M AT T E R S O F
Terms like “neglect,” “abuse,” “abandonment” and “stray” have precise legal definitions that can vary by state. So while the specifics in your state may differ, the following definitions provide a general guideline for these terms as they are usually defined by law:
• Neglect generally means that an animal does not receive adequate care. Neglected horses, for example, often do not have access to any food or to enough food to maintain suitable body condition. But neglect can also cover requirements to provide potable (drinkable) water, proper veterinary and/or farrier care, and sufficient space to move around.
Neglect is probably the easiest to prove, depending on the local or state laws. In Texas, for instance, the law requires that horses be provided with necessary food. When a horse is emaciated and no food is available on the property, it is not hard to prove that the horse is neglected. Things may get more difficult if there’s food on the property yet the horse isn’t getting enough to keep up his weight—but that’s often proven by a veterinary or equine expert’s examination of the horse’s condition, backed up by their testimony of the horse’s body condition score, bloodwork that shows nutritional deficiencies, and photos that document how the horse gains weight once he receives proper food.
• Abuse is hard to define and harder to prove. In Texas, abuse includes overwork and torture, but some states don’t define or address abuse at all. Proof of abuse is often elusive. Owners and trainers may claim that a horse’s wounds were caused by injuries or accidents in the pasture, and it can be hard to prove otherwise unless the officer witnesses the abuse occurring and is able to document it.
Also, the terms “overwork” and “torture” are subjective: What one person calls torture might be considered an accepted training method for another, and what one considers overwork may be a normal day for someone else. Is it truly abusive or normal horsekeeping when a trainer ties a horse up for several hours? Rides with spurs? Leaves a horse in a stall for days on end? Rides for five or more hours in one day?
• Abandonment means someone has left horses and made no provisions for their care. This could happen when someone moves away and leaves horses behind, or when someone rents property, drops off horses and fails