In the winter, it can be difficult to tell if a horse is starving.
An animal’s thick winter coat will artificially bulk it up, obscuring from view how its skin is clinging to its bones.
But put your hands on the ribs or spine of the Norwegian fjord mare that just arrived Wednesday at the Live and Let Live rescue farm in Chichester from a barn in Weare. And the animal’s deprivation is clear.
“Because of the winter fur, you don’t always see,” said Teresa Paradis, the rescue’s director. Instead, you have to feel.
With protruding ribs, a sharp spine projecting out of its back, and its hindquarters concave, the mare scores a 1 on a body condition score chart Paradis uses to assess its condition.
“There is no zero. Zero is death,” she said.
A small pony that arrived with the mare – probably a shetland, Paradis thinks – scored a 2 or a 3.
The animals were voluntarily surrendered by a woman in Weare, police Sgt. Brandon Montplaisir said, after police came to investigate a tip about malnourished horses on the woman’s property.
It wasn’t immediately clear why the animals weren’t being fed, Montplaisir said.
“There was definitely feed around if they wanted to give them food,” he said. Animal cruelty charges could be forthcoming, he said, and the case is still under investigation. The woman’s name had not been released by press time.
The department sees about one or two horse starvation cases a year, he said.
Depending on how cold it got, the mare probably wouldn’t have survived longer than another two weeks, Paradis said. She will weather the cold snap expected tonight in the white tarp barn at Live and Let Live farm, protected from the wind and wrapped in a blanket with a bucket of hay.
She’ll almost certainly survive that, Paradis said, but it’s unclear how long the animal has been starving – which has ramifications for its long-term chances of survival.
Re-feeding and rehabilitating a chronically starved horse is tricky, and the animals can die weeks or months after having been returned to responsible care because of conditions developed while starving.
Most of Live and Let Live’s rescues don’t come from abusive situations – although many do, Paradis said. Most come from households that have fallen on tough times, and can’t keep up.
Calls to the rescue shelter picked up with the Great Recession and they never dropped off, acccording to Paradis.
“In the last two or three years, it’s been way up,” Paradis said.
(Lola Duffort can be reached at 369-3321 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)