Hard times have fallen on more than just the human population. In rural areas, more and more horses are being starved or abandoned. Some have been left behind after foreclosure, others have been released into state parks by owners who can no longer afford to feed them. Horse rescue can be an expensive endeavor. But there are few rewards greater than watching life come back into the eyes of a horse that has been abused.
We rescued a 17 year old thoroughbred mare last spring that was in terrible condition. Under her wooly coat she was covered in rain rot. Chronic starvation had dramatically decreased the blood circulation to her feet, which were cracked and filled with sealed-over abscesses, and multiple pregnancies without proper nutrition had put an enormous strain on her kidneys. This mare was a vet bill waiting to happen.
So why did we bother to take her in? Simple; there was a look in her eyes that told us that for as much as she had been through, she was not ready to give up and she deserved a second chance.
Quality feed is the single most important step toward recovery for a starved horse. However, if you bring home a bone-thin horse and load her up on grain, you run the risk of colic and laminitis. Horses actually have relatively small stomachs, so feeding three equally divided small meals will carry a lower risk of complications than one large meal.
The vitamin pack in quality feed can be more important than the percentage of protein. That may sound like it makes no sense, because the first thing you may think a run-down horse needs is protein.However, that is not necessarily true. Unless you have blood tests done, you will not know the condition of a rescued horse’s kidneys. A sudden overload of protein could actually do more harm than good.
We have had great success with Purina Horseman’s Edge 10% Sweet Feed. It has a higher than average fat content at 6%, and 12% fiber. The formula works exceedingly well on rescues and is less expensive than higher protein, lower fat feeds. You should be able to buy it for $11 to $14 a bag.
Even if you have a lush green pasture for your rescue to graze on, good quality hay is essential. Fresh Timothy or Orchard blends with alfalfa should be given morning and evening, or between grain feedings.
In most cases, you should start to see positive results in about two weeks. The sluggish horse that came to you with their head hung low will begin to take an interest their new world. In a month, you may see a sparkle in their eyes you never thought they had.
While it may be difficult for some to resist the temptation to ride a rescue, it will not benefit the horse. We have never ridden or put a saddle on a rescue while any part of their ribs, hips or spine are visible.
In addition to regularly, quality feeding and hay, monthly worming and ferrier visits will round off the basics.
There are always exceptions when it comes to horse rescue. Most will recover beautifully. But there will still be times when you efforts are too little, too late. Out of the eight horses we rescued last year, all but one survived.
The 17 year old thoroughbred mare we rescued seven months ago was near death when we got her. Today she gallops through her pasture with life in her eyes, as if recalling past days when she proudly pranced onto the racetrack. When you see that and you know you were the one who made it happen, nothing else matters.
Resources and more info:
Horse body condition chart
How much should you feed?