Are You an Advocate for Horses?

Ruby Ranch's Keira and my friend, Amelia, budding advocate..
Ruby Ranch’s Keira, working with my friend, Amelia.

Neglected horses are everywhere in the news lately. By the time you make sense of the images, it’s too late to look away. You might be keeping an sad eye on some thin horses in your local area. Maybe you remember Ruby Ranch Horse Rescue’s Vinnie, who was here for evaluation and training for a few months, and Keira after him.

I took a vacation this summer, the first one in a decade. I sat in a court room with no windows for a week, with concerned citizens and fellow board members of Horse Advocates of Colorado, listening to testimony in an animal cruelty case. In a different neglect trial, I was a witness. I’ve always known the rescue side, but this year I came to understand some of the challenges for law enforcement and I’ve been both inspired and demoralized by our American court system.

This year I’ve been name-called and lost dear friends. I’ve seen the stress of fighting the good fight take its toll on good-hearted people, and I have seen callous people, with no concern for life, behave despicably with no acknowledgement or apology. It isn’t like I was remotely new to equine neglect and abuse; we win some and lose some, but this year has been an special education.

The first question people ask is how can someone let this happen to their horses? Simple, it usually all begins with a change in the usual routine. Colorado has had its fair share of floods and fires recently. Sometimes a horse owner has a health challenge or loses their job or has a death in the family. Sadly, at any given time, we are all vulnerable. There, but for the grace of God, go any of us.

The real question is what happens next? Some of us will move quickly to sell or re-home our horses, hoping to keep them safe. Or mitigate the costs by finding someone to part-lease him. But sometimes the issues keep coming and time gets away as we struggle to keep up. By then our horses are thin and perhaps failing. Now what? We’re too embarrassed to call the vet, if we even have the money. And afraid that someone will report us to the sheriff the rest of the time. As a last resort, would you take him to an auction? Let him die in the pasture and hope no one sees? How desperate will it get?

And yes, a percentage of humans just don’t care. They see animals as personal property–theirs to do use and dispose of as they like. For sake of pride, they spend thousands on attorneys and court fees, rather than do the right thing for animals in the first place.

But, you say, someone would be crazy to leave them to starve. Well, yes. Exactly. Mental illness usually plays a common part in animal neglect and abuse. Some humans are sick enough to choose blood and money; to be malicious without remorse.

The thing all these scenarios have in common is that no one asked for help. Humans don’t like being seen as weak or failing. Most horse people pride themselves on being independent and resourceful. And then, if asking for help wasn’t hard enough, it can be hard to accept the help offered. Humans are complicated.

Once we ask, things can start to move. Family and neighbors step up. There are community resources like hay banks that offer help. Even deputies will lend a hand. I have such respect for people who humble themselves in deference to their animal’s welfare. It shows character.

The second most common opinion heard from the public, usually extremely hostile, is that the court’s punishment is too light. People often suggest starving and torturing the animal abusers. Trust me, I understand the sentiment. It’s easy to have a hard-line of disdain for anyone with a thin horse, because it gives us a way to distance ourselves from our own vulnerability. After all, I have two hard keepers in my own barn. But threatening violence makes us guilty of the thing we are fighting against. Could we rant in the closet and then elevate the public conversation to a more helpful level?

There’s gray area; the difference between the crazy abusers and the disadvantaged owners is important to understand. Some deserve our compassion and help. And some deserve all the punishment that the law will allow. If you think the sentencing is too lenient, then it’s obvious–stop complaining and get involved.

Here’s one new light: The FBI Makes Horse Abuse a Felony in January, 2016. Not just a felony, but a Class-A Felony. That puts horse abuse on par with assault, homicide and arson. It’s been a long time coming, this acknowledgment that animal abuse is closely tied with violence against women, children, elders, and indeed, our whole society. Take heart–change happens.

Warning: The following opinion is just mine. It gets me in trouble but it’s a free country.

The other common statement that I hear is that someone just can’t be involved in helping because they love horses too much to look at the pictures; that hearing about it would just hurt them too much. Like somehow their love is just too pure to hear this kind of ugliness. Could you possibly think that those of us sitting in court are there because we love horses less than you do?

