Montana Community Comes Together to Save Starving Horses

Thursday, April 18, 2013 - 11:30am
Tan and white horse

Tana, a two-year-old filly, at the time of rescue (top) and after rehabilitation (bottom).

When several horse lovers in rural Carbon County, Montana, noticed more than a dozen starving, neglected horses on two local ranches, they did what we hope everyone who witnesses animal suffering will do: They spoke up.

Local law enforcement was eager to take on the case. But, like most law enforcement agencies, they didn’t have the facilities or resources necessary to build a successful case against the owners and nurse dozens of horses back to health. So, officers reached out to the county’s only animal welfare group, Beartooth Humane Alliance, for help.

Diane Zook, Beartooth’s tenacious executive director, jumped at the chance. The only problem: Beartooth works mainly with cats and dogs. In fact, it had never assisted with an equine cruelty situation before.

Zook was unfazed. She called on experts including ASPCA Equine Initiatives Manager Stacy Segal for help. “Stacy is my hero!” Zook tells us. “Without her guidance, I really did not know how to go about this process.”

Segal drew on her wealth of experience investigating equine cruelty to help Zook and local police create a strong case against the owners of the starving horses. The hard work paid off: In July, both cases were settled in court, and Beartooth was awarded custody of many of the horses. For Zook, her greatest challenge was just beginning: Beartooth would need to find permanent placement for these deserving horses.

Segal immediately facilitated an ASPCA grant for the removal and care of the horses at a short-term foster home. Zook and her volunteers began the work of medically and behaviorally rehabilitating the horses, many of whom were undersocialized.

Meanwhile, Segal and Zook called on other equine rescues to see if they could take in and rehome these resilient equines, and the horse welfare community responded with an outpouring of generosity: Seven rescues from all over the country took in Beartooth’s horses, until there were just eight left. Zook prepared to care for the horses through the winter. And then, on Thanksgiving, Zook got an amazing surprise: Blaze’s Tribute Equine Rescue in Jones, Oklahoma, had an opening for the last eight horses. By December, every horse had been placed.

Today, many of these horses are in loving homes, while others are in sanctuaries. One is now a trail horse, two were adopted out together to be well-loved companion animals, and still another is a working cow horse. This spring Hazel, a mare who went to Zuma’s Rescue Ranch in Littleton, Colorado, gave birth to a foal. Hazel and baby will remain on the ranch as a part of its humane education program.

Should equine cruelty occur in Carbon County again, Segal notes, the police and Beartooth are now ready to confidently take on the case. We’re thrilled to have helped.

“The best part is that these horses have found a better tomorrow,” Zook tells us.

The ASPCA has been dedicated to helping horses since our founding in 1866. If you are able, please consider supporting our efforts to end equine cruelty and protect other companion animals from lives of suffering and abuse.