How to Spot Horse Neglect

There is a great deal of information out there that tells you how to report animal neglect, but not so much on how to spot it. With many animals neglect is not always outwardly apparent, especially if you don’t know what you are looking for. A horse is no different. Outlined, below, are three of the more obvious ways to determine whether or not a horse is being abused or neglected.

1. Hooves and Hoof Care: Horses require visits from a farrier, a specialist in equine hoof care, every three to six weeks (six weeks maximum). Hooves that are allowed to grow too long are not just an eyesore. A horse’s legs, tendons, and feet all rely on having balanced hooves. Think of it in human terms. Have you ever broken a foot and had to rely, solely, on the other foot for your balance? Eventually, the healthy foot is affected. Now imagine both feet were broken. The pressure exerted on other parts of your body, to compensate for the fact that your feet aren’t working, would become unbearable. Hooves that have grown too long are often very easy to spot. In severe cases of neglect, the hooves will begin to curve upwards.

2. Living/Paddock Conditions: In most cases, you will not be able to spot neglect unless a horse is being kept outdoors. That is, unless you’re gutsy enough to sneak inside a barn on suspicion of neglect (which I am, in no way, condoning). Paddocks should be kept free of garbage and excessive brush. Burs, for example, can get caught in horse hair, adding excessive weight and making it virtually impossible to swat away flies and pests. A well groomed and healthy horse will have a shiny coat and flowing hair, free of twigs and burs. Any garbage in a paddock, such as broken glass could be ingested or stepped on, causing a great deal of pain. Additionally, paddocks should always have some sort of shelter available for horses. This can be a three-sided shed, or even some trees. On hot summer days, horses absolutely must be able to find some shade.

3. Weight: Horses, like humans, can be unhealthy by being either severely underweight or severely overweight. You may find that many of the horses you come across have visible ribs. However, this may not necessarily indicate abuse. Horses that are extremely underweight and malnourished are very easy to spot. Again, much like humans, protruding hip bones, ribs, and overall visible skeletal frame are a good way to determine whether or not a horse is being neglected. If you are unsure, you can use the Henneke Body Condition Score Chart ( to determine what is normal and what is not. If you still need a better idea, type “malnourished horse” into Google images, but beware that some of the images may be very disturbing.

There are many other ways to determine whether or not a horse is experiencing neglect or abuse, but these tips can help you make your judgment call. It’s always better to be safe than sorry. You never know when you might end up saving a life.

For information on how to report cases of neglect for any animal in your community, please visit



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