Saving a Starving Horse

730 lbs on intake. 200+ pounds underweight

At RVR Horse Rescue, we face the worst of the worst cases of abuse and neglect, including starvation. Many times, our newly rescued equines are only skin draped over protruding bones. Upon a new arrival, the intake process allows us a structured way to access the severity of any injuries and the overall health of the animal. Our farrier addresses any immediate hoof or shoe issues and our veterinarian performs a thorough examination.

A numeric evaluation is assigned to the horse’s physique, using the Henneke Scale. This numeric tool was developed to quantify the body condition of a horse. The scale runs from a lower limit of one, which indicates extreme starvation, to ten, which indicates extreme obesity. Many of our rescues pathetic condition are deemed worse than extreme starvation.

New arrivals are placed into a segregated paddock during the intake process. The quarantine allows us time to complete a medical examination, which includes Coggins testing, before releasing a potentially sick horse into the herd.

The Coggins test checks for equine infectious anemia, commonly called swamp fever. This disease is similar to HIV in humans and is transmitted by bloodsucking insects, primarily flies. Often the carriers don’t display obvious symptoms, so every horse is quarantined until the testing is complete to prevent inadvertent transmission to healthy horses through bodily fluids.

Next, we tackle the starvation. A bucket of food to a severely emaciated horse could literally kill it with kindness. If their emaciation has led to poor kidney or liver function, providing a lot of food can result in colic or shock or even death.

Oftentimes, horses deprived of food eat sand and dirt out of desperation. During their recovery, the foreign matter must be eliminated before their system can properly process real food again. As the sand or dirt passes, the animal will lose weight before gaining any, sometimes dropping up to thirty-five pounds worth of dirt.

The intake process includes dumping poop in a bucket of water to see how much sand precipitates out, and sometimes it’s an enormous amount. Pitch-black poop can be an indicator of significant dirt.

Refeeding begins with tiny amounts of mushy high-protein alfalfa hay or pellets about six times a day. The amount is gradually increased and grains are added, along with a small amount of dry alfalfa hay. If we see signs of distress, we stop adding. As the amount of food per feeding increases, the number of feedings per day is reduced until the patient is eating normal-size meals two or three times per day.

Our regimen acclimates the body to food again. Initially, it seems as though you’re not feeding them anything, but it’s all they can handle. We fine-tuned our process over time and out of necessity. Our veterinarians couldn’t provide much guidance in this area because people who starve their animals don’t typically provide them with medical care.

The following video is of one of our newest rescues, Independence, also known as Indy. She is one example of why we try so hard and spend money on animals who are teetering at death’s door. Because you never know. Many horses that we think would never survive, end up thriving. That’s exactly what we’re about: giving a second chance.

Click here for intake Video

Indy is the grey. Freedom is the bay.

Independence and Freedom

Independence and Freedom

Stay tuned to our Facebook page for updates on their progress.

Article by Shirley Alarie, Author of “A Healing Haven- Saving Horses and Humans at RVR Horse Rescue” and “A New Home for Dominick”. Coming Soon – “A New Family for Dominick”

How you can help:

Read our books:

Read our posts: