By Steven Jones, 33 years with LSU and the Arkansas Extension Services and State Equine Specialist.
As I write this article, the social media abounds with discussions and updates about horses and a trailer stolen from the campus of Southern Arkansas University. Within hours, after the theft there were e-mails, Facebook messages and phone calls circulating around the horse community.
With horse descriptions and pictures of some, recognizing the horses would be simple. Good job horse community! I suspect the perpetrators suddenly felt a coarse rope quickly tightening around their worthless necks. As of today, (less than a week later) the trailer has been located in a neighboring state and suspects have been identified. Unfortunately, the horses have not been found. I hope they are found safe and no worse for the experience. My empathy goes out to those owners that have to go through this experience through no fault of theirs. My sources are telling me that law enforcement is piecing together the motive and if true, is most bizarre! I love most people, but am sometimes stunned by the stupid, selfish and irrational motivation of some. Let’s hope this story has a happy ending for the owners and the horses. For the guilty, I could care less!
There are times when you want to be able to quickly identify your horse other than theft. With the start of deer season every year, unethical hunters cut fences, ride ATVs’ through fences, leave gates open, etc. I hear these stories from landowners way too often. Though intentional or even accidental, the result can be the same: loose livestock. You want to be able to advertise and identify your horses as soon as possible to prevent catastrophic consequences, particular motor vehicle collisions. Natural disasters such as wind storms, ice storms, and tornadoes produce the same results as an open gate.
During hurricane Katrina, horses with permanent identification was returned home or returned to their owners within a week. Those that had no permanent identification were not matched with their owners for two – six months. Some were never identified. Our Tornado in Arkansas that devastated the Vilonia area was a microcosm of the above mega disaster. Identifiable animals were quickly re-united back to their owners; those with no permanent I.D. took several weeks.
There are several permanent identification options including fire brands, freeze brands, and lip tattoos. These are old and proven. Brands are theft deterrents because of their visibility. New technology is the microchip. Though not visible, microchips are registered with several organizations and make a definitive identification with traceability to ownership. There is also DNA sampling.
All my horses are branded and micro chipped. In case of theft or escape, I want to be able to identify mine quickly and without doubt.
Horses and equipment are stolen from barns, farms, pastures, boarding and training facilities, competitive events-even from backyards. Tracking stolen horses can be difficult because theft reports are often delayed and stolen horses can change hands frequently and at remote locations.
Individual horse owners can take steps in the management and care of horses, facilities and equipment to minimize the risk of theft. Here are 15 steps to curbing horse theft. At least some of them should be applicable for every horse owner.
1. Permanently mark horses using one or more methods. Thieves are less likely to steal horses that are permanently marked, and those that are stolen are easier to track and recover. Horses can be marked permanently by:
- Freeze brand (using customized, number or letter iron and by alpha angle code methods);
- Hot iron brand;
- Microchip (implant); and/or
- Lip tattoo.
2. Photograph horses and keep photos current.
Photograph both sides of the horse as close as possible, being sure to get the entire horse in the frame. Although saddles, blankets, leg wraps and people may look good in a photo, they often impair the photo’s usefulness for identification. Photograph the front of the horse, being sure to get a clear picture of the head. If possible also take a rear view. Take close-up pictures of any unique, identifying characteristics such as a brand, permanent scar or white markings.
3. Establish an organized, easy-to-find proof-of-ownership file. To save valuable time and frustration in proving ownership should a theft occur, keep on file:
a. Registration papers (if horse is registered with a breed association);
b. Dated bill of sale and/or breed association transfer-of-ownership paperwork;
c. Photographs; and
d. Description of mark or brand and written description of all unique characteristics.
4. Record the permanent brands with your state livestock commission. Registration helps law enforcement officers and brand inspectors communicate and determine ownership, and can speed the process of filing theft reports.
5. Secure barns, corrals or pens from the road with a good perimeter fence and well-built gates that can be locked.
Slowing a potential horse thief and/or making access to horses more difficult can deter theft significantly. Well-built perimeter fences help secure horses and deter theft.
6. If you plan to build a barn or corral, locate it away from the road. Place facilities beyond your house if at all possible. They are less likely targets if they are more difficult to access and require thieves to pass a house. Lock gates to pastures that can be entered from the road.
7. Manage pastured horses to make theft more difficult. For safety as well as theft deterrence, never leave halters on pasture horses. Do not feed horses close to the pasture gate or near the road. Although convenient for owners, this practice actually helps potential thieves. Hungry horses will congregate around the usual feeding area making them easy to catch. Keep pasture gates locked. Check on pasture horses regularly and vary the time of your trips to the pasture. Absentee owners sometimes don’t realize for several days that their horses have been stolen from pastures.
8. Do not hang halters and lead ropes on stall fronts, corral gate posts or anywhere in the open. Secure halters in a locked tack room or feed room.
9. Make horse and livestock trailers inaccessible, hide them from view and be able to prove ownership.
Quick action and persistent legwork are crucial to recovering a stolen horse. The actions you take in the first 24 hours after a horse is stolen can mean the difference between recovery and loss. Longtime persistence can also pay off, as horses have been reunited with their owners even years after the theft. To improve your chances of recovering a stolen horse, act quickly to report and spread the word about the theft. Begin recovery efforts by reporting the theft to the law enforcement agency with primary jurisdiction in your area. Be sure to obtain a case number and a copy of the incident report, and keep original copies of all police and/or sheriff reports. You may have to prove that the horse was stolen. Important papers need to be gathered to help identify the horse and prove ownership.
The media are a powerful resource. Ask radio stations to air a public service announcement with theft and reward information. Use personal media (Facebook, etc) to notify the horse community. Read the “horse” or “livestock” column in classified sections and on websites. A high percentage of the ads are legitimate. However, unscrupulous horse traders also use classified ads to sell or obtain tack, trailers, and horses.