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.