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From Neglect to Nourishment, a new life for Honey

Published: 7/30/2009
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By Maddy Butcher

Honey, the pony rescued from certain death this spring, is thriving at Thanksgiving Farm in Durham.
Each day, she bellies up to a regular buffet table of high quality hay, soaked beet pulp and alfalfa pellets, forage, and senior grain as well as supplements and oil.
Since she arrived in late June, she’s gained about 100 pounds and stands at about 750. She ranks about a 4 on the Henneke Body Condition Score.
In another few months, I suspect Honey will reach her optimal weight of 850 to 900 pounds.
We've been working on her manners. Like her body condition, they went severely neglected.
For a skinny girl, she’s bull strong and doesn’t quite see why she can’t just run through you. But she’s a willing horse. Ground work progress, with the help of the excellent trainer Elijah Moore, is going well.

At right, check out Honey moving a goat out of her paddock.

When Rebecca Gimenez was taking a break from teaching the TLAER course at Pineland Farm, we chatted about rescued horses. (TLAER's animal instructors, Aeriel and Torque were both rescued from horrendous conditions and now are thriving.)
She mentioned the university-backed study she and her husband conducted recently in which they held back food and recorded BCS and behavior over the course of several months.
“Bottom line,” she told me. “If they tell you they just didn’t have money to buy grain or hay this week, don’t believe them! It takes a long time to starve a horse.”

“Bottom line,” she told me. “If they tell you they just didn’t have money to buy grain or hay this week, don’t believe them! It takes a long time to starve a horse.”

Excerpts from nutritional study by Drs. Tomas and Rebecca Gimenez:

In a university-supervised study over the late fall into the next spring 2005, it took over four months and some mares up to six months to bring them from BCS of 6 to 8 (fat) down to a BCS of 3 (skinny).
They were given 20 to 40 % of their nutritional requirements for fat, protein, and carbohydrate and 100% of their need for fiber (ie, poor cow hay).
Horses in the study were observed to maximize their ability to hold their weight by minimizing movement - often standing in the same place for many hours, walking slowly instead of trotting or running, and even spending a lot of time lying down.
Several horses "supplemented" their diets by eating wooden rails of their pens, other horses manes and tails, and their own feces.

The same horses recovered their body condition scores to 5 or 6 BCS in as little as two months once they were provided quality hay and grain, demonstrating the amazing ability of these animals to change their metabolism to survive adversity.

A horse does not drop several body condition scores in a matter of days or weeks.  It takes A LOT of time. It show that animal neglect/cruelty cases have often been in a starvation situation for months to years.  
Although this study did not remove ALL food, it is possible to speculate that even in a situation of no food or fiber, a horse could still take two to three months to drop 4 BCS.

Final Comment:
A score of 7 or 8 (fat to obese) is just as cruel to a horse as a score of 2 or 3.
A score of 7 or 8 (fat to obese) is just as cruel to a horse as a score of 2 or 3.
In our modern horse society, we see many more fat and obese animals than we do the starving and neglected ones - and it is still socially acceptable to do so. 
Chronic laminitis, Cushings, diabetes, insulin resistance, kidney failure, and other horrific obesity-related diseases are created by humans giving their animals too much food.
Many thanks to Dr. Tomas Gimenez and Dr. Rebecca Gimenez for sharing their findings.

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8/3/2009 Carol Davis
always enjoy your articles...interesting, informative and well written. enjoy the humorous ones too....
10/3/2010 Terri
I drive by Thanksgiving Farm to & from work everyday. I have watched this farm go through years of transition and by far this is the best ever! The progress this farm has gone through is absolutely amazing. It is so nice to see activity, horses, deer & an occasional moose running around. It is a beautiful farm with purpose. Such a pleasant way to start the day!

"In the language of the range, to say that somebody is "as smart as a cutting horse" is to say that he is smarter than a Philadelphia lawyer,smarter than a steel trap, smarter than a coyote, smarter than a Harvard graduate - all combined. There just can't be anything smarter than a smart cutting horse. He can do everything but talk Meskin - and he understands that." - Joe M. Evans, A Corral Full of Stories