Do horses a favor; instead of loving them too much, love them just enough. Enough to offer help to a neighbor in need or enough to make the call to the authorities if necessary. Enough to be part of the solution. If you can’t take time off from work, then write letters to the media. Donate money, but if you don’t have a dime to spare, sign petitions, join groups, be informed. Love horses enough to bear witness. Love them enough to make positive change.

My friends and I formed Horse Advocates of Colorado, over a thousand members strong (join here), to give a voice to horses in our county.  It’s our first anniversary. We’re celebrating by going to an invitational horse welfare meeting at the sheriff’s office this morning. Don’t think for a minute that you can’t make a difference for horses.

And to everyone who has lifted their voice above the din of ranting and criticism–you are a hero to horses and to me. Thank you.

32 thoughts on “Are You an Advocate for Horses?

  1. Sarah Jackson

    Thank you, Anna….. a well articulated statement on a multi-layered, complex, emotional matter.

  2. Lynell Abbott

    In your camp on this one, Anna. We’re active here in the VA/MD area doing the same thing as you.

  3. Maggie Frazier

    I agree absolutely! Especially with the people who cant bear to look because it hurts too much! Yes it DOES! But every person that does look & see & attempt to DO something means maybe one more horse (or other animal) gets a reprieve from the abuse & neglect. I’ve written before regarding the wild horse & burro roundups – still going on.

  4. Anna, you are so right that it is a complicated issue – on many, many levels. It is great to see this cultural shift and it is going on in Canada as well as in the U.S. and in the UK. It will take all of us to keep the conversation going, to draw more people into the conversation, and to elevate the conversation above the “do unto others as they did to their animals”. Stronger laws with serious consequences to animal abuse will have an impact for some of the offenders, but as you said, there needs to be support programs for others who struggling but want to do what is right for their horses. Equine Guelph has been promoting awareness about the Canadian Code of Practice to help bring higher awareness to the basic standards that we all need to provide to horses, as weall as our “Full-Circle-Responsibility” welfare program and it is so wonderful to see groups like yours forming and having frank discussions with local enforcement to help provide solutions and a logical way forward.

    1. Thank you for this wonderful comment. It is such a great feeling to know that so many care about horse welfare. There is a ways to go, but it’s going to happen. Thanks.

  5. I have seen too many of these cases, as clearly you have, too. I’ve done whatever I can to help, when I can. But only twice have I seen a truly callous and uncaring owner behind the too-thin horses (more often in overt abuse/beating cases) – it’s usually just a situation gone out of control. Some of these people have actually been very kind and well meaning – just in a bad situation or in over their heads.

    A recent local case illustrated just what you cover – too many horses on a too small property, most were rescues the person took in. Being mixed breeds and ages having to compete for the food, there were a few dramatically thin horses in the herd – but the vast majority were quite reasonable in weight. Unfortunately, it blew up publically … people on the streets with signs that had all sorts of nasty words aimed at the owner. Local law enforcement and animal control were working with the owner to gradually place the horses – but the witch hunt was on, and unceasing. The numbers were gradually brought down to what she could handle (originally 30, with just her to take care of, down to five), but the public vitriol was enough to drive her away from the area. Sadly, that could make things worse, since our local animal control was already monitoring that the numbers stayed down – will the new area have the foreknowledge to prevent a repeat? Not likely!

    So, thank you for communicating the layers and complexity of these cases so well. Nasty words and blinkered eyes never solved any problem.

    Keep up the good fight! 🙂

    1. Maggie Frazier

      I have to mention here – cell phones and social media can be very good OR in the case of allowing people to “jump the gun” & go after someone who has unfortunately gotten themselves in a bad position with their animals. It takes no time now for anything to become public knowledge – whether its true or not! Too often each telling is influenced by the person hearing it!
      The old “Innocent till PROVEN guilty”? Seems to be the other way around, doesnt it?

  6. Dianne Kingsland

    Thank you for your love and your commitment to the effort. Horse rescue is heart breaking, gut wrenching, and euphoric. The call across the corral when they see you is priceless, and I wouldn’t change a thing!

