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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.