HSVMA Steps In to Help Homeless Horses

January 13, 2010

By Eric Davis, DVM

It isn't news anymore—the economic downturn always falls hardest on the most vulnerable.

It's not just dogs and cats left behind in foreclosed homes or dropped off at shelters when their guardians lose their jobs. Horses, too, are being abandoned when the people who cared for them can no longer cope with the expense required to keep these large and beautiful creatures.

Across the country, equine sanctuaries and rescue groups have sprung up to provide foster care for horses that have nowhere else to go.

But providing food, housing and daily care for an animal as large and long lived as a horse can be a daunting task.

Expanding our efforts

Students treating horse.

HSVMA Rural Area Veterinary Services (HSVMA-RAVS) already has a long and established history of providing care for horses in need.

From herds on the Indian reservations of the Great Plains to pack horses in the jungles of Guatemala, our program has treated thousands of horses, mules and donkeys over the years.

It was a natural extension to expand our efforts to equine rescues and sanctuaries.

Answering the call

It was another call from an equine rescue in the Sierra Nevada Foothills that had me driving along in the wee hours of the morning to meet our team at the ReHorse Rescue.

The request was routine: help a struggling rescue group by providing free veterinary care for the abandoned, homeless, and/or abused horses they were sheltering.

Raquelle Van Vleck and her dedicated crew at the rescue had built pastures and stalls to house some 40 homeless equines. The population was varied—a donkey named Scooter, some miniature horses with deformed legs and teeth, and old horses that were "no longer useful", so to speak.

Many of the horses at the sanctuary—who came from all over northern California—had been abused or malnourished when ReHorse Rescue picked them up.

We're here to help

They all were receiving excellent and personalized care at the rescue, but with colts to castrate, chronic orthopedic problems to look at, and a bunch of miniature horses who really needed some intensive dentistry, the sanctuary was in dire need of our free veterinary services.

With two eager veterinary students, Lauren and Marissa, from the University of California, Davis, we set to work early.

Under the direction of Cindy McClinn, our equine technician, and I, the students got some great experience and training in anesthesia, surgery, dental examination, teeth floating and general horse handling.

But in addition to honing their veterinary skills, these students received real first-hand exposure to the plight of homeless horses, which need care, housing and above all, love.

Great things accomplished

Getting through all of the procedures took most of the day, and would have cost thousands of dollars, had HSVMA-RAVS not been there.

These private equine sanctuaries in California constantly communicate with each other, creating a powerful network of care and directing resources to where there is the most need.

They also serve to alert HSVMA-RAVS to other groups that may be able to benefit from our free clinics.

In fact, when our work was done at ReHorse rescue, Raquelle sent me an email to say that all the patients were doing well and that she would be spreading the word about our services to her friends at other rescues.

Ultimately, it's going to be a challenge—finding homes and caring for all the homeless horses out there—but with the help of all those who care about animal protection and welfare, great things can be accomplished.

Dr. Eric Davis developed the HSVMA Rural Area Veterinary Services (HSVMA-RAVS) program in 1995 and has served as mentor and inspiration to hundreds of young veterinary professionals over the years. He continues his hard work in the field and is currently a consultant for the program.