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Dr. Henneke issues a new statement

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  • Dr. Henneke issues a new statement

    Attached is a press release. Use it as you see fit.



    Don Henneke, Ph.D.

    Director, Equine Science

    254-968-9679






    (MIS)USE OF THE BCS IN ALLEGED NEGLECT

    Over the past year, cases of alleged horse neglect have skyrocketed across the United States. I have been contacted by people from California to Maryland, from Minnesota to Texas, and from New York to Arizona. This phenomenon has reached epidemic proportions. Minnesota alone reportedly investigated almost 400 cases in 2011. Most of these can be attributed to the down economy and the drought making it difficult for horse owners to feed their horses like they would like to feed them. Therefore, we are seeing a lot more horses in below average body condition. That does not make every thin horse a neglected or abused horse.

    Over the past decade, the Body Condition Scoring System for Horses (BCS) has become, in many if not most cases, the sole reason for seizure for neglect or abuse. The problem with this is that the BCS was not designed to reflect the health or well-being of the horse. The BCS provides an estimate of stored body fat, period. From a physiological standpoint, as long as a horse has any fat reserves and is receiving a diet that meets its daily maintenance requirements, that horse can be healthy.

    For example, The Minimum Standards of Horse Care in the State of California (2011) arbitrarily indicates that any horse with a BCS of less than 3 does not meet the minimum standard. By definition, a BCS 3 horse still has reserves of body fat. Once a horse gets below a BCS 3, then reserves are low. However, the health of the horse is only in jeopardy if it is breaking down non-fat tissue to provide for its basic energy needs. The BCS cannot measure this function.

    Breakdown of non-adipose tissue for energy can be evaluated through blood analysis focusing on liver and kidney function, and the breakdown of structural tissue for energy. Blood urea nitrogen, creatinine, and the ratio of blood urea nitrogen level to creatinine level are indicators of tissue breakdown. Analysis for hematocrit, serum concentrations of total protein solids, sodium, calcium, potassium, triglycerides, bilirubin, and albumin will also provide information concerning malnutrition and starvation. None of these tests are accurate on their own. However, evaluation of matching trends from the analysis can help confirm or disprove that the horse is nutritionally deprived.

    In addition, the presence, or absence, of other physical indicators of inadequate energy intake should be used to evaluate alleged neglect. Energy deprived horses will be lethargic. Their reaction to stimuli will be depressed. They will usually show signs of dehydration: tacky gums, “tenting” of skin on the neck, concentrated urine with a very strong odor, and decreased fecal output. Coprophagy, the consumption of feces, is usually very pronounced in energy deprived horses, especially those kept in groups. Since energy deprivation is usually accompanied by protein deficits, the hair coat will dull and shaggy. It is imperative that a low BCS score be supported by other clinical signs of starvation to indicate nutritional neglect.

    The presence, or absence, of feed and hay on the premises is an excellent indicator of the ability of the owner to meet the nutritional needs of their horses. If adequate feed and hay is present to meet the needs of the animals, then seizure is not warranted. Few, if any, horse owners will refuse to feed their horses if feed is available.

    Adding to the problem is that many “evaluators” have not received any formal training in the application of the BCS. They do not understand the physiology of fat deposition and utilization, they are not knowledgeable in conformation and breed characteristics that will influence the BCS, and most often they have personal biases that lower their estimate. The BCS is designed as a ranking system. It was never designed to be exact and it cannot be exact because of differences in breeds, size, age, and conformation between horses. It is a guideline. If the average lay horse owner gets within 1 body condition score, plus or minus, of the horses actual condition, they are doing a good job. Seizing a horse based solely on an untrained person’s estimated BCS is a very questionable practice.

    I find it very disturbing that humane societies and local authorities have utilized the BCS in such a manner. There are definitely cases of neglect and abuse that need to be dealt with in a quick and decisive manner. However, care must be taken to be sure that the animals are truly being starved and that requires supporting evidence from their other physical parameters and blood analysis. My recommendation to all parties is that if neglect or abuse due to nutrition deprivation is suspected,
    1.The evaluator must exhibit the ability to offer a trained, unbiased opinion based solely on the stored body fat of the animal. If seizure is to be considered, the evaluation of the animals by a qualified, impartial third person should be required.
    2.A BCS of less than 3 is not cause for automatic seizure. The animals in question must exhibit altered metabolism confirmed by blood analysis or other physical signs consistent with malnutrition before they can be seized for inadequate body condition. If it is determined that the horse needs immediate attention, a veterinarian of the owner’s choosing should provide those supporting procedures. These procedures may be done with supervision by the legal authorities.
    3.Only horses exhibiting altered metabolism and having inadequate feed stores on the premises should be seized. Removing healthy horses from their home is not necessary and may often result in adverse consequences due to stress created by a new environment and untrained handlers.
    4.If at all possible, the alleged neglected horses should remain at the owner’s farm. Removing any horse from its familiar environment, drastically changing its diet, and exposing it to a new set of handlers will usually result in stress and a further loss of body condition. In the vast majority of cases, if the intent is truly the best care of the horse, that care can best be administered in familiar surroundings. If the legal authorities require, care can be conducted under their official guidance.

    “Innocent until proven guilty” is the most abused legal standard in America today. Due to biased press coverage, most “trials” are conducted before the accused ever has a chance to answer the charges. Once a horse owner has been accused of neglect, they are stained for life. If they are later proven to be innocent, the public has already painted them with a negative picture. This should not happen. It is imperative that the state authorities demonstrate adequate cause for seizure. Unsupported claims of neglect against a horse owner should be followed by a vigorous public campaign by the state authorities criticizing the parties who have filed a frivolous claim and, if possible, such parties should be prosecuted by the state.

    Author’s Information:

    Don Henneke, Ph.D., is currently the Director of Equine Science at Tarleton State University, Stephenville, TX. Dr. Henneke was the principal investigator in developing the Body Condition Scoring System for Horses at Texas A&M University in 1979.

  • #2
    I'm sorry, but a horse's inability to maintain weight has to have some root cause. Whether it's a metabolic problem, problem with teeth or simply not being fed enough, it is incumbent upon the owner to attempt to ascertain the cause and make adjustments as necessary.

    Regardless of the BCS score, I think any animal that is malnourished is going to show obvious signs and the owner that does nothing about it is solely responsible for the outcome. I've seen those who have fat and shiny horses living down the street from those with malnourished horses claiming that they can't get good feed. Clearly if there were no other feed alternatives, all of the horses in the same geographical area would be skin and bones. So I can only conclude that those saying that they can't find good feed aren't willing to either spend more money or look for alternatives.

    I agree with Dr. Henneke in that a witch hunt is not a good thing, but by the tone of his statement he seems to condone or justify keeping horses in less than optimum condition due to "lack of access to good feed". I realize that not all malnourished horses are the result of abuse or neglect, but I just get the feeling that he's making excuses for skinny horses.

    Just because a horse isn't lethargic doesn't mean he's not suffering nutritionally. Based on his statement, it would appear that Dr. Henneke would suggest that we wait until the horse is so far gone that rehabilitation is more costly and difficult. Most people that have allowed the horses to get into a condition that would meet Dr. Henneke's seizure requirements don't care. They would simply allow the neglect to continue without being constantly reminded of what's required to maintain a healthy horse. Of course there would exceptions to this, but I believe the greater majority would continue to care for the animals in the same haphazard manner that they've done up to the point of the seizure.

    Admittedly, the horse owner would need protection from animal rights zealots who would like to see everyone lose ownership of horses. It just seems to me there's one extreme or the other and no common sense middle ground.
    Last edited by OldNag; Mar. 30, 2012, 04:14 PM.
    She who cares the least wins.....

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    • #3
      Eh, it's his reputation.

      If he wants to shoot it in the foot with these ridiculous 'statements' that anyone with any experience in animal husbandry and who's been around neglected animals [and their owners] can see are founded in a total lack of experience with the same, I guess he's entitled to do so.
      Yo/Yousolong April 23rd, 1985- April 15th, 2014

      http://notesfromadogwalker.com/2012/...m-a-sanctuary/

      Comment


      • #4
        very well put
        Nothing says "I love you" like a tractor. (Clydejumper)

        The reports states, Elizabeth reported that she accidently put down this pony, ........, at the show.

