“Horses rescued from neglect in Shawnee County.”
That was the news headline on a website accompanied by a YouTube video as follow-up to a Topeka television report earlier this month.
It is not an uncommon occurrence in the past few years, and has apparently been on the increase in recent weeks.
“The horses have sullen eyes. They’ re lethargic, depressed, have dull hair with fungus and likely parasites. The horses look like they just don’t want to live anymore,” evaluated Marty Bloomquist of the Dancing Star Ranch at Tecumseh.
A total of six horses, described in the news piece as “neglected,” were rescued by the Shawnee County Animal Control over a five day period, according to Bloomquist, longtime prominent horsewoman who assisted Shawnee County law enforcement in “rescuing” the “starving” horses not that far from her home.
“I never intended to get involved in horse rescue. But, with my horse show affiliations, I’ve been the one officials have often called for advice, and sometimes assistance,” Bloomquist clarified.
“I hate to see anyone get neglected, abandoned, or mistreated, whether they’re human or animal,” she added.
While declining to talk about this specific case, Vicki Hamilton, Shawnee County animal control supervisor, contended: “We always try to educate the owner first before taking any legal action. If we feel they are not making any improvements in the welfare of the horse, then our next step will be to see if we can work with the owner of the horse, and then if possible rescue.”
So, why are these horses mistreated, what does “rescue” really mean, and then what happens to the horses?
First, Bloomquist qualified: “It has a lot to do with a sharp downturn in the economy, and horse owners have been breeding like crazy over the past several years. Basically, there’s an overpopulation of horses, and many of those who own the horses can’t afford their costs. Rightfully so, taking care of your family needs must come first.”
When the call came earlier this month that horses looked to be undernourished, as qualified in descriptions by Bloomquist, what to do with them went out to local, and not so close-by, “rescue units.”
Assisting Bloomquist and law officials with the “owner-surrender” in this publicized case were Brenda Grimmett of the B&C Equine Rescue, Inc., Carbondale, and Amy Bayes of the Greenwood Stables and Equine Rescue, Peabody.
Careen Cain, Shooting Star Equine Rescue, Inc., Wakarusa, was also indirectly involved, providing services for these particular rescue operations.
While all three “rescue facilities” are at capacity, or beyond, Grimmett and Bayes consented to take horses for the “rehabilitation processes.”
“We were able to get the owners to surrender the horses to us, rather than having them seized by law enforcement officials,” explained Grimmett, who has been involved in horse rescues for nearly seven years.
Surrendered horses are signed over and become the property and responsibility of the rescuers.
“However, if the horses are seized, it can become a long drawn-out legal procedure, and the county becomes responsible for care of the horses,” said Grimmett, who has received imbursement for care of horses seized in Osage County.
“It can be an option for an unwanted horse to go directly to somebody who wants them, and has the means to care for the horse. However, with seriously malnourished or special-needs horses, having an experienced ‘rescue,’ or knowledgeable horse person, with an understanding of the rehabilitation process is very important to a successful outcome,” explained Cain, who has operated her “rescue” facilities for nearly 14 years.
“I’ve taken a number of unwanted ‘owner-surrender’ horses for rehabilitation. But, I’ve been able to find new homes for many of these horses without having them come to my facilities, which are full now,” Cain added.
“That’s often been my part with these poor horses, too. When horses are found without care, or owners just can’t handle the responsibilities any longer, I’m often called as a mediator, so to speak, to do what I can to relocate ownership,” added Bloomquist, the sentiment echoed by Grimmett and Bayes.
“I just feel so sorry for these horses. So, we were able to help out in rescuing the horses from Shawnee County. Of course, we won’t receive any financial assistance other than the generous donations and volunteers who help us here,” said Bayes, whose teenage daughter, Saje, is an integral part of their facilities founded three years ago.
These are all professional women with fulltime day jobs, sometimes two or three. But, when they saw mistreated horses, each woman was so pulled by heartstrings they felt obligated to step forward to assist in the way they could establishing “horse rescues.”
