Rehabbing Neglected Horses: No Small Task

Rehabbing Neglected Horses: No Small Task

It can take a year or more to return a severely malnourished horse to an appropriate body weight.

Photo: iStock

A group of horses allegedly locked in a barn for more than a year are now receiving rehabilitative care. But it won’t be an easy road for these horses or their caretakers. Restoring a neglected horse’s health is rewarding, but also complicated and time consuming.

James H. Pushee, police chief in Deering, New Hampshire, recalled in a written statement that, in May, law enforcement personnel responded to a complaint about several horses that hadn’t been seen outside of their barn for a year and a half. When the horses' owners failed to voluntarily cooperate, Deering police and other authorities launched an animal welfare investigation. Acting on a warrant, investigators entered a barn on the property and found four Arabians, allegedly in extremely poor health and living in unsafe conditions, the statement said. Officials seized and relocated the horses to Live and Let Live Farm, in Chichester, New Hampshire, and the owners subsequently surrendered the animals, the statement said.

Anthony Costine and Spring Romer were later arrested and each charged with four counts of misdemeanor animal cruelty. They were released on their own recognizance and were unavailable for comment.

Rescuer Teresa Paradis said two of the horses had body condition scores of between 1 and 1.5 on a 9-point scale; the other two scored a 2 on that scale. One had a long-neglected hernia and all had skin irritations, along with thrush and other hoof problems, she said. Although they’ve been rescued, the horses aren’t out of the woods yet.

“We worry a lot one horse that has weakness from muscle atrophy and is struggling to eat, and we worry about (two others) whose organs may have been affected by long term starvation,” Paradis said. “It will be slow going with what I believe is a 50/50 chance of pulling through.”

Karen McCormick, DVM, Dipl. ACVIM, of the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine, said rehabilitating long-neglected horses means more than providing plenty of feed and veterinary care.

“These horses may need extra vitamin supplementation, physical rehab to build muscle again, and medical care depending on other problems that may have developed, (such as) pressure sores, hoof problems, dental issues, and parasites,” she said. “Most of these problems can be overcome if given enough time, (but) is possible that some issues may be long-term problems, especially if their hooves have not been trimmed regularly and the horse has developed orthopedic issues.”

At the same time, severely malnourished horses are at risk for refeeding syndrome, a condition which stems from an abrupt increase in calorie intake resulting in sometimes fatal electrolyte derangements.

“It is very important to feed these horses low-starch feed when attempting to rehabilitate them, so we usually recommend starting with alfalfa hay in limited quantities initially, progressing to free-choice alfalfa,” she said. “Once they are eating the alfalfa well, concentrate feeds can slowly be added into the diet., (and) any changes are made over several days or weeks.”

While most conditions stemming from long neglect can be overcome with time, how long it takes to restore a severely maltreated horse to health varies, said McCormick, and some still aren’t able to pull through.

“The time to take one horse from a (body condition score) of 1 to an appropriate body (condition) … could take a year or more,” she said.

While the New Hampshire horses' rehabilitation continues, Costine and Romer are slated to appear in Hillsboro District court on the charges on July 27.

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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