When find­ers are not keep­ers

You may never en­counter a stray horse, but if you do, take th­ese steps to keep him safe, in­crease his chances of mak­ing his way home and pro­tect your­self legally.

EQUUS - - Contents - By Jen­nifer Wil­liams, PhD

You may never en­counter a stray horse, but if you do, take th­ese steps to keep him safe, in­crease his chances of mak­ing his way home and pro­tect your­self legally.

The other day as I was feed­ing my horses I heard a strange noise. I turned around and jumped: A palomino geld­ing had walked into the feed room. I don’t own a palomino horse. None of my neigh­bors do, ei­ther. So where did this horse come from? And what was I to do with him?

Luck­ily for him and his owner, I knew how to han­dle the sit­u­a­tion. I con­tacted the sher­iff’s depart­ment to re­port a found horse. About 15 min­utes later, I re­ceived a call. It was the horse’s owner, who told me that he woke up that morn­ing to find his gate open and his horse gone. He had taken a break from look­ing for the horse to call the sher­iff’s depart­ment and re­port the animal as miss­ing. Less than an hour af­ter the geld­ing wan­dered into my feed room, he was back home.

While ev­ery­one is fa­mil­iar with stray or aban­doned dogs and cats, many peo­ple are sur­prised when they learn that some­thing sim­i­lar can hap­pen to horses. When they are found wan­der­ing with­out a known owner, horses are called “estray.” Some estray horses are like the palomino I found: They es­cape from a barn or pas­ture and their owner is fran­ti­cally look­ing for them.

In other cases, estrays are stolen horses who have been dumped by thieves who fear be­ing caught. Many years ago, a res­cue I ran picked up a mare found wan­der­ing a road. A few weeks af­ter she ar­rived, one of our vol­un­teers saw a flyer at a gas sta­tion look­ing for a horse that matched this mare’s de­scrip­tion. When the owner came to pick her up, we talked about where she was found and who turned her in. As we pieced the story to­gether, it be­came in­creas­ingly clear that an an­gry neigh­bor had prob­a­bly stolen the horse and then set her loose nearby.

Estrays are some­times sim­ply horses aban­doned by own­ers who can no longer care for them or no longer want them.

This may in­volve open­ing a gate and let­ting the horse wan­der away. Or an owner may haul the horse to a coun­try road, un­load him and drive away. That may sound far-fetched, but we’ve dealt with more than one such case at Blue­bon­net Equine Hu­mane So­ci­ety, the res­cue I cur­rently run in Texas.

All of this means that’s it’s wise to learn what to do if you find an estray horse. Some peo­ple think it is like find­ing a stray dog: You look around for the owner a bit and if you don’t find him, you have a new horse. But most states have laws that gov­ern estray horses (and other live­stock), and you need to fol­low them to pro­tect your­self---if you keep a horse who isn’t yours, you could be charged with horse theft! Also, think about the horse’s owner. If your horse es­caped his pas­ture and you were fran­ti­cally look­ing for him, how up­set would you be to find out that some­one had stashed him away in a barn or field and in­tended to keep him?

So if you ever en­counter an estray horse, fol­low th­ese guide­lines to pro­tect all in­volved and to avoid in­ad­ver­tently run­ning afoul of the law.

Se­cure the horse. oe If the horse is loose, catch him if you can---that keeps him and driv­ers safe if he’s on or near a road. If he is near your home, con­fine him in a pad­dock or stall.

Call the au­thor­i­ties. oe If you found the horse within city lim­its, call the po­lice depart­ment or animal con­trol. If the horse is lo­cated out­side of city lim­its, con­tact the sher­iff’s depart­ment. Tell them you found an estray horse. If you are on the side of the road or some­place you can­not se­cure the horse, de­scribe the sit­u­a­tion as an emer­gency. My hus­band once pulled over on his way to work and caught an es­caped

Most states have laws that gov­ern estray horses (and other live­stock), and you need to fol­low them to pro­tect your­self—if you keep a horse who isn’t yours, you could be charged with horse theft!

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