Hip and rib bones jutted out beneath Livia’s rough red coat and her mane hung in matted, lice-laced tufts when rescuers first saw her. The mustang mare was a month short of foaling and her round belly showed the only bit of fat on her body. The throwaway mare may be an example of a national trend as the economic downturn hits horses and their owners. "You can see a definite crunch in things. People are needing to place their horses and there are less adoptions and less donations,” said Natalee Cross of Blaze’s Tribute Equine Rescue in Jones. The same goes for Greener Pastures Horse Rescue in Fittstown. "People can’t take care of these animals, and they’re kicking them out or turning them loose, and we go get them. And it’s bad,” rescue manager Elizabeth Munson said. She said donations have fallen off by 90 percent compared with last year. Michael Herrin, assistant state veterinarian, said the horse industry is suffering here and beyond. "The number of horses that need foster care or rescue, those have gone way up because there used to be a place for those horses. I think it’s become a problem in a lot of states, including Oklahoma,” Herrin said. "If you compare today’s environment with that of two years ago, it’s changed considerably, the number of horses that are abandoned.” Horse owners who can’t afford to feed their horses sometimes take them to auctions, where some won’t even fetch $25. So, he said, they’ll walk away and leave the animals. "That’s much more common than it used to be,” Herrin said. In other cases, the sheriff’s office or animal protection groups step in and recover horses suffering from neglect, abandonment or both.
Rescue services ‘overwhelmed’Shawn and Natalee Cross of Blaze’s Tribute Equine Rescue took in the pregnant mare Livia, along with the rest of her starving pasture mates from Garvin County. They took home 23 horses, though three had to be put down. Livia is thriving under the care of the Crosses and their daughters, Dakota, 14, and Kaitlyn, 12. The mare just delivered a healthy steel-gray colt and added about 100 pounds to the 669 she had dropped to, Natalee Cross said. Their herd of rescued horses has reached 72, though some are in foster homes. Is it a record? "Not yet, but it’s only April and we’ve taken in more horses so far than all of 2008,” she said. "I think we’re going into another spiral of abandonment, neglect and cruelty cases. I can’t turn my back on them. They don’t have a voice, and I try to be their voice.” Blaze’s primarily takes on animal cruelty cases from the Oklahoma County sheriff’s office, the Oklahoma City animal welfare department and any rural sheriff’s office that needs help, Cross said. But the rescue is overwhelmed, said Oklahoma County Deputy Shawn Shelby, with the environmental crimes animal welfare unit. He said he worked the Livia case and another one last month that appeared related to the economy. In the second case, the owner’s brother said the man had been down on his luck and hadn’t been living where the two horses were kept on NE 29 in Harrah. Someone reported the horses were trying to eat bark and that one fell and couldn’t get up. Despite spending hours in the cold trying to get one of the emaciated horses to stand up, Blaze’s Tribute Equine Rescue and veterinarians were unable to save either one. An examination at Oklahoma State University showed the only thing in one horse’s stomach was a bark-like material, wood, screws and porcelain, Shelby said.
On the lookout for greener pasturesMunson said she recently learned that Greener Pastures Horse Rescue will be looking for a new barn and pasture. The landowner had deeded the property to Greener Pastures but had continued making payments on it. Now the facility — 58 acres, a 20-stall barn and other buildings on State Highway 99 south of Ada — is set to be auctioned May 1 in a sheriff’s sale, the Pontotoc County Sheriff’s Department confirmed. Munson said the rescue is suffering. "Our donations went to pot because nobody’s got any money to turn loose of,” she said. "Last month, we got $50, and that’s it.” She said she’s scraping to buy feed for nearly 100 old, previously abused or neglected horses. But she says she won’t be defeated. "I moved seven times in four years,” she said. "We always find some place.” More information Blaze's Tribute Equine Rescue 17667 Markita Drive Jones, OK 399-3084 Greener Pastures Horse Rescue 24490 State Highway 99 South Stonewall, OK 74871 580-777-4774