        Comment

        • Original Poster

          #5
          My take on his latest statement is that he feels most horses would do much better if left in the surroundings they know. He seems to make a case against large-scale seizures. I certainly defer to the Doctor, as he is the expert in this field.
          Reading between the lines, it looks to me like he feels neighbors should help neighbors. I suspect he has received mountains of requests and files regarding entire seizures of horses from all over the country. I also think he clarifies that there are large differences among various breeds and how they appear to the eye. He makes it clear that blood tests are necessary to know whether intervention is truly needed.
          Last edited by 7arabians; Mar. 30, 2012, 04:17 PM. Reason: corrected spelling error

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by 7arabians View Post
            My take on his latest statement is that he feels most horses would do much better if left in the surroundings they know.
            so they should never go to shows, clinics or other events? You should never move barns?
            What he fails to understand are the logistics of handling cases on site, and the safety factors involved with having volunteers and others on the property of someone who is in trouble with authorities. The attitude that 'troublemakers' are interloping can easily be seen by perusing the thread over on ABN about this very subject. The mindset of 'shoot first, ask questions later' doesn't tend to get the authorities many volunteers to help out on private properties.

            Originally posted by 7arabians View Post
            He seems to make a case against large-scale seizures. I certainly defer to the Doctor, as he is the expert in this field.
            And that field is? Animal Abuse and Neglect? The human psyche of those who abuse and neglect? How many seizures has he personally, hands on, been involved with?
            Originally posted by 7arabians View Post
            Reading between the lines, it looks to me like he feels neighbors should help neighbors. I suspect he has received mountains of requests and files regarding entire seizures of horses from all over the country. I also think he clarifies that there are large differences among various breeds and how they appear to the eye.
            what was abundantly clear before was that his Henneke scale requires one to put their hands on the horse to do a BCS, that they can not accurately be done from a photo.
            Originally posted by 7arabians View Post
            He makes it clear that blood tests are necessary to know whether intervention is truly needed.
            And I think that's a bucket of hooey. I think that if we wait until a horse has horrific blood work, and what determines that the blood work is bad enough for Dr H, then we are as bad as the abusers.
            Yo/Yousolong April 23rd, 1985- April 15th, 2014

            http://notesfromadogwalker.com/2012/...m-a-sanctuary/

            Comment


            • #7
              As someone who is ribby, I can understand his point; being ribby is not a conclusive sign of neglect or undernutrition and that other factors should be considered.

              I can also understand that in a time of shortages, that maintaining a horse at a 3 or 4 may be a sensible way to stretch limited feed resources.

              I think in general, people are far too used to thinking that a fat horse = healthy horse and not looking at the big picture.
              Freeing worms from cans everywhere!

              Comment


              • #8
                Wel - I have to agree with some of his points. Because in some instances he's never said any different and/or historically has always stated certain of them to be true - he's not doing an abrupt about face here.

                1. The original BCS was designed for light horse breeds, specifically Quarter Horses and by default.. TBS, Arabians, Appies, etc. And he's stated that from day one.

                If you look back at some of his older pieces about the BCS - he's mentioned more than once that warmbloods , heavy horses were not part of the standard he developed, and if fact there now exists a 9 point BCS specifically for those breeds, - separate from the original.

                2. He's also always mentioned that ALL components must be met to settle on a BCS score, not some/a few/ or 9 out of ten.. etc - However this particular point is flawed in that unless a person is familiar with the particular sport/usage of a horse - they may score incorrectly.. or overlook it. Example, many endurance horses would/could be considered a much lower BCS than they are in fact. due to the muscular development that is so different than the development on a dressage horse, jumper. so forth.

                Another point he doesn't make in the letter above, but I've read him saying, is that the BSC also doesn't account for regional differences in adiposity. (how you would truly measure that - I've no idea.. but he has made that point before)

                I think his release is fair - its a long winded way of saying BCS isn't the be all - end all in determining a horses condition - and I agree, it really shouldn't be the only criteria we consider when making a decision about a horses condition.

                It's an excellent starting point -
                Originally posted by ExJumper
                Sometimes I'm thrown off, sometimes I'm bucked off, sometimes I simply fall off, and sometimes I go down with the ship. All of these are valid ways to part company with your horse.

                Comment

                • Original Poster

                  #9
                  Rainechyldes,

                  I agree completely with your impression of Dr. Henneke's intention. This letter when combined with his release on the day the charges were dropped in the Canterbury case, makes it clear that he does not believe rescues, however well-intentioned, should simply arrive and seize entire herds based on one or a few thinner horses. He mentions lack of training in his new release, and really criticized those who were employing his scoring method with no training. Dr. Henneke strikes me as a very level-headed and intelligent professor.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Angela Freda View Post
                    Eh, it's his reputation.

