Two Malnourished Arizona Horses Seized, One Euthanized

Two Malnourished Arizona Horses Seized, One Euthanized

Arizona authorities seized two malnourished horses from an owner allegedly unable to care for them.

Photo: Courtesy Maricopa County Sheriff's Office

On Feb. 5, 2016, Arizona authorities seized a pair of allegedly malnourished horses that were purchased through an online advertisement by a buyer allegedly unable to care for them.

Maricopa County Sheriff's Office Spokesman Christopher Hegstrom said that sheriff's department personnel responded to a call about the poor condition of two horses in Litchfield Park, Arizona. Upon arrival, detectives found a 15- to 18-year-old mare 350 pounds underweight and an 8-year-old gelding approximately 250 underweight. The two horses were in medical distress due to lack of nutrition, Hegstrom says.

“The two horses were transported for medical evaluation and taken the sheriff’s office MASH II compound near the Tent City Jail,” Hegstrom said. “The (mare) had to be euthanized by the veterinarian after the horse’s condition worsened.”

The buyer had purchased the horses off a Craigslist ad.

Photo: Courtesy Maricopa County Sheriff's Office


Detectives from the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office Animal Crimes Investigations Unit subsequently arrested Amber Dahl and charged her with two counts of felony animal cruelty. She was booked into the Maricopa County Jail and released, Hegstrom said. 

Although Dahl was unavailable for comment, she admitted to detectives that she had purchased the horses from a seller on Craigslist and did not have the financial means to properly care for them, Hegstron said.

Veterinarians and rescuers agree that keeping horses is an expensive proposition and that some owners can run into financial trouble when they take on an animal they can’t afford.  

According to American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) estimates, the basic care of a single horse costs a minimum of $1,825 a year. Add the costs of veterinary and farrier services, and the annual cost can jump to as much as $5,000. While some owners seek ways to reduce that amount, Carey Williams, PhD, Extension specialist in equine management at Rutgers, in New Jersey, said feed should not be one of them.

Horses should consume at least 1.5% of their body weight a day in hay or forage, Williams explained, so a 1,000-pound equine should eat at least 15 pounds of hay and/or pasture. The other half-percent or more, if necessary to maintain weight, can come from grain, complete or concentrate feeds, and/or supplements. 

“The quantity and quality of hay fed should never be on your list of cutting corners,” she said. 

In addition to nutrition, Williams recommended not trying to save money by compromising on a horse’s vaccinations, hoof care, or dentistry.


Under AAEP guidelines, horses should receive four core vaccinations annually to protect them from serious, life-threatening diseases. Those AAEP core vaccines include:

  • Tetanus;
  • Eastern/Western/Venezuelan equine encephalomyelitis;
  • West Nile virus; and
  • Rabies. 

Some owners purchase and administer vaccines themselves to save money; however, Douglas O. Thal, DVM, Dipl. ABVP, owner of Thal Equine, in Santa Fe, New Mexico, recommends vaccination only by veterinary medicine professionals. “Vaccination should be combined with veterinary consultation and examination of the horse,” Thal said. “For me, this is an opportunity to talk to my client and examine the horse and to get to know horses in health rather than in crisis.” Additionally, in the case of adverse reactions to vaccination, some manufacturers have guarantees in place only if administered by a veterinarian.

Hoof care

Donald Brockman, DVM, of Campbellsville, Kentucky, warned that neglecting a horse’s hooves by reducing or forgoing farrier visits can lead to serious and costly consequences over the long term. How frequently a horse requires farrier care depends on the individual animal’s physical condition, its hoof growth rate, and where and how it is ridden, Brockman said. In general, however, horses' hooves require trimming every four to six weeks. Failure to keep a horse’s hooves trimmed appropriately exposes the animal to injury and laminitis, he said.

Dental care

Horses’ teeth start erupting just days after birth and continue throughout its lifetime. As grinding tools, a horse’s teeth are critical to the animal’s ability to process and derive nutrition from feed and forage. Horses most frequently require dental treatment when uneven tooth wear allows sharp points to form. Teeth floating, or the grinding of these sharp points, smooths the teeth and promotes proper jaw alignment. 

And though the need for dental care varies from horse-to-horse, Thal said a dental exam should take place at least during a horse's annual veterinary exam. “Dentistry is expensive when it is done thoroughly, but that sort of balanced approach can end up being a money-saver (in the long term),” he said.

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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