Neglected, abused or abandoned horses: How to help

Last Updated on February 23, 2022 by Allison Price

If you see a horse in distress, you will want to help. It is important to be aware of what you can do to keep within the laws.The gray mare, an aging gray mare, is happy to be near your geldings. You often stop and say hello as you go about your day.

Recently, she has been losing weight and is now alarmingly obese. What can you do? What can you do?

Yes, you can. There is help for abandoned, neglected, starving horses. You only need to make one call, most of the times, to the sheriff’s, police, animal control, local humane societies, or an equine shelter.In most states, a law enforcement official must be involved in investigation and seizure cases. Although rescue teams can conduct investigations, they are not allowed to legally enter the property without permission.

Before you call, make sure to learn about the workings of rescues and animal control agencies. You can help a neglected horse by your actions, but you could delay it or worse, end up in court.

Neglected, Abused or Abandoned Horses

It’s crucial to be as helpful and knowledgeable as possible about how terms such as “abuse” or “neglect are defined in the laws of your state and local governments. To make it easier for law enforcement officers to do their job, you must know what to do and what to avoid.

How animal cruelty laws work

In many states, cruelty to animals is considered neglect, abuse, and/or abandonment. An officer will visit the property after a complaint has been made. If he finds evidence of wrongdoing, the warrant may be used to seize the horses or arrest the owner.

The owner could face fines and restitution, which is a payment to cover the costs of caring for the animals, as well as possible jail time if found guilty. An appeal can be made by the owner. Sometimes these cases can drag on for years. This can lead to a large expense as the agency that took the horses must keep them till the end of the legal process.

In some states, cruelty towards animals is considered a violation of the criminal code. A warrant may be issued to the officer to remove horses from the premises if there are cruelty findings. The case is usually heard by a judge (or a justice-of-the-peace) and is sometimes referred to the court. If the judge finds that the horses are being neglected, he can issue a warrant to remove them. However, the judge cannot order the owner of the horses to make restitution. The owner may not be allowed to appeal in civil cases. Horses can be sold or adopted more quickly by states that limit their rights. Many times, owners who lose horses due to violations of civil code are charged with cruelty to animals.

In most states, a law enforcement official must be involved in investigation and seizure cases. Although rescues can conduct investigations, they are not allowed to legally enter the property without permission. Although rescues can assist with the seizure of horses, they cannot legally enter property without permission from their owners. They must also document their condition, care for and house them and provide testimony to court. The law enforcement officer assists in obtaining and serving the seizure warrant and also works with the rescue, the county attorney or district attorney to prepare for the court.

Some states have an exception to the law that allows rescues to take horses or other animals out of immediate danger of death.

Tell someone if you see something.

Call 911 immediately if you see a stray horse or pony. If he is found wandering onto the road, he can cause an accident and pose a danger to both human and horse lives. You can safely catch the horse, but you should let the dispatcher know you have the horse stopped. Be careful not to chase horses, especially if they are moving towards a road or other danger. If the horse is not able to be captured and is moving towards traffic, you may try to circle around him and “herd” them toward a safer place. Don’t risk your life. Tell the dispatcher where the horse is and whether you have caught him. Also, let the dispatcher know if he could be on any major roads.

You can report any horse or other animal that you think may have been neglected, abused, or abandoned to your local animal control agency. If someone reports the problem, they can only get involved. Although this may sound obvious, I have heard many complaints about how “it took us too long” to take action for a neglected animal. Until someone reports a horse in distress, we don’t know where it is!

You don’t have to report a case directly to the sheriff or police. Instead, you can call a local rescue organization that is in touch with law enforcement and let them know what you saw. You might also contact the rescue to help them get in touch with the police. You should notify multiple agencies if you are reporting the same case. This will allow them to coordinate their efforts. They don’t have to double their efforts.

How do you make an equine welfare claim

Please follow the following guidelines when filing a complaint regarding neglected, abused, or abandoned animals. Here are some things you can do to help your case move as smoothly as possible.

* Give the address of the horse’s location. If this is not possible, provide as exact as possible directions. To illustrate, if you are heading north on the highway 77, turn left at county road 100. After about a mile, you will reach your destination. Behind a fence of barbed wire and a mobile home, the horses can be seen on the right side.

Sometimes we get directions like “The skinny horses in Moody, Texas are on Highway 7”, but that highway could be hundreds of miles long. Even directions that said, “There’s a starving horse behind Emory’s yellow house” have been given to me. Without any specific information, it is impossible to locate them and get their help.

If it is allowed in your state, you can take photos or videos of horses from public roads. These photos will be used to help rescue workers and law enforcement identify the horses that you have reported and determine how serious the situation is before taking action.

