Rescue agency gets custody of five horses
Faith Huffman | News-Telegram News Editor

Jan. 28, 2007 - Habitat For Horses this week won another court hearing granting the nonprofit horse rescue agency custody of five horses, seized Jan. 19 due to neglect and malnutrion on the part of the owners, according to HFH investigator Kim Simpson. Simpson will be rehabilitating the five equines on her property. One horse was euthanized due to its extreme malnourishment when HFH and veterinarians were unable to revive the animal after it fell down due to emaciation.

Precinct 1 Justice of the Peace Yvonne King also ordered the owners to pay veterinary bills charged to HFH for complete physical examinations and treatments.

HFH began investigating a complaint of suspected horse neglect at a Hopkins County property located off State Highway 154 about 10 miles south of Sulphur Springs Wednesday, Jan. 17. 

When Simpson arrived, she found six studs in the same fenced area, all in very bad physical condition from lack of proper nutrition and food. Contact was made with the owners, who investigators learned about a year ago had to sell five horses when the SPCA intervened after another one of their horses died from neglect.

�When we arrived at the location, we found them in very bad condition. There was no hay on the property, and they were very thin,� Simpson said.

There was only 15 pounds of horse feed on the property, enough to feed only two horses one time but which was expected to last all six horses a week until the owner got paid.

The owner was told by law she is required to care for the animals and make sure they get the veterinary care they needed, especially the oldest horse, reported to be 30 years old which was in extremely bad condition due to lack of food.

The property had no ground vegetation and based on the condition of several bare saplings, officials said it appeared the horses had eaten all the bark off them. The animals had been subsisting on any tree bark, sapling, rocks and dirt they could get in their mouths. They also had lacerations from trying to go through the fence to get at more of those items nearby.

�Our goal is to work with the owner to improve the horses� condition and help them learn to take care of the horses. I spoke with the owner at length. She said they had not had any hay in two to three months because they couldn�t afford any,� Simpson said.

Simpson asked her if she’d be willing to sell the six horses on the property so someone else could care for them, or donate the oldest horse to HFH so the rescue organization could make sure it received the immediate medical attention he so desperately needed, but the owner refused.

The woman told Simpson they couldn’t sell their “babies,” and that the older horse belongs to her husband, so she couldn’t make decisions on his behalf regarding the animal.

�I asked her to donate the one horse. She said no, it�s her husband�s horse. I told her, �Well, by the law you can�t let him just lay there and suffer.� I got no response to that so it forced me to get a warrant,� Simpson said.

Simpson contact the sheriff’s department, where deputies assisted in securing a warrant to seize the animals from the property. She took hay to the animal on the 18th. The warrant process was speeded along on the 19th, after Simpson found the oldest animal lying on the ground unable to support himself enough to stand when she arrived to feed the animals.

�It was 39 degrees, misting rain and they had no shelter when we got there. The one horse was down, I attempted to help get him up and couldn�t. He was just lying there, stuck in the mud and cold. I contact the vet and he attended to him but he just didn�t have it in him to get up. There was nothing left. We had to euthanize him humanely at the location. Hopkins County Sheriff�s Sgt. Victor Cosme called some folks in and they buried it there on the property by that night,� Simpson said.�

�There was not reason for that,� Simpson said of the horses� decline and collapse. �There are foods offered now even for older horses. We gave the owner the benefit of the doubt. I even carried hay out there. We try to work with the owners. Two days earlier he could have been saved.�

Habitat for Horse trucked the five remaining studs, which ranged in age based on the vets best estimate from a yearling up to 10 years, to the Dr. Black’s clinic on SH 154 south. They remained there undergoing numerous tests and treatments until the custody hearing Thursday in King’s court. 

Black noted more than one of the horses cared from Jan. 19-Jan. 25 tested positive for parasites, an indication that they had not been properly de-wormed. Their hooves were long and had not received regular maintenance and care, and they had rain rot. Results from a blood panel test showed one horse’s pancreas didn’t work adequately due to emaciation and poor nutrition, and another had liver problems, another both. The animals’ spines were raised 1-4 inches above their back, due to little or no muscle mass in their backbone, and they had gashes and cuts. One horse was partially blind from an eye laceration which had apparently not received the proper care. Their teeth were more worn than they should have been for their respective ages.

In her notes regarding the animals’ conditions, Simpson noted some to have “big head syndrome,” or independent hyperparathyroidism which due to lack of nourishment begins eating away at the calcium in the horses bones, beginning usually at the skull. The head generally becomes puffy and swells up, making the head appear obviously out of proportion to the rest of the animal’s body.

The horse owner during the Thursday morning hearing also testified and provided evidence of a report from their veterinarian in October of recommendations for improving the horses’ condition, which was noted the older animal to be very thin and recommended special fed, worming the horses and teeth care.

�Given her history and the fact that another horse had died, and the recommendations from her own vet, it was obvious she had not done what she needed to, was not doing and was not going to do it. This was the third incident and two horses had already died because of it. We couldn�t afford to leave them there,� Simpson said of judges� ruling granting HFH custody of the animals.

Simpson has special training and space on her spread where she will rehabilitate the five rescued horses until they determined to be in good condition. They will then be moved to a foster home to await adoption by an approved family, freeing up Simpson’s rehab facility for more needy horses.

This case is only one of 12 Simpson worked on last week, and one of 20 she’s been notified of this so far this month in the 18-county region she serves. In fact, Simpson is the only HFH investigator in the Northeast Texas region which despite it’s name encompasses a wide area from Hunt County south to Smith County, and east into Louisiana and Arkansas and north into Oklahoma and Arkansas.

Due to the increased number of cases in this area over the last 2 years, largely due to the drought conditions which began in 2005 and continued through most of 2006, the area is in desperate need of volunteers to assist HFH. They need people willing to train to become investigators of horse abuse and neglect, foster homes and those willing to help care for those horses being assisted by HFH.

�I�m the only one [investigator] in the area and need help bad,� Simpson said. �We can also use help with foster homes. If anyone has a fenced property we can rent or just use to fence them in, that�d help a lot. We need land. We�ll take care of whatever we put on it, we just need a place to put them.

Also, anyone wanting to donate land to  Habitat for Horses, could also  is a nonprofit organization so they could write it on their taxes. We need land. We’ll take care of whatever we put on it, we just need a place to put them. They can donate land if they’re not using it or give it and use it as a tax write off.”

For more information about Habitat for Horses, making donations, volunteering, adopting horses or becoming a foster home equine rescued by HFH, or to report equine neglect and abuse, call the main headquarters at (409) 935-0277 or go online to www.habitatforhorses.org or lser.org (HFH and Lone Star Equine Rescue merged within the last year, and now operate under the name HFH.)

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