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Horses are Beautiful Creatures, But Need Proper Care; Please Report Issues of Possible Neglect, Abuse to Authorities


Estimates are that there are 186,000 equines (horses, donkeys, mules) in Alabama according to the Alabama Equine Enthusiasts division of the Alabama Farmers Federation. Besides being simply magnificent animals that many of us love to be around, the “horse industry” contributes over $2 billion/annually to the Alabama economy. The number one equine activity in Alabama is trail riding and the top breed at 36.5% is the Quarter Horse.

As range animals, and given the rain and lush pastures this time of year, equines in our state should be doing quite well. Sadly, however, there are too many reports of emaciated equines which indicates a lack of care, knowledge, and/or concern by their human owner(s).

In most cases of underweight equines, they are living in barren corrals or in pastures that are nothing but weeds. Equines are grazing animals that have evolved to eat grass as the mainstay of their diet. When they cannot access quality grazing, they must be supplemented with quality hay and possibly grains given the situation. Equines also require a substantial amount of water – anywhere from 5 – 15 GALLONS depending on workload and temperature.  Just like us they need fresh, potable water free of contaminants.

If grass quality and quantity is good, then there are questions an investigator and/or Veterinarian will be asking. First – what is the age of the horse? Now saying a horse is skinny because it is “old” is an excuse that simply does not fly! Senior equines that are fed correctly for their nutritional needs will maintain a generally healthy weight and condition. There is, however, a lot more to maintaining an older equine, or any equine for that matter, than just grass, grain, hay and water.

The first and simplest thing every horse owner must do is to routinely de-worm your horse(s). De-worming may be the single most important reason why today’s equines live so much longer and it is easy and relatively cheap – just talk to your vet, knowledgeable horse people at farm stores, horse stables, horse events, County Extension Office and even your local humane shelter.

Has a Veterinarian checked the horse’s teeth? As equines age they can develop very sharp points on the outer edges of their teeth that can cause them pain and problems chewing properly. Digestion starts in the mouth and improperly chewed food will not digest as well. A veterinarian can “float” your horse’s teeth to get rid of the sharp points. Floating can be done on the farm and for many equines should be done at least once per year and can make an amazing improvement in their physical condition.

It is important that your horse be fed the appropriate feed for its needs. Some equines may do fine just grass and hay, while others will need supplemented with grain. But all feeds are not created equal – an “easy keeper” horse might do fine on a standard maintenance grain while an older or health impacted horse might need a Senior or special formulation to give them what they need. If you are unsure what your horse needs, consult your veterinarian.

And one caution – if you see a horse in bad shape, do NOT go buy a bag of sweet feed/grain and dump it over the fence, go to the farmer’s market for a pile of vegetables, or dump your grass yard clippings as your good intentions could actually kill a horse. Overfeeding or improperly feeding even a healthy horse can be deadly!

If you suspect a horse is being neglected or treated cruelly contact the Elmore County Sheriff Department at 334-567-5227 so their Animal Control Officer (ACO) can investigate. Please do your best to get an address or closest actual street address to the equine’s location, description of the pasture/corral area, number and type of equines and their colors as that will help the officer in locating them. If the Sheriff’s ACO needs assistance, our Shelter will assist in investigating or pulling in resources to aid an investigation.