While a virtuous objective, logistics to make such a reality and continuity is beyond realization of outsiders, and even those who’ve had lifetime horse involvement.
Ideally, there has to be a place to home the acquired horses. “We’ve developed our facilities to care for the horses, but there are so many limitations. You can only handle so many horses financially and physically,” Cain admitted.
“We’re fortunate that we have a large barn and hay acreage, but still horses take lots of feed. We’re always needing feed,” Bayes recognized.
“It’s not as simple as getting a starving horse and giving him feed. These horses often require veterinary treatment and parasite control. Putting food or even water in front of a horse that has been without for an extended time can be deadly itself,” Grimmett contended.
Volunteers and donations are essential to survival of all three units. “We are fortunate to have people who will donate feed on a regular basis, and there are volunteers who offer to assist with occasional chores and special projects. But overall care of the horses and facilities remains my responsibility as more volunteers are always needed,” Cain said.
“Because we are called ‘horse rescues,’ some people think we are government supported, but that’s far from the way it is,” Cain clarified.
As if all these aren’t enough burdens, government taxation rules even can add considerably to financial stress.
Consequently, both Cain and Grimmett have their “rescues” qualified as 501(C)3 not-for-profit organizations.
“We definitely aren’t doing any of this for profit. But, with donations coming in and sometimes accepting tokens for horses put out for adoption, it might appear we’re making money. I can tell you, we are not,” emphasized Bayes, who has the paperwork submitted to also be qualified as “501(C)3.”
While the headlines pointed to people not taking proper care of their horses, the “rescue units” acquired their initial residents by purchasing horses that were headed to slaughter.
“There used to be a regular horse sale at Wakarusa, and some of those horses came there in such poor shape with no hope of acquiring a home that we bought them just to prevent the abuse that was ahead of them going to a slaughter plant,” said Cain, who worked with Animal Control in 2000 on an owner-surrender of 23 starving horses.
“I’ve helped save several hundred other horses from slaughter as well,” Cain tallied.
Grimmett agreed, “We saw horses so thin they could hardly stand up, and we just felt obligated to go to their owners and buy them to make sure the horses didn’t die from starvation.”
Likewise, Bayes said, “My daughter and I were seeing young thin horses going through the sale at Hutchinson that nobody wanted, and we just couldn’t stand to see them starving, or being trampled by big horses in semi-trucks.”
From there, people started contacting the “rescues” to take abandoned horses in pastures and roadsides.
Owners even called the “rescues” to take ownership of their unwanted horses, whether they were unable to care for them, or desired lifetime care for a horse, instead of seeing it go to slaughter, or even putting it to death personally.
“Rather than bringing these horses to our ‘rescue’ facilities, we do our best to find new owners and work out arrangements with them directly, when possible. These can sometimes be ‘sanctuary’ horses that are older horses, or ones that can’t be ridden. Adopters often overlook them thinking they have no useful value rather than living until natural death, ” Cain reiterated.
“I try to ‘foster’ horses sometimes, take care of them until a suitable home can be found,” Bloomquist said. “Our ranch had agreed to foster one horse out of those rescued in Shawnee County, but it fell down a steep ravine looking for unfrozen water the night before.”
“Rehabilitation of malnourished, injured or abused horses often requires considerable time, let alone money, and this does not even take into consideration young and even quite mature horses that have never been handled,” Cain pointed out.
“Then, we try to adopt the horses to suitable new homes. We want to make sure the horses are adopted by someone who has the knowledge, desire and financial capabilities of caring for the horse,” Grimmett explained.
“Those who adopt the horses must complete a thorough adoption application and contract, and we will keep track of the horse after it has been adopted to make sure the new owners care for it properly,” Cain said.
“After you’ve rescued and then adopted as many horses as we have, keeping track of them can be a major job,” Cain added.
