What do we find at a welfare concern?
We are often called out to some dreadful situations. Most often it is through neglect of the owner leaving the horse’s welfare compromised. Sometimes it is deliberate abuse, and the horses are emotionally traumatised as well as suffering physical harm. Some occasions may be through ignorance, substance abuse or a sudden change in circumstances, and more and more frequently we are seeing people struggle with their mental health. HorseWorld staff must always act with compassion in these situations whilst doing their upmost to protect the horse’s welfare – it is a very challenging job!
Two for one
Many of our rescue horses are mares that are pregnant, have a foal at foot, or both. This can cause challenges during the rescue process as the mares can become anxious worrying about their babies, and the foals can be very unpredictable in their actions. When transporting them we need to make sure they are secure from other horses, and the delicate little foals are not going to be trodden on. When the mares have been starved of food they will tend to give everything they can to the foal, it is such a sad sight to see these emaciated mares trying to feed their young. With pregnant mares we have the delights of trying to figure out when they may be due to give birth, we have found that rescue horses are very good at hiding signs of labour! A problem we then encounter is that a neglected mare may not have produced the essential colostrum so the foals immune system is compromised, and we may need to carry out a transfusion. It is vital that new born foals are monitored closely to ensure they are feeding correctly and the mare is producing adequate quality and quantity of milk.
Being underweight is the most usual problem encountered with neglect cases (although we do see cases where the horses are dangerously overweight). Most horses in leisure homes tend to be overweight, so we know conditions have been bad to result in an underweight horse. As well as the obvious problem of lack of food there can be other causes as well, which is why we sometimes find one thin horse amongst a herd that look “OK”. This can be due to untreated parasites such as worms and lice, or perhaps dental issues not allowing the horse to eat properly, or an illness such as liver disease. Pain can have a huge impact on a horses well-being, and we often see horses suffering from chronic pain being underweight despite there being food available.
Getting very underweight horses back to good health can be tricky as too much food (especially protein) too soon can actually kill them. Horses classed as emaciated need a very carefully planned diet to slowly introduce fibrous food into their digestive system, it may take several weeks before it is safe to give them the high energy “hard feeds” typically used for horses to gain condition.
Words can’t describe
Some of the situations we have dealt with have been so truly awful that its almost impossible to describe. Places where starving horses are still clinging to life next to their deceased friends, and the smell of death is heavy in the air.
Sometimes the neglect, injuries and illnesses are just so bad that the only thing we can do is help end their suffering. At least there is some comfort that at the end they are shown some care and love.