When a horse needs help

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 1993:

Held the weekend of February 6-7, the First
International Conference on Equine Rescue
could have run days longer, in Rich Meyer’s
estimation. As horse expert for the
American Humane Association, Meyer
knows horse rescue ranks among most shel-
ter directors’ and animal control officers’
worst nightmares. First, there’s the sheer
size and strength of the animal to contend
with. Second, where there’s one starving or
abused horse, there are usually several.
Third, shelters set up to handle dogs and
cats usually don’t have facilities for live-
stock: big trailers, paddocks, pastures.
Their regular veterinarians tend to be small
animal specialists. And their budgets aren’t
easily stretched to accommodate the special
needs and appetites of equines.

“None of us could actually stay at a
conference as long as this one could have
been,” Meyer told ANIMAL PEOPLE,
“but there certainly was a lot to cover, and
it’s a shame so many speakers had to be lim-
ited to 15-or-20-minute presentations.”
Veterinarian Richard Mansmann of
Santa Barbara Equine Services assembled 32
speakers in all, under auspices of the Santa
Barbara Humane Society. Among the topics
covered were disaster preparedness; inter-
vening on behalf of injured race horses;
injuries common to show horses; outfitting
an equine ambulance; lifting hurt horses
with a sling; anesthetizing and immobiliz-
ing horses; safety in three-day riding events
and endurance rides; rehabilitating starved
horses; the 1992 Lipizzan horse rescue in
Croatia; and the plight of horses who were
caught up in Operation Desert Storm.
It was an intense introduction to the
fastest growing field in animal protection.
Horse rescue was one of the initial activities
of the first humane groups, and horses were
he first animals to receive legal pro-
tection. Organizations devoted
specifically to horse rescue have been
around at least since 1888, when
Ryerss’ Infirmary for Dumb Animals
opened in Pottstown, Pennsylvania.
Yet a dozen years ago there were still
just three horse rescue groups of
more than local prominence––the
International Society for the
Protection of Mustangs and Burros,
founded in 1960; the American
Horse Protection Association, found-
ed in 1966; and the Hooved Animal
Humane Society, founded in 1971.
Today there are more than
30. Horse rescue groups with a state-
wide or significant regional mandate
are active in California, Colorado,
Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland,
Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey,
New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia,
and Washington. Both thoroughbred
and standardbred racing organizations
have become active in horse rescue,
along with many individual horse
breeders and trainers––partly to
improve the image of their work, but
obviously too because many people
in the horse industry are motivated in
part by genuine affection for the ani-
Conventional animal care
and rescue groups are getting
involved too. Meyer trains dozens of
anti-cruelty officers to recognize
horse abuse at annual AHA seminars.
Most humane societies who respond
to horse calls quickly learn that they
need more training––and more help.
As Meyer explains, “Humane soci-
eties really need to tie into the net-
work of horse groups, farmers,
extension specialists, etcetera. A lot
of these resources are willing to make
themselves available, free for the ask-
ing. But humane society staffers who
are plugged into the horse community
are rare,” in part because of mutual
mistrust. Horse people tend to equate
“animal protection” with “animal
rights,” and equate “animal rights”
with organizations who on the one
hand hold that riding horses is
exploitation, and on the other have
raised millions of dollars around
issues first raised by the horse groups:
for instance, government-sponsored
massacres of wild horses and burros,
the deliberate soring of Tennessee
walking horses’ feet to make them
step higher, the drugging of race
horses, and the overcrowding of
horses on double-decked trucks tak-
ing them to slaughter.
Even as horse rescuers gath-
ered in Santa Barbara, the
Horsemen’s Council of Illinois and
the American Horse Council co-spon-
sored a day-long conference on
“Defensive Strategies for Dealing
With Animal Rights Activists.”
Rescue groups who try to
work with both humane societies and
other horse people often find them-
selves caught in the middle.
How one group does it
“We’d like to get the idea
across that large animal people
should work with the humane soci-
eties,” Janet Maugher of the Large
Animal Protection Society told ANI-
MAL PEOPLE. Based in Parks-
burg, Pennsylvania, LAPS “has been doing
horse rescue and cruelty prosecution for four
and a half years,” Maugher explained. “Our
local SPCA wanted to work with horse peo-
ple only as a potential funding source. They
didn’t see horse tooth and foot care as a pri-
ority.” That turned horse people off, and
then the humane society bungled its first
attempts to do horse rescue. “After one res-
cue,” Maugher said, “the horses were tied
up to stanchions meant for cows, so that
they couldn’t lift their heads. If the case had
ended up in litigation, the horses might
have been left there that way for a year.”
Instead, “they were adopted out to people
who returned them to the original owners.
Our objective was to show the humane peo-
ple that there is a credible, economical way
to do horse rescues. From that, we graduat-
ed into finding volunteers, setting up auxil-
iaries with law enforcement powers, and
setting up a horse rescue network across the
Although LAPS also rescues other
large animals, ranging from calves to lla-
mas, horses are still the focus. “The bulk of
our cases involve neglected backyard horses
and ponies,” Maugher confirmed. “We’re
in the Poconos,” a scenic area within an
easy drive of New York City. “People come
up here and buy four acres or eight acres
and think they have a farm. They get the
horses and the goats and maybe throw in a
few potbellied pigs. They ride the horses on
the weekend, then expect them to find
enough to eat on their little patch of land to
survive unattended the rest of the week.”
LAPS now works with several
shelters to educate cruelty prosecutors about
such cases, chiefly by providing expert wit-
nesses. But Maugher emphasizes that her
group tries to avoid prosecutions. “We do
not go out to take horses,” she states. “We
go out to get veterinary care and proper
feeding. Most of what we see is passive
abuse. Some of the worst offenders are
well-educated, well-off people, who just
don’t know about hay and worming. We
always go back at least once. We always
get a veterinarian to give medical opinions.
We might keep an eye on a horse for two or
three years. There’s a lot of mileage and a
lot of work involved. In one case, it took
us two years to confiscate three horses.”
And many of the 200 calls
Maugher takes each year turn out to be false
alarms. “We get a lot of calls about the
Amish workhorses in summer, especially
about people using horses in heat. Those
horses are usually fine. We end up educat-
ing the callers. The problem we have had
with the Amish is when they fence horses
and cows away from water.” Similarly,
Maugher dismisses many calls she receives
about carriage horses. “You have to look at
the individual horse,” she points out,
“before you judge whether a situation is
cruel. If you have a poor former race horse
out there pulling a carriage, who’s half nuts
already from the track, everything upsets it.
A big, phlegmatic Percheron isn’t upset by
cars or much of anything else. We haven’t
had one recent problem in Philadelphia,”
she says.
In some respects, Maugher’s work
s much like that of other humane work-
ers––especially when she comes up against
serious abusers. “We used to publish our
address until one man showed up half-
drunk, wanting his horse back,” she notes.
“He threatened to shoot the lady who owned
the property where the horse was being
boarded. One of our anti-cruelty agents was
threatened with being bashed by a bucket.
Another agent and myself had a man stand-
ing over us with a shotgun all the time we
did an investigation.”
On the following pages, ANI-
MAL PEOPLE profiles a number of other
unique and energetic horse rescuers. We
chose to spotlight Gene and Diana Chontos
and Steve and Sharon Jackson because of
their records of combining concern for peo-
ple with concern for animals, and because
at comparable ages they have arrived where
they are from extremely different back-
grounds. Chris Larter’s career, meanwhile,
exemplifies dedicated outreach. There are
many others we hope to profile in the future,
as opportunity permits.
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