To obtain images, you are not allowed to trespass. You must get permission to enter neighboring properties to view the horses better. Some states have “ag gag” laws–anti-whistleblower measures that make it illegal to record incidents of alleged animal cruelty in farming practices. While you might be able argue that the ag gag laws don’t apply to photographs of neglected horses, a judge could disagree with this argument if the owner files charges or sues.

* Take as many details as possible. Note the number of horses you see, their colors, distinguishing markings, and the condition of each horse. Keep a log of your horse sightings and note any changes in their condition.

* Allow the authorities to do their job. Most law enforcement officers will allow the owner to rectify the situation if the horse is not in immediate danger. The officers will inform the owner about proper care and give guidelines for improvement. They will then return to check if the owner has followed through. Sometimes, law enforcement will also visit the owner to obtain a second opinion from an expert such as a vet or farrier. This can take weeks or even months. If the owner continues to neglect the horses, or if he doesn’t comply, law enforcement will begin the process of removing them.

Call the authorities if you spot a horse that you think is in danger of his or her life. Dire situations include horses without water in summertime, horses that cannot stand, horses who are tangled in fences and struggling, and horses who have been severely injured.

You can call the agency you called to check if they are handling your case in a timely fashion. While they won’t be able to discuss details of ongoing investigations, they might let you know if there has been no abuse or neglect. They may do so if the case is borderline and doesn’t fit a legal definition of neglect and abuse. The horse might be ill and under the care of a veterinarian. Or the horses might have vanished when authorities investigated.

What to DO when you suspect a problem

You may feel compelled to help a horse that is being neglected. However, this can lead to the case being thrown out of court. You could even let the owners off the hook by your actions. Here are some things you should avoid in order to keep yourself safe and allow law enforcement to investigate and possibly prosecute owners.A thin or emaciated horse may already be under a veterinarian’s care or on a diet designed to rehabilitate him.

* Don’t trespass. It is tempting to enter a pasture to aid a horse, but trespassing will only make the situation worse. You can be arrested by the property owner and instead of investigating the neglect, the officer will focus on the trespassing charges. You may end up in jail or facing fines.

* Never feed or water neglected horses even if it is possible to do so without trespassing. If an officer arrives on the scene and finds that the horse is well-fed, it will be difficult for him to file a case against his owner. Even if he tells you that you provided the food and water. Call the authorities to report the situation. Tell the dispatcher about what you have seen and request assistance as soon as possible.

Keep in mind that an emaciated or thin horse might already be under the care of a veterinarian or on a diet to help him recover. Feeding him strange foods or excessive amounts can cause serious–even life-threatening–health problems, and the owner may sue you.

* Don’t take the horse. You do not have legal rights to take a horse, even if the owner believes that it has been abandoned. You could be charged with theft and criminal trespass by the owners, and the horse may end up back with them. Let the authorities investigate the matter.

If you see a stray horse in your area, this is a good exception. You can capture him safely and keep him in a stall or paddock. However, call the authorities immediately to report that you have found a horse.

* Don’t comment on social media. Too often, I’ve seen posts that said “There is a neglected horses belonging to so-andso at this location!” This is terrible! Please call the sheriff’s office immediately and report it!”

These messages, while well-meaning, can lead to serious problems. It is possible for the sheriff’s office to become overwhelmed by the calls and lose other cases or calls. The investigation may be delayed. This is particularly true for smaller departments that may only have one or two staff members. If the owner sees the post, he may move the horse or hide it. He won’t be able to get the help he needs. You may also be sued for libel if you are not found guilty of any crime.

These posts never die. These posts can be revived months or even years later depending on the circumstances. Authorities then have to waste their time responding to calls about an older investigation that has already been closed.

After you have made that call

There may be differences in how a particular law enforcement agency handles a complaint about animal abuse, depending on its size, resources, and the nature and extent of the local or state laws. However, the general course of an investigation is likely to follow the following path.

A dispatcher will usually answer your call when you call to report a problem. The dispatcher will keep track of all information that you give and will ask you for your contact information and name in case you need clarifications about the directions or the complaint. Some agencies allow you to file anonymous complaints if you are worried about retaliation from the owner.

The dispatcher will then assign it to an officer. Some agencies have a specific person who handles animal complaints. Some smaller police departments and sheriff’s offices may not have an animal officer, so your case will be assigned to the nearest available officer. The officer who is handling your animal abuse complaint might also be investigating domestic violence, burglary and assault cases, so it may not be his top priority. He will, however.

