After months of coordination, Animal Humane Society has assisted in removing nearly three dozen horses with serious health issues from a Carlton County farm.
The case began in May, when AHS received a call from a local equine rescue group requesting investigation into possible animal abuse and neglect. Dozens of horses living on a rural farm near Wrenshall, Minnesota appeared to be underfed and lacking appropriate veterinary care.
Upon her first visit to the farm, AHS Humane Agent Amanda Oquist counted a total of 60 horses, most of which were in "poor shape." She visited the farm again in early June alongside a veterinarian and veterinary technician to assess the horses’ health and take photographs for documentation.
"When determining if a horse is a healthy weight, we use something called the Henneke Body Condition scoring system," says Oquist. "The veterinary staff and I agreed that the majority of horses were at a body condition score of 3 [optimal score is 5]."
Although hay and grass were available, it was clear the overwhelming number of horses was contributing to food competition and fighting. "We needed to thin the herd immediately," says Oquist. Because so many of the horses were feral stallions, removing them safely and finding them new homes required help and expertise from equine rescue agencies.
Since May, Oquist has visited the farm more than a dozen times and has assisted in the removal of 31 horses so far. Most of these horses were either sold at auction or in a private sale to responsible owners. Others were surrendered to Minnesota Hooved Animal Rescue Foundation (MHARF) or Pony Tales Refuge and Rehab, two local nonprofit organizations dedicated to helping horses and other hooved animals in need.
Two of the horses surrendered to MHARF were humanely euthanized due to severe medical issues and another is suffering from pneumonia. Although he isn’t responding well to treatment, he’s receiving the compassionate veterinary care he deserves.
Oquist believes personal illness and injury may be what led to neglect and poor breeding practices. "Just as we treat animals individually, we look at these cases individually too," says Oquist.
With the help of local law enforcement and the courts, AHS could seize animals as a last resort. However, the property owner has been cooperative in reducing the number of horses under his care, making a seizure unnecessary. Once the investigation is complete, the Carlton County attorney will decide if criminal charges are warranted. AHS humane agents do not have the legal authority to seize animals without law enforcement authorization or to enforce penalties related to any criminal convictions.
Oquist, the Carlton County Sheriff’s Office, and the owner agree that the goal is to have no more than 20 horses remaining on the property. To ensure this agreement is kept, Oquist will be visiting the farm twice a year.
"It’s something I’ll continually have to monitor to keep in check, and it’ll be on my radar for a long time," says Oquist.
Cases involving horses often require additional coordination. AHS doesn’t have the facilities to provide shelter and care for hooved animals, and the rescue organizations we partner with who do are often filled to capacity.
Although we aren’t able to provide direct care to the horses, we take our involvement very seriously. The months of coordination, relationship building, and intensive documentation and communication are worth it to enhance the well-being of animals in our community.