The provisions of animal-welfare and anticruelty laws tend to be so vague that their value in early intervention is questionable. It's not until a horse is obviously suffering that they have any teeth at all. In some states, however, more specific standards of minimum care are being written into law, making it easier for officials to define "inadequate care" and step in on behalf of a neglected horse before his condition becomes grave.
Following are the primary minimum standards of care for horses, as defined by the Maryland Horse Council. You can use this information to help determine whether a case of neglect or abuse is clearly in violation of the law, or a borderline one that will hinge upon the sympathies of law-enforcement officials. You don't want to lose credibility (or worse, agitate the horse's owner) by overreacting to low (but legal) horsekeeping standards.
- Nutritious food in sufficient quantity, further defined in terms of nutritional quality, storage, freedom from contamination, appropriateness for the horse's age and nutritional needs, availability (including competition from other horses), and the horse's actual score on the Henneke body-condition scoring system (read about the system in the August 2006 issue of EQUUS magazine).
- Necessary veterinary care, including hoof-care maintenance, deworming, dental care, and other procedures as deemed necessary by the horse owner's veterinarian.
- Proper drink, defined as clean, potable water, in clean receptacles and available at all times or offered at least twice daily, unless a vet's advice or accepted health practices dictate otherwise.
- Proper air, defined as free-flowing to control temperature, humidity, stagnation, and fumes.
- Proper space, free from standing water, waste, and safety hazards; sufficient for exercise and freedom of movement; and surrounded by fencing that's in good repair at all times.
- Proper shelter, defined as having a roof and at least three sides for protection against inclement weather and free from exclusion by dominant horses; or natural weather barriers, such as sheltering trees.
For a free brochure on Maryland's minimum standards of care, call the Maryland Horse Council at (410) 489-7829, or the Days End Farm Horse Rescue at (410) 442-1564.