There is a horse near me that I believe is neglected or abused. What do I do? Can you help?

The exact answer to this question varies widely based upon your location. However, the basic answer is this…

Call animal control or law enforcement. Just as you would contact animal control if you see an abused or neglected dog, cat, or other “pet”, the same is true for mistreated equines as well as cattle or really any animal. It may be helpful to that agency if you can provide detailed descriptions of the conditions, or even photographs or video evidence. (Of course, we are not advocating trespassing or otherwise violating anyone else’s rights. Please ask your legal professional and make safe choices for yourself.)

If you are in Illinois, there is an organization called Hooved Animal Humane Society, who does have equine care specialists, who may be able to help your local governing body if they don’t feel adequately able to make such a determination.

Please know that we are not a government agency, and we don’t have the authority to confiscate an animal or threaten or force an owner to improve the animals’ conditions or care. Because our local agencies may ask us to take possession of an animal, we feel it is a potential conflict of interest for us to be the ‘experts’ saying an animal’s conditions are inadequate and therefore we should be allowed to remove him/her. However, we will gladly answer any questions an agency might have, provide advice for how to care for specific scenarios, etc.

If a local agency feels an animal’s conditions are poor due to lack of owner education or understanding, we are very happy to get involved and assist. Many horse owners simply don’t understand how the needs of a horse are different from a large dog or other pets, and one of our key goals is public and owner education to avoid unintentional mistreatment or neglect, so that the horse never has to come into a rescue facility at all.

If an owner is in some sort of crisis and can no longer care for the animal, they may have no idea what options they have to get rid of the horse. Animal control may then recommend they contact us, to see if we can take him/her or help the owner find other homes.

If I give you the animal’s location, can YOU go see if it is ok?

I’m sorry, no. If they are local to us and you know the owner, you can suggest to him/her that, if they’re unsure how to care for the animal (for example a senior horse that won’t keep on weight or an injury they don’t know how to treat), by all means suggest they call us. However, we have no more right to go onto someone else’s property or otherwise assess someone else’s animals without their request than any other average citizen.

So what SHOULD I do?
We recommend several steps:

  1. Call your local animal control office. If you don’t have one, call your sheriff or other police agency. Explain your concerns. Realize that there are specific laws they have to abide by, and unless an animal is in critical condition, they cannot simply “snatch him” the first time they visit a facility.
  2. If your animal control or police agency indicate they can’t help or don’t have the ability to help, contact your state’s Department of Agriculture, and ask them what to do. Generally, the state office knows who in a region can assist, or can help nudge your local officials to help.
  3. If you are in Illinois, contact Hooved Animal Humane Society and ask them who the licensed horse inspector is in your region and report your concerns.
  4. You may also want to contact your Mayor or other officials, or even senator or representative to assist if your local government is not taking action at all. 
  5. As a last option, if no one is responsive and the animals are truly in trouble, you may find help from your local news agencies. Sometimes a call from a reporter asking an agency what steps they are taking about a neglect case that the news team is considering covering is enough to nudge an agency to take charge of a situation.

Anything else I should know?

  1. One VERY important point — an average horse weighs 1,000 lbs. For a non-horse person to recognize s/he is underweight, she is likely down at least 150 lbs. To put weight back on a horse safely and without risking colic or other illnesses, a horse should gain at roughly 1 lb. per day — that means approximately 5-6 months for that horse to return to a healthy weight IF he has no other health issues! So you aren’t going to see a change in a day, or a week. It usually takes 6-8 weeks for the naked eye to recognize weight gain on a horse.
  2. ONE MORE — Please, DO NOT take it upon yourself to “help” someone else’s animals! If you suddenly provide a starving horse with a large quantity of even poor quality hay or inexpensive feed, you will severely upset their digestive system. THEY CANNOT VOMIT, and literally you will very likely “kill him with kindness”. A weight gain regimen needs to be determined carefully and adjusted very slowly to avoid this.
  3. Click here for how to donate a horse.