When you're staring at a horse in very poor condition, it's only natural to become angry at the person responsible. Take a deep breath and resist that urge. Getting emotional won't help the horse--and it can do much more harm than good. Here's why:
- Most neglectful owners are simply ignorant. They don't understand that what they are doing is wrong. I find that these owners are usually open to suggestions on how to better care for their animals, and their horsekeeping skills improve greatly with a little guidance. Yelling at them, however, doesn't teach them anything and only makes them tune you out. Polite courtesy will accomplish much more.
- Some neglectful owners just don't care. Yelling at people like this won't help either. In fact, you're much more likely to get yourself thrown off the property, and you might even incite a violent reaction. Either way, your opportunity to help the horse will evaporate.
- Standards of horsekeeping vary. Conditions that you see as deplorable might not be so bad. My own notion of "bad" has changed over the years as I've seen increasingly terrible situations. A lone shed in a muddy field with fences held together by baling twine may look shoddy to you, but look past the setting to study the horses themselves. Do they have adequate food and water? Do they seem to be in pain? If the horses seem reasonably healthy and sound, they are probably getting the basics of care.
- You may not know the whole story. The owner might have just rescued this horse himself. Also, age and various illnesses, even with the best of care, can leave some horses looking terribly lean, but it doesn't necessarily mean they are neglected. Compare this animal with others on the property; if only one appears to be in bad shape, there could be a good reason.
To read about rehabilitating a neglected horse, see "Helping the Hard-Luck Horse" in the March 2007 issue of EQUUS magazine.