to come back and care for them. Real estate agents or those buying land occupied by abandoned horses will often call the sheriff’s department for help, as will landowners who find abandoned horses on property they had leased out. If you know that a neighbor has moved, and you see no evidence that any horses left behind are receiving care, you can report these cases to the authorities to investigate, too.
It is not typically considered a criminal matter if someone abandons an animal at a boarding barn. Rather, it’s a civil breach-of-contract issue—this is why all boarding barns need good contracts and should understand how to file liens in their state.
• Stray livestock, called “estray” in some states, are animals including horses who either wander loose or who show up on someone else’s property. If you see loose horses or other livestock, call the local authorities to report them. Not only may their owner be looking for them, but they’re also in danger of being hit by a vehicle, which can result in severe injury or death to the animal as well as the people in the vehicle.
The exception is horses who are in designated “open range” or “fence out” areas. Cattle and other livestock are allowed to roam freely in large swaths of many Western states—if you as a property owner want to keep them off your land, it is your responsibility to put up a fence to keep them out.
If a strange horse shows up on your property, report it to the authorities right away. If you don’t, and the horse had been reported stolen, you may be investigated for theft if the animal is discovered in your barn. When you call, either offer to hold the horse for the local authorities until the owners are located, or request that the horse be picked up and treated as a stray.
Each state has its own laws for exactly how strays are handled. In most cases, they must be held for a certain amount of time while the authorities attempt to locate their owners. They’ll check for microchips or any relevant brand registrations, and they may also place “found livestock” ads in the newspaper or on county or city websites.
The laws will also detail the fines or costs owners must pay to reclaim their strays as well as what is done with the animals if no owner is found. A lot of people believe that if you find a stray horse, he is yours to keep, but that’s not true. If you want him, you may have to file for adoption once all legal requirements have been met.