CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - A horse that was 400 pounds underweight was abandoned at an animal shelter over the weekend. The horse is the latest malnourished animal case in what officials are calling a growing problem.
"It made me physically ill when I saw her," said Elizabeth Steed, founder of Livestock and Equine Awareness and Rescue Network, or LEARN.
When the horse arrived it was mostly skin and bones with cracked hooves and a body full of parasites. What looks like a skeleton is a horse that has been starved to a mere 700 pounds.
Steed says tears ran down her face when she locked eyes with holly grace.
"It's her eyes, they're so soulful," Steed said.
Steed founded LEARN and has been rescuing and rehabilitating horses for over 30 years. She says in that time no one has ever dropped off a horse without letting her know.
After some investigation of her own, she was finally able to find the person who left Holly Grace at her barn over the weekend.
"I finally found out who dropped her off, I talked to him on the phone, he won't tell me where she came from what family had her but he said they were afraid we would call animal control," Steed said.
Holly Grace is 400 pounds under weight and rates a "1" on the Hinnicky scale, which rates a horse's health. Zero means almost dead and 10 means morbidly obese.
Steed says starved horses have to undergo a strict eating program, something that takes a lot of time and money.
"We start small meals of nothing but alfalfa hay," Steed said. "In two weeks they're getting five to six meals a day."
Unfortunately, this isn't an uncommon sight. According to the unwanted horse coalition, there are over 100,000 unwanted horses in the U.S. and that number is increasing every year. The problem leaves many horse rehabilitation facilities at full capacity, so horses have nowhere to go.
"It is a complex issue and the main reason right now is the economy," Steed said.
The South Carolina horsemen's council started last fall with a goal to be the voice for horses in legislative matters. In SC there is no minimum standard of care for horses, something steed wants to see changed so horses like Holly Grace don't have to starve
"We don't want you to have to brush them three times a day, but there needs to be a precedent."
Holly Grace is expected to be back to a healthy weight in three months, but she may have permanent heart damage.
Right now the SC horsemen's council is working on a bill that would require the state to adopt some kind of minimum standard of care for horses and other livestock.