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Group helps neglected horses and their owners
Horses can eat up to 400 pounds of hay a week
Doris Buckley, chief executive officer of Stamp Out Starvation of Horses, pets Oreo, a rescue horse being housed at Mountain Rose Stables in Clarkesville on Saturday. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

Lenny was raised in a 10-foot by 6-foot pen, with little or no food or water.

That's bad enough for a dog, but Lenny's a horse.
Equine neglect is not new, but the recession has made it more of a problem.

Lost income, health care costs and foreclosures are making it difficult for some owners to take care of their horses. Without a market, horses are easy purchases for people who don't understand the care and cost that goes into the animals. The horses are tied up or turned lose and forgotten, left to starve.

"Starvation is one of the cruelest, preventable forms of abuse," said Doris Buckley, CEO of Stamp Out Starvation of Horses.

The new organization, based in Clarkesville, provides owners with short-term assistance of food, boarding and veterinary care. It also works with other organizations to take in neglected horses.

Save the Horses in Cumming originally took in Lenny; now Stamp Out Starvation is in charge of his care.

Though he's no longer thin, Lenny's legs often pop because they could not properly develop as he grew inside a dog pen.

"He's so sweet right now," Sue Crane, CFO of Stamp Out Starvation, said as the 2-year-old brown horse walked along the wooden fence, watching her and Buckley curiously. "We hope he'll find a home."

But finding new homes and getting authorities to acknowledge incidents of abuse are difficult.

Though Hall County knows how to handle mistreated horses, Buckley said most other local governments don't have the education or resources to deal with the problem.

"A lot of animal control officers have not been trained in equine abuse," Buckley said.

Because of this, Buckley said, they do not know the signs of starvation.

Horses thin from the top down. Their spine, hips and tail head become visible, at which point the animal is slowly dying. Sometimes a pregnant mare's full belly can deceive one into thinking she is getting enough food.

While local authorities will often defer to the Department of Agriculture, Buckley said the state agency can only regulate, not enforce, in the case of equine neglect.

"Prosecution must be done at a local level," she said.

Meanwhile, horses continue to suffer from neglect and starvation.

Pedro was tied up and forgotten by his owner. He had no access to food or water. Buckley said that the local authorities and the Department of Agriculture knew about Pedro a month before she got to him.

But by then it was too late. He died within hours of Buckley taking photographs of him.

Rescuing a starving horse is more complicated than giving it hay and water. Like starving individuals, they require specialized care.

"You can't just overfeed them," Buckley said. "You have to bring them back slowly."

It's a long process. At Yellow Mountain Ranch, Crane is bringing two Arabians back to health.

"We've had them three weeks and they're gaining so slowly," Crane said. "It's frustrating."

Horses can eat up to 400 pounds of hay a week, and cost more than $100 a month in food alone. SOS will board and feed a horse for up to two months. But SOS takes a long-term interest in the animals, and strives to find permanent solutions, including homes if the animal is seized or surrendered.

"Our challenge is not only finding a home, but finding a forever home," Buckley said.

The Arabians were not seized but given to SOS when the owner realized he could no longer care for the horses due to his declining health. Buckley hopes that more people will be honest about their ability to care for their horses.

But as the stables fill up with rescued animals, it is becoming difficult for Buckley and Crane to board neglected horses. They want to help owners keep their animals by bridging the gap during difficult times.

A storage area for a hay bank, such an old chicken house or some other facility, is on SOS's wish list for this summer. Hay can be kept for up to two years, and buying in bulk will help cut down on the organization's costs.

"If we can store it we can save a lot by buying directly from the farmers," Buckley said.

Monetary donations, contributions of hay and feed are also accepted. SOS is also looking for volunteers who can haul the horses, feed them or socialize with them.

Despite limited resources, since its creation last October SOS has assisted 15 horses and their families.

"What our organization does is everything we can to help the owners if they're having a hard time," Buckley said.

To donate, request assistance or learn more about Stamp Out Starvation of Horses, visit its website.