thin horse

Horses should not be pointy, no matter their age.

When Cameron unloaded from the trailer at SAFE last Friday afternoon, we got our first good look at a horse who desperately needed our help. This 30 year old registered Arabian gelding has come to us in very poor shape. His hip points and croup are clearly visible because he is so severely emaciated. Photos do not often show the full extent of a horse that’s been starved, but the image to the right gives you a fair idea of how thin he is. Despite his condition, Cameron is a sweet old gentleman with a surprising spark of life in his eyes. He seems very happy to be at SAFE where he can see other horses, and where food comes often and on schedule.

Cameron’s story is a sad one for everyone involved. His owner passed away three years ago, leaving him in the care of her husband, who was inexperienced with horses, and unable to recognize that the horse’s health was declining. Horse ownership can be extremely challenging, even for those who take it on with enthusiasm. While Cameron’s family genuinely cared about him, they did not have the skills or experience to care for him. Horses need regular vet care and checkups, and that need only increases as a horse gets older. Had Cameron been seen by a vet on even an annual basis, his declining condition might have been noticed sooner. As horses age, they need dental care to ensure they can still chew their hay and receive all the nutrition and calories it contains. They need farrier care to ensure that their hooves stay sound and comfortable. And they need to be observed carefully for changes in behavior or attitude, changes in eating habits, changes in manure production, changes in muscle tone and coat health, changes in soundness and freedom of movement…these are just a few of the changes that horses face as they grow old. Elderly horses, when cared for correctly, should not look unhealthy or bony or thin.

Cameron is facing some physical challenges, and at this point, we cannot say for certain that we will be able to provide him with a good quality of life. He is extremely emaciated, and he has a systolic heart murmur. He also shows some neurological problems in his hind end. This not only affects his movement behind; he’s also shown difficulty when trying to pee or poop. On his second day at SAFE, we noticed a lack of manure in his paddock, and had Dr Lewis from Rainland Farm Equine Vet examine him for a second time that day. She sedated him, and was able to pull about a day’s worth of manure from his colon — perfectly good manure that was just sitting in his system because he lacks the muscle tone to easily push it out. Because of this, Cameron is now being fed a diet of pelleted feed in a wet mash several times a day to prevent refeeding syndrome, and no hay allowed. Our hope is that this will make it easier for him to pass manure.

If Cameron’s physical issues do not improve, we may have to take a serious look at his quality of life, and possibly make a tough decision on his behalf. We want nothing more than to give him at least a happy summer where he can enjoy good food, horse friends, and people that love and care for him. He deserves that much. We’re going to do everything we can to keep him comfortable but we will not let this grand old horse suffer.

Thank you to volunteer Lise A for these photos of Cameron.