It is one of life's main truth's right? That things are not always what they appear to be. People that see horses from afar, but don't know anything about them, sometimes make incorrect assumptions of abuse or neglect. It is our job to educate the public.
My farm is basically like living in a fishbowl. The majority of my family farm was taken by eminent domain in the 1970s to build a school complex. Our little place is literally surrounded by schools, playing fields and parking lots.
I would consider where I live to be a suburban area, though there are a handful of small farms nearby and even some backyard horses as well.
I say my farm is a fishbowl because everyone that drives up that school driveway, whether it be for a day of school or a sporting event, drives right by and can see the horses on my property.
In the paddock that is right up against the school fence, we have had two mini donkey's living in for many years. We also have a variety of ponies that have come and gone. I have heard many times, "Oh you, where the donkeys are?" Due to the odd placement of a farm among the schools and playing fields, we stick out.
Most People Have Good Intentions
I will say that I do believe that most people have good intentions when they inquire about the welfare of other animals. They see something that, not knowing about horses, concerns them, and they just don't know any better.
People can be pretty vocal about their concerns about animal welfare when they see something that they don't like. Unfortunately, it seems in my case they go through the wrong channels to express their concern.
It seems that people tend to go to local law enforcement, like animal control, before they would inquire with the owner of the animal. Even when you are not doing anything wrong, nobody likes to see an animal control officer pulling into their driveway. Even if you aren't at fault, I will admit it puts a chip on my shoulder to have anyone question my animals' care. I know it is just their job, but it is just not a good feeling to be questioned about the care of the animals you love so much.
I had a small paint pony named Max. He was a cutie, but he was elderly. He also had Lyme disease and very little teeth so he was very thin. He was on all the prescribed medications and supplements from the vet. Despite looking like a little skeleton, he was spunky and happy until the day he died.
In the winter, it wasn't such a problem because we would keep him blanketed to keep him warm. So obviously, people passing by couldn't see him see that he was thin.
On the other hand, the rest of the year, he stood in that field next to the driveway, in full view. He always had hay and water, but we still got complaints all the time. People saying how thin he was neglected because he was so fluffy.
Frustrating it was at times, and sometimes even maddening. Knowing all the time and effort that was put into keeping Max happy and healthy, I just had to keep telling myself that people just don't understand, they just don't know.
If You Hear a Complaint About How a Horse Looks
That being said, if you see a horse that doesn't look very good for whatever reason, don't immediately jump to the worst case scenario. The horse could be old, it could be recovering from an illness or have dental problems.
If you are really so worried about someone else's animal, I would suggest inquiring with them about it first. I'm sure they would be glad to explain why the horse looks the way it does. They also would be glad to explain about horse care, in general, to help educate the public on horses and how they should be kept.
Just as an example, I can't tell you how many times that I have heard someone say they called animal control because they saw a horse laying down. There seems to be so preconceived notion in the non-horse world that horses never ever lay down. If they do lay down, something must be terribly wrong! This is just not the case. Again, people just don't know! So try and tell them in the kindest way possible (no matter how frustrating it might be) that horses lay down and bask in the sun. Just because they are laying down doesn't mean they are sick, or worse, dying. Believe it or not, some people that don't know about horses, literally think if they are laying down, it means that they are dead or dying.
I'm Not Saying That There Aren't Neglected Horses Out There
I'm not saying that there are no neglected horses. I wish I could say that to be the truth, but I know it isn't. I'm just saying that before you jump to conclusions and assume the worst case scenario, inquire with the owners of the property or owners of the horse. They will be glad you did! They may have just rescued the horse from an actual neglectful situation and that is why it looks the way it does.
Reason for concern would be things like the following:
1) More than one horse appears to be thin or unkept.
2) You frequent the area and never see anyone there caring for the horses.
3) Lack of forage, either grass pasture or access to a hay bale at all times.
4) Lack of clean water.
5) Lack of hoof care, long cracked, or even worse, curled up hooves.
Again, it should be common sense, but those are the types of things that should be more concerning.
If you see any of these things, first try and contact the owner of the horse or property and inquire kindly. Remember, you can catch more bees with honey, so use the nice approach first.
If for some reason you cannot get a hold of anyone, and you still think that something is not quite right, then would be the time to call the animal control or humane society officer to investigate.
Most People Are Doing the Best They Can for Their Horses
Horses are expensive to keep and high maintenance. Most people who own them put a lot of time, money, and not to mention their heart, into their horses care. It is best not to jump to conclusions.
It could even be a scenario where someone is struggling financially and they are grateful for someone to inquire because then they can ask for help.
It Is Good to Be Concerned
It is good to take notice and be concerned if you think there is a potential problem. Just remember, if you are not a horse person, or don't know much about horses, don't jump to conclusions. There are a lot of reasons for a horse to be thin looking, and they don't have anything to do with neglect.
People will appreciate a genuine kind concern for their animals. They do not appreciate people who jump to conclusions and overstep their boundaries without being educated about the situation. These type of inquiries are going to lead to the "mind your own business" sort of response, which if there is a problem, is not going to do anything to help the horse.
So don't jump to conclusions, because things are not always what they seem.