With the depressed economy, horse market, and the closure of equine processing plants, we have all heard that many regional horse rescue operations are at or above capacity. Stories of neglected and even abandoned horses have frequently been in the news and on the web.
So, how are the horses in Fairfield County doing? According to Bill Huffman, Fairfield Area Humane Agent, complaints about horse abuse and neglect are few compared to those received about dogs and cats. He only deals with about 6-10 legitimate complaints involving horses a year. All complaints are investigated, including those placed anonymously. According to the Ohio Revised Code (ORC 959.13) horses must have food, water and shelter. Shelter does not necessarily mean a barn. It could be a man-made windbreak, natural wooded cover or swale. If Mr. Huffman finds a legitimate issue, he works with the owner to correct the situation. If that is not successful, the Humane Society can take legal action to have the horse surrendered. The Fairfield County Humane Society has not had to file charges to remove a horse in 4 years.
In Ohio, horses are defined as livestock, not companion animals. Sometimes the Humane Society receives calls that come from well-meaning neighbors who don’t understand that horses often choose the elements rather than the barn. They also may not be able to observe the times that the horse is receiving food and water. Often an underweight horse is one of our equine senior citizens and maintaining an optimal weight in an older equine can sometimes be challenging. However, if neglect is suspected consider making the call to the Humane Society. It is better to be mistaken than to allow a potential neglect situation to continue. A report can be made anonymously, but if you provide your name and contact information the Humane Agent will call you back on what was found.
Have you assessed the body condition of your horse lately? Winter is tough on our equine partners. It takes more energy to stay warm, burn more calories and can lose weight. Those easy keepers may gain weight when they are no longer being worked. In addition, we as horse owners spend less time with our horses during the winter, and might not notice the weight loss or weight gain because of their heavy coat or blanket. This is a good time to do an assessment, so you can be sure your horse will be fit and ready for work this spring.
Body condition relates to the amount of visible fat cover on a horses body. The most tested and universally accepted scoring system used for assessing body condition is the Henneki Body Condition Scoring Chart. It is used by 4-H as well as Humane Agents, veterinarians and it has been adopted by the Ohio Equine Industry Coalition. Five areas of fat deposition are assessed (Figure 1). Horses are graded on a scale from one-to-nine, where one is extremely emaciated, five is moderate, and nine is extremely fat. Neither extreme is healthy for a horse. For more information, see http://www.uky.edu/Ag/AnimalSciences/pubs/asc145.pdf