Left to their own in wide open spaces, horses can be resourceful and hardy animals. But today’s horses are not free to roam on their own. They are often kept in small dry lots, overgrazed pastures, and stalls, leaving them totally dependent on their owners for necessities like food and water. Because of this, some horses may become neglected or abandoned.
Colorado has particularly good laws to address animal neglect and abandonment. There are also good systems to investigate issues, educate owners, and if necessary directly help the horses. Investigators across the state from law enforcement and non-governmental agencies are trained to recognize animal care issues and to investigate and prepare cases if necessary. This training comes from veterinarians, state animal control organizations, and the Colorado Department of Agriculture.
Because of these good laws and well-trained investigators, issues typically can be discovered and dealt with. However, it’s still important to be aware of horse neglect and abandonment and report issues that are of concern.
If you suspect a harmful situation, the first thing to consider is whether animals or humans are in immediate danger. If they are, immediately call 911 for emergency services.
You may find there is no specific “emergency,” but things just don’t “look right.” If you see something that could be neglect or you have information about a situation that might indicate a horse could be harmed, report it to your local sheriff. This is the agency that upholds the state criminal animal cruelty statute in each county.
In reporting the situation, try to provide the following information:
- The actual address at which the horse is located. If you don’t know the address, provide directions, including street names or county road numbers and mile markers.
- A description of the horse, including color and markings.
- Photographs of the situation as you saw it at the time. Make sure not to enter private property to obtain photographs.
- Other observations of the situation such as people moving out, no one around for days, or a sudden stop in care.
After you leave a report with officials, be aware that investigations take time. Some other things to keep in mind:
- It is okay to call the agency and ask to speak with the investigator in charge of the case. Investigators rarely keep you updated on the progress of an investigation. Sometimes they are unable to comment until the investigation is complete.
- In most cases, unless there is an emergency, horses are not immediately removed from the custody of the owner or caretaker. These cases take time and steps must be followed to ensure the desired outcome.
- These investigations can be expensive and time-consuming. Not all agencies can devote 100% of their time to them. It also takes time and lots of money to care for horses that have been impounded. Support your local law enforcement agencies so they have the resources for future cases.
- Finally, never compromise your safety or the safety of others to “help” law enforcement. Let them do their job.
Since 2008, the Colorado Unwanted Horse Alliance has worked in collaboration with equine organizations, horse rescues, and state agencies to raise awareness about unwanted horses and the importance of responsible horse ownership.
If you have questions or need more information about protecting Colorado’s horses, please contact us.
Dr. Kate Lewis is a board member of the Colorado Unwanted Horse Alliance.