Monday, October 25, 2010

Understanding the Needs of a Rescued Horse

This article is from our October monthly newsletter. Go to to get it straight to your inbox.

By: Darlene M. Cox,

When we fall upon hard economic times, our animals are the first casualties to suffer. Nothing is more evident of this than the vast number of horses that are being surrendered to horse rescue organizations or worse yet, neglected horses that have yet to be seized or surrendered.

Many of us who love horses have opened our hearts and barns to rehab a neglected horse. It is important that the needs of a rescued horse be understood because we may cause more harm than good. A neglected horse may present with many issues that need to be dealt with: starvation, bad teeth, over-grown feet, skin fungus, parasite infestations, etc. Each one of these afflictions can be cured, but you cannot tackle them all at once.

Veterinarian Assistance:

Contact your vet to examine and assess the rescued horse and to develop a rehabilitation plan. Also have your veterinarian provide you with a letter of care, which defines your role in rehabilitating the horse back to health and indicating that the horse is under veterinarian care. This letter may well protect you from the auspices of a concerned animal lover who happens to spot a malnourished horse on your property and reports it to animal cruelty organizations.


Our first thought upon seeing an emaciated, skeletal horse is to feed it; however, you cannot feed a rescued horse like you would a healthy horse. Keep in mind that it has taken this horse weeks if not months to deteriorate to such a body condition. His body has effectively been consuming itself in its quest for nourishment. If you immediately begin feeding grain and large quantities of hay, you will most likely cause a colic episode caused from impaction. This is because the horse's body is still in "starvation" mode. Rather, you have to change the body's way of thinking, moving it from "starvation" mode to "nourishment" mode. You can do this by first re-introducing clean grass hay or an alfalfa/grass hay mix. Feed about a pound of hay every three to four hours for the first three days. If the horse tolerates this feeding with no incidence of diarrhea or incidence of colic, you can gradually increase the amount of hay fed and decrease the number of feedings. By day number 7 and through day 13, you should be feeding around 3 to 4 pounds of hay every 6 to 8 hours, which totals around 12 to 13 pounds of hay each day. Again, if the horse is tolerating this amount of hay, you can offer free choice hay on day 14 on.

Grain should not be fed until the third week of rehabilitation and then only in small amounts (one handful) twice a day. Low protein grains (nothing higher than 12%) should be fed. As with hay, grain should be slowly increased over time; however, for grain this window of time is 30 days before arriving at a normal sized feeding, which should never exceed 5 pounds of grain.

Worming and Teeth Floating:

After a month of TLC and feeding as stated above, your rescued horse may be well enough to worm. Work with your veterinarian for the worming method that is best for your horse. Half-dose wormings may be called for to avoid problems caused from a large parasite load kill off.

If it is warranted, the horse's teeth can also be floated at this time.

Hoof Care:

Provided the horse can balance itself, you can treat thrush or other fungal infections of the hoof shortly after rescue. Trimming should wait until the horse is stronger. Overgrown hooves are best addressed by trimming a little at a time to prevent the horse's feet from becoming sore.


Vaccinations should not be given until the rehabilitated horse is well on the mend and has put most of its weight back on.

Rehabilitating a horse can be a long process, but you will find nothing more rewarding than knowing you have given him the opportunity to live and continue his days in good health.

Happy trails!

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