                    If he wants to shoot it in the foot with these ridiculous 'statements' that anyone with any experience in animal husbandry and who's been around neglected animals [and their owners] can see are founded in a total lack of experience with the same, I guess he's entitled to do so.
                    When he presented the original paper it was peer reviewed. Each of those "peers" has further established credibility for themselves.

                    Interesting that "some" quoted and used the scale when it justified their opinion.

                    I do not think he is too worried about any of us who post.

                    However for those who disagree with his comments on his own developed study, I guess the door is wide open for them to develope a scoring method, define the parameters and then (according to U of D) locate a minimum of 100 specimens to prove their premise.

                    Assumptions, such as your statement that he lacks knowledge in seizures would appear to be refuted.

                    It is customary that if one is to debate or challenge they should have educational components other than just "what they have learned from the school of hard knocks."

                    Yours would be?
                    The Elephant in the room

                    Comment

                    • Original Poster

                      #11
                      I understand many believe no horse should be thin, and that calling a horse a 'hard-keeper' is just an excuse. I also know a friend who had a 30yr+ gelding who showed ribs despite examinations at universities and by the top vets in the U.S. and Canada. Windy had the best care available but always was ribby. Kind of like CHT mentioned about their own metabolism.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by CHT View Post
                        As someone who is ribby, I can understand his point; being ribby is not a conclusive sign of neglect or undernutrition and that other factors should be considered.

                        I can also understand that in a time of shortages, that maintaining a horse at a 3 or 4 may be a sensible way to stretch limited feed resources.

                        I think in general, people are far too used to thinking that a fat horse = healthy horse and not looking at the big picture.
                        Agreed, as an example if you have 7 horses and six are in good weight and obviously healthy, but the last was a bit ribby, this would not in my mind indicate an issue of neglect.
                        Conversely if you have 100 plus horses and 50% of those horse are ribby, showing rain rot and lack of farrier care, sorry but this indicates neglect and that you're possibly in over your head. The same would be true if you had 10 horses and only one was showing signs of good health. Sorry, but the odds of all of the other nine having some metabolic issue are slim to none (unless they were all old timers, but even then I think I would question it). The big picture using common sense is key.

                        I actually know of a breeder who has a stallion that looks brilliant. Great shiny coat, good weight and the best feed. However the other 30 horses on the place look ribby and wormy. Clearly the other horses aren't getting the level of care of the Stallion. So even if this breeder has feed on the premises, which they do, the rest of the horses are not getting it in adequate amounts. They would not qualify as a starvation case, but clearly they aren't receiving the amount of feed they should nor the level of care that the stallion gets.

                        So Dr. Henneke's assumption that feed on the property is a good indicator of the level of care is without merit. Proper care of a horse requires more than just feed. You can throw bales of hay a day at them, and if they're wormy, nutritionally they're not getting what they need.

                        The same could be said for farrier care. Just because they don't exhibit elf like feet doesn't mean their feet are being properly cared for.

                        Common sense should rule the day when it comes to deciding whether an owner is truly being neglectful versus trying to put weight on a hard keeper.
                        She who cares the least wins.....

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Wow, that letter is quite a bombshell. I can imagine the dismay he must have felt to write it. I hope it will be helpful to various authorities, in particular the guidelines that blood tests are appropriate to determine if the horse is in decline.
                          If you are allergic to a thing, it is best not to put that thing in your mouth, particularly if the thing is cats. - Lemony Snicket

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Thank you, OldNag.

                            These 2 make me tired.

                            And I can't use this report as I would, which would involve rolling it up and battering these two obsessive dingbats about the head with it. Can't. Reach. Them.
                            I tolerate all kinds of animal idiosyncrasies.
                            I've found that I don't tolerate people idiosyncrasies as well. - Casey09

                            Comment

                            • Original Poster

                              #15
                              I also hope that authorities will now take a better look at situations before they take irreversible actions. I believe many recent cases have really hinged on herd hierarchy causing the lower ranking members to carry less weight. To have so many herds being seized based on a couple horses at end-of-life must stop. When one really looks at recent seizures, we see that millions of dollars are being spent. When horses are nearing their end, it should be left to the owner(s) to decide when the right time has arrived to euthanize. However; if an owner chooses not to euthanize and allow nature to take its course, that is also legal.

