Sometimes, removing a horse from a bad situation is only half of the job. Owners who are criminally negligent ought to be prosecuted. Your job, of course, is not to confront the owner but only to alert the appropriate authorities.
Yet not every hard-luck case you'll see really warrants legal intervention. If the owners have fallen on hard times and are trying to sell off all their horses, or if the animals are only a little ribby and rough looking, then there is probably little the authorities can do anyway. Physical abuse is also extremely difficult to prove. While I think it's a fine idea to call the authorities if you think a horse has been abused, you need to be aware that there is probably little that can be done unless there are witnesses willing to testify or someone can provide photos or videos of the abuse happening.
Do, however, report any cases you see of horses who are severely injured or emaciated--and by that I mean a body condition score of 1 or 2, a horse whose ribs, hips, backbone, shoulder bones, etc., are severely protruding (read about the body condition scoring system in the August 2006 issue of EQUUS magazine). Also, call for help if the seller has multiple horses in a similar condition.
If you see a situation that you think warrants criminal investigation, you have two choices:
- Thank the owners for showing you the horse, leave the property and immediately (that day) call the sheriff and report what you saw. The sheriff will investigate and call in local rescue groups if needed.
- Politely buy the animal, trying to get a bill of sale to prove who sold it to you. Then immediately (again that day) take him to a veterinarian to document his condition. The veterinarian will also be able to give you an opinion on whether the horse is bad enough to warrant an investigation. Then call the sheriff. To read more about caring and rehabilitating a neglected horse, see "Helping the Hard-Luck Horse" in the March 2007 issue of EQUUS.