Horse neglect on rise

More horses are being misused or neglected by their owners, possibly for reasons related to the economy, a spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Agriculture said.

Federal officials, meanwhile, noted seeing incidents in recent years in which domesticated horses have been released into wild-horse areas, or just into the wild, where they don’t fare well.

“It’s not really a humane option” for owners overwhelmed by the expense and demands of horse ownership, David Boyd, spokesman for the Bureau of Land Management, said Wednesday.

The Agriculture Department has no hard statistics available because its computer server is down, but department spokeswoman Christi Lightcap said, “You can safely say we have seen an increase in equine neglect or cruelty cases” of late.

Among the incidents of abuse or neglect of horses are dehydration and starvation, Lightcap said.

When people get horses, often “they don’t realize how much horses need to eat” or the cost to board and care for them, Lightcap said. “The overall state of the economy is a big factor in the increase in equine abuse.”

The Agriculture Department’s Bureau of Animal Protection and Colorado State University last month offered training in equine husbandry, nutrition and veterinary care to animal-welfare investigators.

The course was developed to help address gaps in knowledge and experience that state officials observed among law enforcement authorities, prosecutors and veterinarians during equine-welfare investigations, Lightcap said in a statement.

People who think their horses will adapt if they release them into the wild are “drastically mistaken,” Lightcap said.

Domesticated horses are incapable of fending for themselves if simply released into the wild, she said, adding, “Chances are they’re slowly going to starve to death.”

It’s also possible domesticated animals could introduce diseases among the wild horses, Boyd said.

That’s if the wild horses will allow a domesticated horse near them, Boyd said. Domesticated horses often are attacked by the stallions and aren’t attuned to the threats of predators.

A domesticated horse found in 2010 near Rifle Gap Reservoir, for instance, was malnourished and suffered recent wounds from an apparent mountain-lion attack.

“It’s rough living out on the range in the wild,” Boyd said.


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