A stolen horse is an owner's nightmare. Should it ever happen to you, knowing what to do and doing it quickly can greatly increase the odds that you safely recover your horse.
We talked to Pete Gibbs and Dennis Sigler, respectively the past and current extension horse specialists at Texas A&M University. They outlined key tasks to accomplish should you one day find that your horse has been stolen.
Here's what they told us:
- Act immediately. The first 24 to 48 hours can be critical in leading to the recovery of your horse. Don't delay.
- Contact authorities. Report the theft first to the law-enforcement agency with primary jurisdiction in your area, obtaining a case number and a copy of the incident report. Then contact other law-enforcement entities, including state livestock/brand inspectors, auction/sale yards, etc. (see "Authorities to Contact").
- Gather documents. Make a working file of the important papers and photos you'll need to help identify your horse to authorities and prove ownership, including receipt of purchase, bill of sale, and/or canceled check; registration papers; brand and other identification certificates; health records/certificates; and the best, clearest color photos you have available.
- Post fliers. Don't neglect this "old school" method of getting the word out. To create a flier, use detailed color photos showing, if possible, all identifying markings, brands, or scars. (For security, neither you nor your family members should appear in the photos.) List your horse's breed, sex, age, height, weight, and identifying marks. Include a contact name, phone number, and e-mail address (but, for security, don't include your home address, unless it's a post-office box). If you intend to offer a reward, talk to law enforcement about the correct wording to use and procedure to follow. Blanket a 500- to 600-mile radius; many thieves think you won't look past a two-hour drive. Post the fliers anywhere people are: post offices, gas stations, grocery/convenience stores. (Always ask for permission before posting at a business.)
- Branch out. Enlist family and friends to help send your flier to an even wider range of entities via mail, fax, and e-mail. Send to: livestock sales/auctions; breed registries and state horse groups; equine and large- animal veterinarians; farriers; tack/feed stores and farm-supply companies; horse magazines and farm publications; and showgrounds, rodeos, and racetracks.
- Use the media. Ask radio and television stations to air public-service announcements about horse theft in general and your case in particular, with reward information.
- Contact daily newspapers to raise awareness of area horse thefts, again using your own situation and information as an example.
- Attend auctions. Pinpoint sales that handle lower-price animals. Ask for the names of the regular buyers of these types of horses, which might be heading to slaughterhouses in Mexico or Canada now that plants in the U.S. are closed. Look in all pens, stalls, and trailers, and check for unofficial "parking-lot sales." Be alert for sellers who show up at the last minute before the sale begins.
- Check classified ads. Scour horse classifieds in print and online for traces of relevant information. Although most ads are legitimate, unscrupulous horse traders also use them.
- Don't give up. There are horses that've been reunited with their owners even years after a theft.
Authorities to contact:
- City police, sheriff's department. Politely insist that a report be filed, even if the information can only be taken by phone. If a "crime stoppers" type of program exists, ask if it can broadcast information about the theft.
- Livestock/brand inspectors. These authorities know livestock and frequent the sales where stolen horses could wind up. In Texas, for example, the law-enforcement branch of the Texas and Southwest Cattle Raisers Association is the law-enforcement arm most effective at helping to recover any stolen livestock, including horses.
- Livestock auctions, horse sales. The U.S. Department of Agriculture Packers and Stockyards Administration has information on auctions in your area and throughout the country.
- Your breed association. If your horse is registered, alert the registry that he's been stolen. An innocent buyer might look for registration information on him.
Be sure also to make good use of social-networking media to search for your missing horse. In what was described as a "bloggers' victory," an enthusiastic Facebook campaign resulted in the speedy recovery of a child's rope horse stolen from a Texas roping. And the Web site of Stolen Horse International, Inc. (netposse.com) can help by posting information through its networks.
And, if you're not fluent in online networking, get help from someone who is.