An officer will usually begin an investigation by approaching the owner, if possible, explaining that he has received a neglect complaint and asking to see the horse(s) in question. Each horse will be assessed by the officer, including its weight and appearance. He may also take photographs and videos. He will ask the owner for information about the horse’s food and water. A non-expert officer may request a second opinion from an equine professional about the horse’s condition, such as a veterinarian and a trained rescuer.

The officer will ask the owner to schedule an examination if a horse is ill or injured. If the owner claims that the horse is under the care of a veterinarian, the officer will ask the owner to schedule an examination. To ensure the horse is receiving proper care, the officer might schedule a follow up visit with the owner.

In many cases of horse neglect, ignorance plays a major role. Sometimes an owner doesn’t understand the basics of horse care. This is why officers are often educators. The officer, or an equine professional, will show the owner how to care for his horse. After that, the officer will provide a time frame for the owner to complete the tasks such as scheduling routine care or having the horse’s hooves trimmed by a farrier. The officer will also make repeated visits in this situation to ensure that the requested tasks have been completed and that the horse is doing well.

When seizure is necessary

An officer may consider seizing a horse or removing him from a home if the owner is not complying with repeated requests to improve the horse’s health and condition. At the first visit, an owner informs the officer that he cannot or is unwilling to make necessary changes in horse care. The horse may be in such poor health that he could die without any immediate intervention. The officer will ask the owner to surrender the horse to him voluntarily. If that fails, the officer can obtain a warrant to take the horse off the premises.

The officer will ensure that he has all the resources he needs before removing horses from a property.

* A place to keep the horses for a longer period of time. It could be at an animal control facility in a county or municipality, at an auction barn, fairgrounds, or at the local horse rescue. The horse must be held indefinitely until the case is resolved if the owner contests the seizure.

* All equipment required to conduct the seizure. An officer will require a horse trailer that can hold all the animals, leads and halters, as well as portable panels to help corral horses who are difficult to catch or who are not trained to lead.

* Experienced assistance. Volunteers who are experienced in leading, haltering and loading horses will be helpful, especially if the seizure is larger. For specialized cases, the officer may need to have people who can handle stallions, mares with foals and pregnant mares, as well as horses that are untrained or difficult to handle.

* An equine professional. A veterinarian, experienced equine rescuer or animal welfare professional can assess the horse’s health at the time of seizure. This person could be called upon to testify as an expert witness if the case goes to court.

* Cooperation by county or city officials. If legal action is necessary, the county, district attorney, or city will need to cooperate with the court. The city commissioners or city must authorize expenditures to conduct the seizure. Finally, the judge or JP must sign a warrant to hear the case.

After coordinating all the resources and getting the warrant to remove horses, the officer conducts the seizure. The officer arrives at the property and serves the warrant to its owner. He also explains the situation. If the owner isn’t home, the officer will place the warrant prominently, such as at the front door or gate to the property.

The officer and his assistants then catch the horses and photograph them. They then trailer them to a holding area. The officer may meet a veterinarian or welfare professional at the property or at a facility. Once the horses arrive at their destination, they may undergo a thorough veterinary exam, which may include bloodwork and other tests to determine and document their current health. As needed, additional photographs can be taken.

The case is then taken to a judge or JP. Witnesses and evidence from the county or district attorney will be presented to support neglect or abuse. The owner and his attorney will then have the chance to defend the case and prove that horses were not neglected, abused, or abandoned. In states that the first step is a civil hearing the owner may not be allowed to have an attorney. If the case is treated instead as a criminal matter, the owner can hire his own attorney or have one appointed by the state.

After listening to the evidence and hearing testimony, the judge/JP will determine if the horses were neglected or abused. The horses can be returned if the ruling favors the owner. Sometimes, the owner is required to pay for the care provided to the horses while they were held in the holding facility. In other cases, the judge may order an officer to make follow-up visits to ensure the horses are receiving the proper care. These outcomes are more common in cases where horses are not severely neglected but were still thin.

If the judge determines that the horses were neglected and abused, the owner may be required to pay restitution for costs of holding the horses and the cost of conducting the seizure. An owner could also be fined. An owner could also be sentenced to jail in criminal cases.

The judge will then decide what happens to the horses. They may be sold at an auction, adopted, or placed with a rescue organization or humane society where they will be rehabilitated before being placed in a new home.

It is not an easy job and can sometimes be dangerous. It can be very rewarding if you work with the right officials and follow the established laws to ensure that horses in need get the help they deserve. These horses will settle into loving, new homes with you.

Allison Price
Allison Price

I’m Allison, born and raised in San Diego California, the earliest memory I have with horses was at my grandfather’s farm. I used to sit at the stable as a kid and hang out with my Papa while he was training the horses. When I was invited to watch a horse riding competition, I got so fascinated with riding!