Eleanor Blazer

      The rescue of a starving horse is an opportunity to help a suffering creature.

      Most of us have seen them - standing at an auction, in a pasture, in the back of someone's barn…and our hearts go out to them.

Cracker - A Rescued Horse

      If you decide to take on the responsibility then caution must be exercised.  It is possible to kill a horse with too much kindness - too quickly.

      Consult a veterinarian, as the horse may have special problems.

      A horse with a body condition score (BCS) of one is poor.  The horse is emaciated with no sign of body fat.  The tops of the vertebrae (spinous processes), ribs, tailhead, point of hip (tuber coxae), and the point of the buttocks (ischii) project prominently.  The bone structure of the withers, shoulders, and neck is easily seen.  

     A horse with a BCS of two is very thin - emaciated.  There is a slight covering of fat over the base of the vertebrae.  The broad flat lateral bones projecting from the lumbar vertebrae (transverse processes) feel rounded.   Vertebrae, ribs, tailhead, points of hips, and buttocks are prominent.  The structure of the withers, shoulders, and neck structure is faintly discernible.  (For a complete description of body condition scores please visit

      Here is a plan for rescuing a horse with a body condition score of one or two.

      Quarantine the horse for at least two weeks, allowing diseases to appear and the results of the Coggin's test for EIA to arrive.  It will also give you time to kill any parasites such as lice.

       The horse should gain enough strength during this time so he can be introduced to other horses.

       A pan containing disinfectant or a boot wash should be outside the stall.  Make sure you wash and don't use the same equipment on other horses.  Disposable boot covers may be an option. 

       With the aid of your veterinarian determine if the horse is salvageable.  If the horse is in intense pain, has an incurable disease or injury; or is a danger to itself or others, euthanasia may be the most humane step.

       You will want to document the current condition of the horse.  Record the body condition score, approximate weight, approximate age based on teeth, gender, vital signs, overall health and any characteristics that stand out. Take photographs of the horse from all angles.

       The veterinarian should draw blood and conduct a fecal flotation test for internal parasites. Blood tests will determine underlying problems not discernible to the eye.  The fecal flotation test will give you an idea of the worm burden.
        If the horse has had no feed for 24 hours begin offering frequent handfuls of good- quality hay at least one time per hour.  On the first day access to hay should be limited for horses not used to consuming hay at will.  If the horse is used to hay, more can be offered, but monitor the horse closely.

       The body of a starving human or animal starts using stored fat. When the fat is depleted muscle tissue is targeted.  Protein and electrolytes within the muscles become totally depleted.

       Sudden access to feed can cause death due to failure of the heart, lungs and kidneys because of a metabolic reaction the body cannot handle.   This usually occurs 3 - 5 days after the feeding begins.

       Rich feed can also create digestive upsets leading to colic, laminitis, diarrhea and death.

       Introduce food to the starving horse very slowly.  Avoid grain, supplements and commercial concentrates until the digestive system and organs have started to recover.

      Observation and common sense will help determine when the horse is ready to resume eating normal amounts of forage.  Monitor the horse closely; check vital signs, observe the quality and amount of the manure, make a note of general well-being and alertness.

      Gradually increase the amount of hay being offered.  Every horse is different.  Increasing the hay or forage may stretch over several days to a week…or more.  Small, frequent meals are best.

      Commercial senior concentrates (feeds) are the best formulas to feed a malnourished horse.  They contain easy-to-digest fiber, are balanced and usually contain probiotics. Generally they are low in soluble carbohydrates.

      Research has determined concentrates can be introduced around the fourth or fifth day.  Start out with a handful three to five times a day.  Every three days increase the amount in small increments.  Take at least 10 days to get the horse up to one pound for the day. The amount after that depends on the horse, age, size, type of concentrate and other factors.  But continue to make all increases or changes to the diet gradually.

      The horse should be able to be de-wormed once he reaches a body condition score of three.  Follow the advice of a veterinarian.  Some de-wormers are harsher than others.

      Due to the current economy, shortage of hay and other factors there are plenty of opportunities to rescue a starving horse.  Be careful you don't kill him with kindness…and bless you for making the effort.

Cracker - Six Months Later

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