Minimum Standards of Horse Care Booklet Published for California Officials

"Is it abuse or neglect?" Sometimes law enforcement officials unfamiliar with horses or proper horse care have to make that call in an equine welfare case. Three equine researchers in California recently published a booklet to arm California law enforcement agents who might not be familiar with horses in detecting and describing neglect cases.

Grant Miller, DVM, a veterinary practitioner in Sonoma County, Calif.; Carolyn Stull, MS, PhD, an animal welfare extension specialist at the University of California, Davis; and Gregory Ferraro, DVM, director of the Center for Equine Health at UC Davis, teamed up to publish Minimum Standards of Horse Care in the State of California in late 2010.

According to Stull, despite equine welfare advocates' best efforts to educate horse owners about proper care, abuse and neglect continue to pose a significant threat to California's equine population. Stull has worked with several groups dedicated to rescuing and rehabilitating neglected horses, and she recognized the need for a publication aimed at assisting law enforcement officials with identifying cases of substandard equine care. And after witnessing a large-scale seizure of 270 neglected horses in 2004, Stull said she became even more aware of the difficulties officials investigating such cases face.

"I started thinking, well, what is neglected and what isn't?" Stull said.

The publication, which the team completed in about a year, is divided into subsections that address proper water, feed, shelter, health care, and transportation for horses. It also provides valuable information on identifying neglect or abuse. Stull and her colleagues designed Minimum Standards to serve as a basic guidebook for law enforcement officials; they hope it will be easily understood by individuals unfamiliar with horses and horse husbandry. The booklet includes reference photographs as well as detailed descriptions of minimum standards for horse care that apply not only in California but across the country. According to Stull, the publication has been very well-received, filling an important but often overlooked niche.

"A person may have had experience with (welfare cases involving) cats and dogs but not with horses," she said. "Ultimately, it's a workbook for animal enforcement officials. Judgment of each case is still at their discretion."

Beth DiCaprio, executive director of The Grace Foundation, an organization in El Dorado Hills, Calif., dedicated to rescuing neglected animals both large and small, agreed that officials sometimes need an extra hand when it comes to identifying equine neglect and abuse. According to DiCaprio, the difference between seizing and not seizing a neglected animal is often measured in dollars. Minimum Standards could offer scientific support for the financial decision associated with removing a horse from an unhealthy environment.

"I hope (the publication) allows more black and white determination of neglect," DiCaprio said. "Right now there is a lot of gray."

DiCaprio believes Minimum Standards could even be the difference between life and death for a horse in need.

Much of the booklet is a reiteration of California law, Stull explained. A list of equine-related statutes for the state of California is included, and all care standards are designed to be objective and are based on scientific evidentiary support. Although the publication targets a law enforcement audience, Stull said new owners and zoning officials could also benefit from giving it a read.

"It's probably too basic for most horse owners," Stull said. "But the more people that see it, the better."

To view the booklet online, visit the UC Davis website.

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