Most people think abuse and neglect are synonymous. They are not. Neglect of horses is more common than outright abuse. Defining neglect or abuse is not as simple as it sounds. What one person considers a standard training practice, or acceptable horse-keeping, another person may view as abusive.
Neglect and Abuse
Neglect and abuse are often used interchangeably. However, neglect is the lack of appropriate care, while abuse is when someone intentionally sets out to harm, injure or kill a horse. Neglect can be caused by inexperienced or ignorant horse owners, unexpected financial crises or apathy. An owner may be unable to care for a horse properly, may not know how to care for one or just may be overwhelmed and cannot provide hay or feed, veterinary services and upkeep. Neglect is more common than outright abuse. More horses are seized by government or rescue agencies due to neglect than abuse.
How to Report Abuse/Neglect
If you suspect abuse or neglect contact your local humane society or law enforcement agency. Give a detailed description of the horse, why you think abuse or neglect occurred, exactly what happened or is happening and where the horse and owner can be found. If possible, take photos or video of the horse. Written descriptions may be discounted, but a photo of a skeletal or dying horse is incontrovertible proof. Do not exaggerate what is happening, or happened, to the affected horse. Exaggeration may slow down an investigation. Making a report of horse abuse or neglect will not get you in trouble; however, if you file a report to "get back" at someone, you may be prosecuted.
There are certain training practices that occur within breeds that people consider abusive. The most well-known is the soreing of Tennessee walkers. Soreing occurs when a caustic or mechanical agent is applied to the legs of Tennessee walkers to make the horses perform an exaggerated gate called the "big lick." Soreing is prohibited by the Horse Protection Act of 1970 and trainers found doing it are fined and banned from sponsored horse shows. Doping, or using drugs to enhance performance or mask lameness, is another form of abuse often seen at horse shows or in training barns. Good training should strengthen the bond between the horse and rider. Training should not cause pain or fear.
Always report truly abusive situations to law enforcement. Many abusive situations can be dangerous, or even deadly, for people who get involved. Neglect, however, often can be rectified with tactful advice or the offer of help. Inviting new horse owners to join a sponsored trail ride or just talking about horses can open the lines of communication. Never assume neglect. The thin horse you think is neglected just could be getting older.
State and federal guidelines for abuse and neglect can be interpreted differently. Some people feel that just riding a horse is abusive; others find it acceptable to use a crop or spurs. Many horse owners support the slaughter of horses for human consumption; others are horrified at the thought. That is why reporting, investigating and prosecuting abuse and neglect is difficult.