local horse friends and get other peoples honest opinions about it. Sometimes the best we can do is learn what not to do.
If you’re still unsure if it’s a neglect case Here is a great article about reporting it. It’s for vets but it has some great information in it http://www.aaep.org/custdocs/aaepfaqsequineabuse.pdf
Until next time