                              Comment


                              • #16
                                We, as humans, have a worship of numbers sometimes as a paragon of objectivity. "I scored that horse a 2, therefore I have quantized this horse's health."

                                But, it's a rubric, and it can be applied improperly.

                                The pamphlet that came out of UC Davis last year that was supposed to indicate signs of neglect that could be grounds for seizure was intended for untrained law enforcement to use. It also said to seize at 3 or less and had other requirements that most of us would consider overzealous. But 3 can be a healthy condition, and it would be easy for someone to rate a horse 3 inappropriately.

                                With so many jurisdictions jettisoning their trained professional animal control officers, it's falling more and more to interested laypeople plus untrained and inexperienced law enforcement.
                                If you are allergic to a thing, it is best not to put that thing in your mouth, particularly if the thing is cats. - Lemony Snicket

                                Comment


                                • #17
                                  Originally posted by 7arabians View Post
                                  I believe many recent cases have really hinged on herd hierarchy causing the lower ranking members to carry less weight.
                                  Ok, if herd hierarchy is causing any of my horses to not get the proper amount of feed, then I'm changing the herd around. This is what responsible owners do. And this still doesn't explain the rain rot.
                                  She who cares the least wins.....

                                  Comment


                                  • #18
                                    Originally posted by OldNag View Post
                                    Agreed, as an example if you have 7 horses and six are in good weight and obviously healthy, but the last was a bit ribby, this would not in my mind indicate an issue of neglect.
                                    Conversely if you have 100 plus horses and 50% of those horse are ribby, showing rain rot and lack of farrier care, sorry but this indicates neglect and that you're possibly in over your head. The same would be true if you had 10 horses and only one was showing signs of good health. Sorry, but the odds of all of the other nine having some metabolic issue are slim to none (unless they were all old timers, but even then I think I would question it). The big picture using common sense is key.
                                    Very well said and excellent points. Especially the last sentence.
                                    "Aye God, Woodrow..."

                                    Comment


                                    • #19
                                      Is their a link to the press release?

                                      Comment


                                      • #20
                                        Originally posted by poltroon View Post
                                        We, as humans, have a worship of numbers sometimes as a paragon of objectivity. "I scored that horse a 2, therefore I have quantized this horse's health."

                                        But, it's a rubric, and it can be applied improperly.

                                        The pamphlet that came out of UC Davis last year that was supposed to indicate signs of neglect that could be grounds for seizure was intended for untrained law enforcement to use. It also said to seize at 3 or less and had other requirements that most of us would consider overzealous. But 3 can be a healthy condition, and it would be easy for someone to rate a horse 3 inappropriately.

                                        With so many jurisdictions jettisoning their trained professional animal control officers, it's falling more and more to interested laypeople plus untrained and inexperienced law enforcement.
                                        Bloodwork, in the end, is just a set of numbers as well.
                                        How skewed do those bloodwork levels have to be for Dr H to be happy the horse was seized vs, say 'leave 'em where they are'?

                                        Furthermore, while it may take professionals to do a BCS, it certainly takes a professional to draw and analyze bloodwork. Not to mention time. Who pays for that?
                                        Who documents it all so EVERYONE is happy that each blood sample is being attributed to the right animal- I can hear the hero-worshippers now 'oh of COURSE the blood work on the valuable stallion was off!' And who deals with them when they say you're making it up that the samples were poor enough to warrant seizing? Cause if a photo can be photoshopped, then a sample results certainly can be 'created'.

                                        Who's at fault if the authorities decide to wait on bloodwork to determine if they should seize animals, and those animals die while waiting?

                                        Some of these seizures occur in very remote areas, so getting everyone out there to hold horses to get blood draws, and then getting them back out there again when/if the bloodwork shows they need to be seized could prove challenging. Not to mention you're riling up the herd twice and we know that these delicate flowers can't handle being around yahoo volunteers without wilting.
                                        Then you gotta' hope that when you finally go back to seize the owner hasn't take the opportunity to arm him/herself.
                                        Yo/Yousolong April 23rd, 1985- April 15th, 2014

                                        http://notesfromadogwalker.com/2012/...m-a-sanctuary/

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