By Darlene M. Cox
Recreational trail riding and camping has increased exponentially over the last few years, with many avid horse lovers making the necessary purchases to enjoy the welcoming pleasures that exist for them in the numerous state and federal forests.
Those who delve into this wonderful past time spend a fair amount of money on the required wares; namely, horse(s), truck, trailer, tack, and other supportive accoutrements. As with any item of value there is always the risk of theft.
If you are unfortunately victimized, report the theft immediately. If your horses are missing from their pasture or barn, presume they are stolen and report it to the appropriate authorities. After you have placed the call, then go look for them. If you find them in your neighbor’s hayfield enjoying an afternoon snack, no harm, no foul. You had initiated the wheels of action in the event they had been stolen.
If you arrive home to find your horses and tack missing, phone in your theft report and do not disturb anything while you wait for the authorities to arrive. Fingerprints can be taken from stall doors, gates, etc. to help the authorities apprehend the thieves. Responding law personnel are trained to interpret crime scenes and any disruption of involved items may skew their interpretation.
The tried and true saying of “the best defense is a good offense” is a good strategy to employ in keeping your property safe, or in the event of thievery, being able to identify your belongings. After the theft has occurred, your horse(s) and tack can be difficult to find unless you can positively identify them.
Photographs can greatly simplify any identification process. Photos coupled with a written detailed description enhance the ability to prove ownership. Engraving and/or marking your name, address, driver’s license number, and/or social security number on saddles, bridles, blankets, etc. will further assist the identification process. I would recommend making such engravings in an inconspicuous place; one not easily noticeable and therefore subject to erasure or scratching out.
Color photographs of your horse are most important. Take the photos from every angle and every side, including a photo of their head. Make sure you get photos of all markings and significant details (scarring, eye color, etc.)
Branding and/or tattooing your horse(s) is an excellent identification tool to prove ownership.
Housing your tack behind a sturdy, padlocked door will deter would-be thieves, especially if you use the type of padlock that cannot be cut. They are a little pricey, but well worth the investment.
Sturdy locks will also protect any belongings you may have in your horse trailer while you are on the trails. If you have an entrance to the living quarters part of your trailer from the horse box, padlock the exterior stock door to prevent outside access. Placing a hitch lock on your trailer will prevent someone from driving away with it.
Motion sensor lights in and around your barn will thwart some thieves who prefer to do their dirty work under the cloak of darkness. Security cameras can provide evidentiary video tape to aid in identifying suspects and vehicles. I have also seen strategically placed baby monitors as effective theft deterrent tools.
Driveway access gates are a deterrent to thieves who prefer to have their vehicle within easy access. While a padlocked gate may be a small headache for you to navigate on a daily basis, an electric gate may be a nice pain reliever, as well as an effective tool preventing uninvited access to your property.
Always be aware of any ‘strangers’ or strange vehicles in and around your barn. Someone innocuously petting your horse through the fence may actually be ‘casing’ your barn. Some unknown, friendly person striking up a conversation and asking you questions about your horse may be filing away the information for later use. Write down license plate numbers from any vehicles such unknown persons may drive off in. Advise your neighbors that you have seen suspicious people in the area, making them aware to promote their watchful eyes, too.
If you board your horse at a communal barn, know which horses belong to whom. Unrecognized visitors should be questioned about their being on site and association with any horse they may have on the end of a lead shank. How easy can it be for someone to confidently walk up to a horse and load it into a trailer and drive off? Just like some housing districts have neighborhood watches, barn watches can equally deter would be thefts.
Nothing protects a barn better than a barking dog. Many thefts have been thwarted by yappy canines. Remember, thieves prefer to quietly come and go. A barking dog greatly heightens the probability of them being caught in the act.
Pasture bound horses are an easy target for thieves. Driving up to a roadside gate or simply cutting a fence will allow access. Don’t make it easy for the thieves. Place heavy chains and padlocks on all gates. Routinely check the chains and locks to ensure their stability. Do not put watering troughs or feed buckets on or near exterior roadside fences. Horses will congregate where they are fed or watered. How much easier could it be for would-be thieves to take the horses from where they stand? Instead, feed and water the horses along an interior fence or at the barn. A would-be horse thief is less likely to walk across a 60-acre field to steal a horse.
Taking appropriate measures to protect your prized investments will allow you to sleep better at night.Happy trails!