    Vinnie is a great example that we can hold up as a win. He is happy, feeling good, and loving life! He also looks amazing! Love that boy!

    1. Also Amazing Grace Equine Sanctuary. There are more too, good ones. They deserve our support and encouragement.
      It’s easy to understand the initial thought that because there is an underweight horse it’s automatically abuse and the “abuser” should suffer the same way. After all the horse certainly would not be underweight by its own choice. In the heat of the moment people over react, they make assumptions based on what they see or hear and don’t take the time or make the effort to find out the facts. When it is abuse, there should be stiff legal consequences to the abuser, those have been lacking and as Anna has stated here, are changing for the better.
      I know it’s hard to ask for help, it’s a completely different situation, but ask I have, it still hurt and was difficult to admit things had gone beyone where I could manage alone.
      I have wanted a horse my entire life, I don’t have one. I was not able to support a horse. I do what I can for them.
      It makes a difference having people like Anna who are balanced, who will understand it’s not alway an abusive situation because things happen in this life that we can’t control.

      1. Great comment, it is hard to understand in the beginning how large an undertaking a horse can be. There but for the grace of God…. (thanks, keep doing what you can do!)

  7. Yes, there is a connection often between animal abuse and abuse of people, and it is slowly coming to light. I appreciate that you address the complexities of the issues–it is true in areas other than horse abuse also. Most serious issues are complex, systemic, and not solved by punishing the offender. It is like trying to put out a forest fire by spitting on it–you got enough spit, you might temporarily keep one ember from flaming back up. It takes a multi-faceted approach if we really want to prevent it, not just punish it after the fact.

    1. It is complex, that’s why it’s appealing to name-call. And it can feel too big to do anything about… but one horse at a time, one victim at a time. Great comment.

  8. Thérèse Cartier

    We must live in a parallel world if that exist. I was at my barn today and learned that a wonderful school poney, recently retired to a “good home” after 8 years of “professional services” to kids and small adults, like me, had been sent to auction because he did not get along with the other horses.at the barn…In Québec were I live, we to have a new society that is fiting for horses and their welfare, Tenir promesse, or Keep your promise. They work so hard that they got the provincial governement to work on a new law that would concider all animals as entity with feelings and biological needs, not just a property, disposable at your convenience. This law, if voted and then, implemented, comes with teeth, finds up to 250,000$ and jail terms up to 18 months. They are surching for “our” poney Milou, it appears he was bought ar the auction. By whom? We all keep our fingers crossed it’s not a slauther house, he’s sush a lovely poney with absolutely no malice in him.

  9. Antonia Craig

    Thank you Anna, as usual, well thought out and well written. Very encouraging to read. Sometimes we do have to stick our necks out in our own neighbourhoods and be unpopular for a time. Horses don’t know how to use telephones.

    1. What we found here, after this case was successful in court (They took all of her horses) is that people are just a little more nervous. Yay for the good guys.

  10. Lynne

    I enjoyed reading your blog. You are right about many things. It is always easier to blame than to be a part of the solution. Thanks for empowering us!

  11. deb

    oh lordy, how you can write. I wanted to express the same feelings last year but couldn’t figure out how to say exactly what you just said. The short version of my story.. I got called in to look at a couple of horses in March an hour away from a business associate. His sister-in-law was depressed and the horses were suffering… she was loosing the farm. What I found was two thin teen aged horses in mud to their knees in a small pen. She was desperate for help. We talked.. and talked.. I came back several times to see they were getting thinner despite my instructions as to how to remember to feed them (she said she kept forgetting). Her hay was not good, so I brought my own. In the end, she signed them over to me as I had to get them out. The mare was about a 1.5 and wouldn’t have lasted much longer. They were easy to rehab as they were not neglected for more than a couple of years.
    In the end, my compassion for the owner surprised me. I was not angry or confrontational.. I just kept looking at her and thinking.. “this could be me some day and I sure hope some one like me steps in and helps.”

    1. Thank you so much for sharing this story… and for helping out. There are some nasty folks out there, but this is so often the case. I think once things get to the point these horses were at, it can feel overwhelming to a person already overwhelmed. Thanks so much for making a difference.

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