Equestrian escape artists – Sturdy fencing is critical when keeping large animals | TheUnion.com

Equestrian escape artists – Sturdy fencing is critical when keeping large animals

There have been many New Year’s resolutions to better support animal adoption causes, help wild horses and burros, and to provide “rescue” services. Another equally important resolve is to better consider our local domestic large animals.

Owners, caretakers, neighbors and the general public are all in a responsible role for their welfare.

For example, all motorists need to exercise awareness and caution that in rural areas deer are not the only possible road hazard.

If you ever happen upon a loose cow or horse, especially at night, you will never forget it. Within seconds, especially if you are traveling at a fast speed, a fatal collision can occur. Such an accident is a shared responsibility.

Owners of livestock must take extra precautions that their fences are suitable for the type of livestock contained; all people using any gate must shut it securely; and drivers of motor vehicles need to be aware that animals sometimes find ways to escape, in spite of their owners’ precautions.

In states such as Nevada, where there is “open range,” it is understood that horses may be crossing or grazing next to the roads.

While I visited South America, it was normal for livestock to be on the back roads, and one often had to patiently wait for them to cross and move on.

Here in Nevada County not so many years ago, sheep and cattle drives – followed by cowboys – were fairly common on public roads. Motorists understood they needed to wait until it was safe to pass.

Three years ago, my son and daughter-in-law came upon several loose horses running alongside I-80 south of Auburn in the early morning hours, and assisted in turning them off to a side road before an accident happened. No matter where you are, please be awake and aware.

The question remains, how and why do horses and other animals get out of the confines of their stalls, paddocks, or pastures?

The first culprit is poorly designed fences. Did you know that the pretty “real-estate” fence lines often have the boards on the road side, so they look nice? All a horse needs to do is push a little, perhaps just for a bite of green grass, and the board pops off, as the post cannot support it.

Often fences are too low, perhaps bent down by the deer crossing them, and it is no extreme athletic effort for a horse to jump over, or if scared by something, to push through.

And fences can be in poor repair, damaged even more when there are animals on both sides that visit with each other. Anyone who has gotten bids for new fencing knows it is a major expense.

Investing in a posthole digger, some wire stretchers, and learning the skills of good fence building and repair can save a whole lot of money. Usually it is an ongoing thing to keep fences in good order.

Common practice dictates that proper fence installation and maintenance are a shared expense by adjoining landowners, whether they own or board livestock or not.

A second easy way to have your horses on the loose is if a gate is left open. The rule of thumb is, never leave it open “just for a moment – I’ll be right back.” You cannot believe how quickly a horse some distance away will spot that open gate, and enthusiastically run out. Always close gates as soon as you have passed through.

Then, be sure the chain, latch, or lock is secure. Nevada County Sheriff Keith Royal recommends that any gate near public access be locked.

The third problem animal owners are encountering with increased frequency is caused by strangers. Our fence along Duggans Road has been broken down completely numerous times during the past few years by speeding motorists.

Even the “Slow-School” sign bit the dust last year. Thankfully the CHP has come to find us in most cases, to inquire if we had livestock in that pasture.

At least two other local ranch owners have despaired that people trespassing without permission on their property are so negligent and unthinking as to cut their good fences, thus letting livestock out and endangering lives and personal property.

Accidental loss of a horse, or the finding of a loose one, requires immediate action. The safety of the animal comes first, and if it can be caught or contained, even in a fenced yard, it is better than allowing it to run free.

Horses usually go to other horses, or where there is feed, or to a place they think of as home. If frightened or in a strange environment, they can cover considerable distances in a short period of time.

Nevada County Animal Control should be telephoned immediately if an animal is missing or found. Their number during business hours is 273-2179.

Otherwise, contact the Nevada County Sheriff’s dispatch at 265-7880.

To assist in locating a missing animal, KNCO performs a great service with their “Pet Patrol” at 272-3424. It is perhaps most important that neighbors and witnesses cooperate and notify each other should ANY problem exist.

Keeping the animals contained, finding the owner, and letting the owner know that their fence is down is greatly appreciated. Often a person will need help in catching or bringing home an escaped beast.

Horse owners at times are faced not only with a missing animal that escaped, but also with theft. All responsible owners should have a photographic record for each animal, with clear view of markings, (white on the horse) should it not be of solid color.

Horses also can have brands, be identified with freeze-brands, have a lip tattoo number or be micro-chipped. Some large breeding farms require a brass engraved name and I.D. collar for each horse.

Positive identification and recovery is made far easier by law enforcement with such information readily available by the owner.

Feed and care is still another issue. Horses and other large animals are totally dependent on humans when confined. Water, pasture, or daily feeding of hay needs to be done, as well as the checking of fences and gates.

Those new to having horses and accustomed to bird and kitty feeders that do it all automatically are in for a surprise – it simply doesn’t work. Horses are really fussy, and stale water or stepped-on hay is just not on their menu – they will starve.

All too often I hear of concerned people worried about “the neighbor’s horse.” “It doesn’t get fed, or it always looks hungry,” or “I can see its ribs” are common concerns.

They may be well founded, in which case talk to your neighbor or, if desperate, call Animal Control. There are, however, some very old and happy horses with lots of ribs showing, and other young ones on diets for their own well-being who will beg anyone for a treat.

I knew of a horse that was reported as “starved” some years ago, and taken to the shelter while its owners were at work. The reason it was skinny was because it had been very sick, and had received expensive medical treatment.

You can imagine how upset the owners were to have someone meddle in their affairs without knowledge of why the animal looked the way it did. And besides, because it was moved, the horse did not get its prescribed medication.

Today one can actually be charged with a civil liability suit for giving unauthorized feed or treats to someone else’s animals, even with good intentions. It’s best to first discuss animal care with your neighbor, perhaps offering to help, or report the problem, rather than deciding on your own to handle perceived neglect.

Responsible care includes that animals are not harassed, chased, or teased. One of the worst dangers are domestic dogs who think it is fun to bark and chase.

When loose dogs go for a romp off their property, major problems occur. Livestock owners have the right to shoot any dog on their property that may be worrying livestock.

Should an animal be injured or killed, the owner of the dog can be responsible for twice the value of the unlucky animal.

In other words, if a $5,000 horse gets chased through a fence, the dog owner could be faced with a $10,000 bill. Details are in the Food and Agriculture code Web site.

Public awareness is key to doing what is right for our domestic large animals.

Responsible owners, alert neighbors, careful drivers, and citizens of our community who become involved when needed, all reinforce the efforts of our local Animal Control, Sheriff’s Department, and California Department of Agriculture.


Felicia Schaps Tracy is the owner of Emigrant Springs Horsemanship, co-founding instructor of Northern Mines Pony Club, member and Certified Horsemanship Association and the American Riding Instructors Association. Write her in care of The Union, 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley 95945.

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