Equine Welfare Advocates Wish Lists for 2013

Equine Welfare Advocates Wish Lists for 2013

Some individuals charged with rescue horses' care have ideas about how to keep at-risk animals (like "Mocha," seen here before and after rescue and rehabilitation) safe.

Photo: SPCA of Monterey County

Lackluster economic conditions, debilitating drought, and overwhelmed owners put many horses at risk for neglect or maltreatment in 2012. Some of those animals were surrendered to equine rescue organizations by their owners, while others came under rescuers' care when law enforcement authorities discovered their circumstances. Either way, rescue organizations have struggled to care for the increasing number of horses in their possession.

Although equine welfare will always be an issue, some individuals charged with rescue horses' care have ideas about how to keep at-risk animals safe and how to prevent them from becoming at risk in the first place. Here's what is on their minds:

More Rescue Oversight

Minnesota veterinarian Tracy A. Turner, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVS, president of the Minnesota Horse Council (MHC), would like to see more veterinarians become involved with local rescue activities to ensure that rescues are using public donations to provide appropriate care for the animals in their charge.

"Under The Minnesota Horse Council Certified Rescue Program rescues must show us proof of 501(C)3 status ," Turner said. "This opens up the rescue to charitable donations and to veterinarians who inspect and certify that the rescue meets or exceeds American Association of Equine Practitioners' care guidelines for rescues and retirement facilities."

Photo: SPCA for Monterey County

Improved Rescuer Education and Networking

According to Jennifer Williams, PhD, president and executive director of the Bluebonnet Equine Humane Society in Texas, equine rescues do not have the same networking and educational opportunities small animal rescues do. She'd like to see that change in 2013.

"Small animal rescues frequently have seminars and conferences where operators exchange ideas about how to provide the best care and make the most of their resources, but equine rescues don't have those opportunities," Williams said. "I'm always thinking about ways to improve this rescue, (and) I'd like to see more education for other rescue operators."

Uniform Cruelty Laws and Application

Williams would also like to see legislators amend existing cruelty statutes to clarify basic standards of care. "I'm not a person who wants to see more legislation, but some of these laws are so vague and vary from state to state, that I'd like to see a more uniform code," she said.

Meanwhile, Jeanette Jordan, president of the South Florida Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), would like to see better enforcement of laws already on the books. For instance, Florida law forbids the mutilation or killing of any horse and forbids the transport, distribution, sale, and purchase of horsemeat for human consumption. Violators face felony mandatory minimum penalties of $3,500 in fines and one year in prison and maximum penalties of five years in prison and $5,000 in fines for each offense. A recent case was prosecuted under that law, but Jordan believes sentencing connected to the case was too light.

"Judges need to hand down sentences that are more than a slap on the wrist," Jordan said. "Judges need to realize that animal cruelty and animal abuse are connected to the abuse of women and children."

Training for Rescued Horses

In July, a group of horse trainers will travel to California to participate in "Ride to the Rescue," an event that pairs 12 top trainers with 12 rescued horses for 100 days. The event's mission is to provide rescued horses with the skills that make them attractive to adoptive families. Such events have a track record of success, said trainer Maggie Metzker, who is helping organize the event.

"At an event two years ago, 98% of the 50 horses involved were adopted," said Metzker.

The California event is supported by the Marin County Horse Council and others. Elsewhere, the Minnesota Horse Council has backed successful trainer challenge events, said Turner. Williams would like to see such events take place nationwide.

"Really, I'd like to see this idea spread from rescue to rescue," Williams said.

Better Owner Education

In December a pair of horses found wandering in a Monterey County, Calif., neighborhood were placed by law enforcement authorities in the care of that county's SPCA. The animals were in need of food and veterinary treatment. Why the owner abandoned the animals is unknown, but Beth Brookhouser, director of community outreach for The SPCA for Monterey County, thinks better horse owner education could spare other animals a similar fate.

"The majority of our humane officer's work involves teaching horse owners that horses need hay, veterinary care, hoof trimming, and dental care," Brookhouser said. "Education is a better, more humane, and legal alternative to abandoning horses or neglecting them to the point that they are seized."

Rescuers said they would also like to see more hay and feed assistance to help owners during the tightest times, as well as low-cost castration clinics to prevent indiscriminate breeding. But even with all the options, rescues continue to fill, often to the point of overflowing, Turner said.

"An area that needs to be addressed is an end strategy for this," Turner said. "But we are trying."

About the Author

Pat Raia

Pat Raia is a veteran journalist who enjoys covering equine welfare, industry, and news. In her spare time, she enjoys riding her Tennessee Walking Horse, Sonny.

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