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What To Do If Your Horse Is Stolen

By: Marcia King

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Your horse is missing. Experts say the actions you take in the first 24 to 48 hours are crucial if you hope to recover your stolen animal.

Each year, about 55,000 horses are snatched by bands of thieves who often work one area or state then move on when authorities start to close in. Rustling horses is quick, profitable and dirty work. Most horse thieves swiftly unload their stolen animals at auction, where most of the creatures end up at slaughter.

Robin Lohnes, executive director of the American Horse Protection Association, and Amelita F. Donald, president and founder of International Equine Recovery Net, offer some suggestions for recovering your equine safely and quickly.

Steps to Take

  • Act swiftly. "When you find your horse is missing, don't let a nanosecond go by," urges Donald. "Every hour after the first 24 hours that goes by, the less likely your chances are of ever seeing that animal again."

  • Check for evidence. When your horse is not where he should be, check for signs of theft or escape. Evidence of theft include forced entries, fresh tire tracks, cut fencing, missing halters or tack, barn doors or gates left ajar, lights left on, missing trailers, or anything unusual in the barn or on the grounds. Indications of an escape include bite, scrape, or kick marks on the stall door, and spilled feed or grain if the horse has to pass by feed stores on his way out of the barn. In the pasture, inspect fencing for signs of a horse climbing out, knocking something over to get through, or strands of mane caught on the fence.

    Make sure no one moved the horse to another place on the property or is out riding him. In the case of a big breeding farm, check that there wasn't some mix-up on the time a mare was to be picked up and taken away for breeding.

  • Work with police. If you think your horse has been stolen, report the theft immediately to local authorities such as the city police or the sheriff's department. Ask them to come out and look at the crime scene, take photographs and conduct an investigation.

    Horse theft is not a high priority so authorities might not come out right away or at all, particularly if your horse carries no identification. Identification and proof of ownership is far more difficult without branding marks, tattoos, freezing, microchipping, tagging, etc. Regardless, insist that authorities take a case report, even if only over the phone, including a description of your horse, brands, marks, and scars, as you may need the report later for insurance purposes, court cases or to document that a theft transpired.

    While waiting for authorities to arrive, try to put together a time frame for the crime. When was the last time you or others saw your horse? Ask barn workers, family members, neighbors and others who might have been around if they saw any suspicious vehicles in the vicinity, somebody stopping to pet or feed grass to the horses, or if the dogs made any unusual commotion and, if so, when did these events occur - in the morning, the afternoon, after supper?

    Get out your bill of sale, veterinary records, breed registration papers, other documentation, and color photographs that will help identify your horse. "You have to be prepared so a non-equestrian or an individual who has never laid eyes on your horse can identify him," says Lohnes. "If you have a plain brown mare, for example, pay particular attention to providing a complete description of her including scars, an odd marking, an odd hair swirl, any tattoos or brands, and microchips."

    Photos of your horse should be of all sides, in summer and winter coat, with any distinguishing marks visible. "If the animal has just one little piece of white on his coronet band, make sure the photo is large enough to see it," Lohnes says. Choose 5 by 7-inch photos with the horse filling up about 75 percent of the photo.

  • Distribute flyers. After contacting authorities, create flyers that contain a clear photo and a description of your horse - breed, color, distinguishing marks, age, size, weight, etc. - and phone numbers where you or others can be reached day or night if anyone has information about your missing horse.

    Fax, overnight, e-mail, or hand-deliver your flyers to slaughterhouses, rendering facilities, livestock sales and auctions, racetrack and rodeo managers, and middleman horse traders within a 500- to 600-mile radius. Notify or send flyers to the State Department of Agriculture (Division of Animal Services), the state veterinarian, state cattleman's association, breed association, state horse council, equine veterinarians, neighbors, and area farm or equine publications; some of these folks may be able to assist with rescue and recovery.

  • Visit local auction houses. While it's important to include private sale barns, generally meat buyers aren't there and the horses aren't in danger of being sold for slaughter within 24 hours. Don't assume because your horse is a known show horse, a valued stud, or a mare in foal that he won't go to slaughter. "Sound, healthy, and young horses are slaughtered every day," Lohnes says. Writes Donald in The Equine Recovery Handbook, "Check the parking lot sales. Look in all trailers and holding pens. 'Hot' horses show up in the auction yards seconds before the actual sale begins."

  • Call slaughterhouses. "Check in daily with the foreman," advises Donald, "and ask if there's a horse matching your horse's description."

    A slaughter facility is more apt to look for an animal that carries identification. "If he has no identification, there is no way you can prove that any horse is your horse," she says. If the horse is microchipped or has a brand or tattoo, you can call the slaughterhouse every day and request a scan or inspection.

  • Advertise. Place ads in local or regional equine papers and on radio or TV stations. If you find your horse, keep him under surveillance without being obvious or conspicuous. Summon law enforcement authorities immediately and let them take care of the recovery.

    Nothing is worse than not knowing what has happened to your horse. If you suspect your horse has been stolen, enlist the help of friends and family and spring into action immediately. The life of your horse may depend on it.

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