Most adoptions work out well for the horses and their new owners. “But, we have had to take back a few horses, because the owners didn’t care for them, or decided they really didn’t have the finances, ability or even desire to own the horses,” Grimmett said.
One of the most controversial issues today is legalization of horse slaughter. There is an animate opposition.
“Horse slaughter is not an alternative to the overpopulation and mistreatment of horses,” Cain said. “I’ve seen how horses bought for slaughter are mishandled, how they are abused during transportation and have seen examples of the inhumane treatment at slaughter houses.”
Grimmett agreed: “Horses are not like cattle. They are not considered food for human consumption in this country. They should not be slaughtered.”
Cain pointed out: “Horse meat is generally no longer used in dog food, which many people still believe. Horses are processed for human consumption overseas. Neither practice should be acceptable.”
“The treatment of horses going to slaughter is terribly inhumane. It has so much to do with money and greed,” Bayes contended, though perhaps less animate. “These aren’t all old horses, like is often proclaimed. Many of the horses are young with their lives ahead of them and a world of potential.”
Bayes proclaimed: “”It’s never too late to live happily ever after.”
Standing on middle ground, Bloomquist admitted, “I can see both sides of the discussion on slaughtering horses. But, if there is going to be horse slaughter in this country, it must be regulated to prevent inhumane treatment and have proper inspections at every level of the process.”
While some might consider it unrelated to horse rescue facilities and equine population concerns, handling of the wild horse issue has certain relevancy.
“Care of wild horses in their natural environments is great, and I don’t think that the mustangs should be rounded up just so cattle can graze on that land that has been set aside specifically for the mustangs by the government,”
“But, problems can arise when the mustangs are brought into captivity, grazed on prime grasslands, and kept in pen lots; that’s not natural, nor wild,” Bayes said.
“The adoption programs for mustangs doesn’t work well either. Now, when the horses are used in correctional facilities such as they are at Hutchinson that is good for both the horses and the inmates. But, adopting out to the general public often is not successful.
“I have taken in several wild horses that people had adopted because of the low cost adoption fee. They didn’t have any idea how to care for any horse, let alone one out of the wild. These horses grow up with the natural instinct to take care of themselves. When humans come around them, they require more understanding,” Bayes said.
Wild horse retention programs add further to the already overpopulation of horses.
“Education is the only beginning possible solution to all of these complicated horse issues,” Bloomquist, Cain, Grimmett and Bayes emphatically agreed.
“The nation must stop raising foals just for the sake of having a new baby horse every year. If there is a planned purpose for the horse that’s fine. But, there are still too many people who have a mare and raise a foal, with no justified use for it,” Bloomquist said.
“Horses aren’t like dogs and cats, which both have an overpopulation problem in themselves. Horses are large animals that require special knowledge how to care for them. If a horse isn’t well trained, and the owner doesn’t know how to work with it at that level of training, then there becomes a conflict. People get hurt, and the horse gets the blame, when it isn’t at fault,” Cain said.
“Besides that, many horses today haven’t had any handling, and considerable time and knowledge are required from even experienced horse people to help make them safe,” Cain added.
“Buying a horse is the cheapest part of ownership. When somebody sees a horse for just a few hundred dollars, they buy it because they ‘always wanted a horse.’ That’s when their expenses and problems really begin. There needs to be a place to keep the horse, feed and water, and he can be dangerous if not handled properly,” Grimmett again verified.
“We all love our horses. Most people love horses. But, there’s so much lack of knowledge among so many people. It’s far from easy. There may not be any complete answer to the situation, but first and foremost people must be informed on all aspects,” Bayes summarized.
“Truly, all facets of horses today, ownership, care, breeding, training, showing, even horse groups and associations, are quite involved. In reality, a lot of it comes down to greed on the part of so many people who are involved with horses.
“But, if we can better educate everybody about all aspects of horses, we are at least started on a solution to the most complex situation,” Bloomquist concluded.