The first thing to understand about rescued horses is that they require a considerable investment in patience, empathy, time and money. You’ll need to spend more time visiting, feeding, grooming and exercising your rescued horse than you would a normal one. In addition, you’ll have to purchase a variety of high-quality horse products, and frequent visits from the veterinarian will add up. Only purchase or adopt a rescue horse if you’re certain you can handle committing both your time and your finances. If you can’t give an abused horse the care it needs, a local volunteer organization can take care of it.
Examining your horse
Your vet can perform a comprehensive exam complete with blood work, but it’s a good idea for you to go over the horse yourself and make note of any specific concerns. This examination should be physical as well as visual – there might be a skin condition hiding beneath the horse’s coat. In addition, as Veterinary News mentioned, most starvation cases occur in the winter and early spring when a horse’s coat is the longest. You can easily miss a horse’s true weight and appearance if you rely on observation alone.
Your horse’s weight will be given a number between one and nine according to the Henneke horse body condition scoring system. A one means your horse is extremely malnourished, while a nine reflects extreme obesity. Horses between four and six are considered healthy, while 3.5 or below is cause for concern and common among starvation cases. These horses have bulging backbones along with visible ribs, withers, shoulders and necks, and their heads appear disproportionately large.
Feeding and malnutrition
You might be tempted to give a malnourished horse free access to feed, but this could actually make its condition worse if it suffers from something else. Arthritis, poor dental hygiene, parasites, Cushing’s disease and other ailments all make a horse less likely to eat. These should be treated throughout the refeeding process.
“Give your horse about a pound of high-quality alfalfa hay every hour hours.”
Starvation that lasts for an extended period of time will cause the horse to burn through its stored fats and carbohydrates for energy and eventually turn to protein, damaging the skeleton, heart and other vital tissue. Refeeding should be monitored in such extreme cases as consuming a bunch of calories causes the horse’s insulin to spike. This depletes the amount of electrolytes circulating throughout the body, leading to kidney failure, respiratory failure and cardiac arrest. This process occurs in as few as three to five days. To prevent such an upsurge in insulin, give your horse about a pound of high-quality alfalfa hay every four hours, Veterinary News Advised.
Emotional issues and bad habits
Many rescued horses spent their lives in isolation. They’ve probably developed bad habits like kicking and biting and may be head shy around humans. They also might not know how to interact socially with other horses.
Once you’ve addressed a rescue horse’s physical needs, you can concentrate on its emotional heath. You’ll have to reestablish the horse’s sense of trust by providing consistency, noted Horse Channel. Being dependable and maintaining a calm disposition helps your horse relax around humans, while not doing so has the opposite effect. Stick to a strict schedule when feeding, grooming and watering your rescue so it’s not alarmed by a sudden change. However, you also have to establish firm rules so the horse knows what to do. The trick is to keep calm when a horse misbehaves and provide gentle direction while never letting bad behavior go unaddressed.