Drought blamed for rise in malnourished horses

Monday, November 17, 2014
Drought blamed for rise in number of abandoned, malnourished horses
Malnourished horses left for dead are becoming more and more common because of the drought. That's according to a Valley rescue group that's trying to save these starving animals.

EXETER, Calif. -- The drought in California has hurt families, communities and businesses across the state, and now one local equine shelter says it's also hurting horses like never before.

When Diabla got here five months ago, doctors didn't think she was going to make it. But the volunteers here, along with Diabla, are making strides.

At A & F Equine Rescue and Equine Therapy in Exeter, getting a horse to eat is a victory.

"You shouldn't be able to see these hips; this should be nice and round," said trainer Jennifer Smith.

That's because these malnourished horses can hardly digest food anymore. Smith shows off Red, who was found wandering in a grape vineyard near Richgrove two weeks ago. She weighs about 550 pounds, but she should weigh nearly 1,000.

"The number of horses that are getting abandoned right now has jumped at least 25 percent," said program director Jess Ahumada.

The group works with animal control in Tulare, Kings and Kern counties, but says Tulare County has the biggest problem of abandoned horses. Ahumada says the reason is simple: the drought.

"People can't afford to pay for the hay and the feed to maintain a horse," he said.

Since the nonprofit in Exeter opened up shop two years ago, the group has taken in 65 horses. Many of the horses that come to the rescue group are so underfed, they aren't expected to live.

"We're dealing with people who have treated their horses well to this point," said Smith. "And because of the economy, the jobs and the water, are able to feed them doing the best they can, stretching it out three or four days at a time."

Smith says they've only had to put six of them down -- a testament to the stubborn and persistent care of these volunteers. But that care costs money -- about $500 per horse per month just for feed. But for these volunteers, seeing a horse stand on its own two feet and eat again has no price.

If you would like to make a donation, visit www.facebook.com/aandfequinerescue.