Every week, I read posts on social media in which someone is asking what to do about a thin horse they have seen. Sometimes, they even post a picture of the horse. Every such photo I've seen shows an emaciated horse, not even vaguely a close call. But no matter how awful the horse looks, there are always plenty of folks who chime in and advise doing nothing, commenting that the horse "doesn't look that thin," or speculating that the horse might be thin because he's old, or maybe he was just "rescued," etc.
How have we arrived at this point, where we don't help a horse in need because we might offend someone? Really, what's the worst that could happen if you report an emaciated horse to the authorities and it turns out not to be neglected? The owner will probably be mad because they have to explain why the horse is not neglected. That's all. If it's a close call, the owner might be more diligent about feeding and caring for the horse. On the other hand, if you don't speak up when you see an emaciated horse, it very well may die.
My friends, who live nearby, feed their horses poor quality hay, and not enough of it, and as a result, their horses are often noticeably underweight. My friends are not ignorant - one of them is a riding instructor, and the other is a nurse. Over the years, I've had dozens of conversations with them about their horses being thin, and they always had plans for putting more weight on them. I even had regular conversations with them about downsizing their herd to make their situation more affordable. But the result was always the same - if the horses gained weight, they always got thin again, sometimes dangerously so, and they never found any new homes for the horses. In fact, they even acquired an additional horse. I didn't press the issue further because I knew my friends would be offended. I just kept hoping my friends would come to their senses and step up. They didn't.
On a recent rainy Sunday afternoon, my friends called to ask for help. One of their horses died, and they needed help moving its body out of the pasture so the rendering truck could pick it up. When my husband and I arrived, we were horrified to see the condition of the body - it was just hide stretched over bone, not an ounce of flesh left. One of his eyes was missing, and rigor mortis had already passed. The body was starting to smell, despite the temperature being in the mid-50s. The horse had clearly been dead for a while. The other horses in the field were very thin. There was no grass in the field, and some of the wooden fence posts had been chewed almost in half.
For the past few weeks, I've been ruminating about the horse's death, unable to process the fact that my friends, whom I know as otherwise kind and generous people, had let this horrible thing happen. But when I heard they had just purchased some rabbits to raise for meat and sale, I couldn't stay silent any longer. I told them I was very uncomfortable with how their horse died and that they were now acquiring more animals. They had lots of explanations - the horse was older than they thought he was, it was "his time," they had been thinking about putting him down but hadn't gotten around to it, the teenager that was supposed to be feeding the horses last winter didn't do it, they were spending a lot of money on feed and the horse wasn't able to digest it, etc. But I know what really happened, and I said so: This poor horse died of neglect. If he really wasn't able to digest his food, he deserved to be humanely euthanized, not dying of starvation in a field.
Would it have done any good if I'd spoken up more vehemently about their horses' condition a long time ago? Maybe, maybe not, but I wish I had. This poor horse suffered, and died. And I didn't do everything I could have done to prevent it.