by Michael Sharp
Standing in the middle of a sparse pasture on a blue-sky-and-breezy April afternoon in Queen Anne’s County, Md., Stacy Segal runs her hand gently along the side and back of a flea-bitten gray Polish Arabian horse. “This one is a little deceiving because of her winter coat,” says Segal, equine protection specialist for The Humane Society of the United States. “But if you come over and start rubbing off the hair, you can really feel the ribs. I mean, I can feel every bone.”
The horse is one of 21 mares in this particular pasture, where a tree has fallen through the fence, and clumps of weeds and buttercups grow in place of grass. And she is one of approximately 130 horses at Canterbury Farms, where similar signs of neglect and malnourishment—the exposed ribs, the jutting hip bones—have prompted a large weekend rescue.
As Segal surveys the scene, the horse she had just been petting lays her head down on her shoulder. “There is simply not enough forage out here,” Segal says. “But the horses are trying to survive, eating whatever they can find.”
Several groups stepped in to help, as The HSUS and ASPCA—along with Days End Farm Horse Rescue, Gentle Giants Draft Horse Rescue, and Summer Winds Stables—assisted Queen Anne’s County Animal Control in removing 133 horses over the weekend. Three HSUS donors generously stepped up to help finance the operation.
All told, 111 horses were rescued Friday, and 22 more were taken Saturday. They’ve since been sent to a variety of horse rescue organizations and private facilities for individualized care while the legal process unfolds. “It was important—at the request of Queen Anne’s County Animal Services and in partnering with HSUS—to really secure the future for them,” says Brooke Vrany, assistant director at Days End.
“We witnessed abuse in the form of neglect, and it was our primary goal to make sure they were safe and remove them to facilities that could provide good care for them.”
Before the weekend rescue, officials with The HSUS and Days End, along with a local veterinarian, helped Queen Anne’s County Animal Control officers assess the situation. After spending several hours evaluating the horses and the conditions of the farm—which included missing rails on fences and holes in the walls of stalls—they discovered an extremely emaciated horse standing alone under a tent. The vet had already left at this point, and mystified that the owner didn’t call their attention to the struggling horse immediately, officials had to call him back to the scene.
Eventually, she would become one of six horses who had to be euthanized. “This could be a viable farm,” Segal says. “Unfortunately, this owner, she’s here by herself. She has part-time help. She does not have the resources to care for this number of animals. And instead of recognizing that and modifying her plans, she continued to breed.
And that’s what led to what we’re seeing here today, which is the majority of these horses suffering from some degree of malnourishment, overgrown feet, parasite loads, lack of dental care, lack of vaccinations—[they were missing] everything that a horse needs to thrive and be happy.”
And so, as the criminal process continues, a new chapter begins for these Polish Arabians, a rare breed known for their gentle natures, beauty, and stamina.
Veterinary checks have been ongoing since the weekend, as the horses receive individualized care and close monitoring in their temporary new homes. The most critical cases have been given specialty food every six hours, and in some cases, medicine as well.
“I believe that any horse, regardless of age, has the potential with the right care to bounce back and be rehabilitated,” Vrany says.
“And I do believe that the majority of this herd as a whole will come back, all at their own speed and time … depending upon the horse’s condition when it arrives. But I look to see them flourish and do quite well with the right care.”
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