SHEPHERDSVILLE - The Bullitt County Sheriffs are adding a little more horse sense to the department.
Sheriff Donnie Tinnell appointed special deputy Rick Miller to head a new equine investigation unit established to focus on potential cases of horse neglect or abuse.
“We get calls and we wanted someone qualified to check them,” said Tinnell. “(Miller) knows a lot about horses and he’s been around here a long time.”
Miller, who works primarily as a court security officer with District Judge Jennifer Porter, attended a special training hosted by the Kentucky Horse Council in preparation for the position.
A North Bullitt graduate, Miller grew up in Bullitt County and owned a pony when he was a child. He has personal equine experience as a former rodeo rider and current horse owner.
Miller’s equine experience includes saved horses he now owns. Under Miller’s care a neglected Standard-bred named Skipper, a former racetrack pace horse, is now healthy in its mid-20s and able to pull an Amish wagon through the neighborhood.
Tinnell and Miller agreed that the equine investigation unit’s primary function was educating, rather than punishing, horse owners, offering advice on proper care and general maintenance.
“We’re not here to persecute,” said Miller. “My job is to discuss the facts and basically educate the people.”
When the Sheriffs Office receives a potential neglect call, Miller is contacted to investigate. He responds to the scene, completing a first-hand examination of the horse while conversing with owners as available.
“There are misconceptions,” Miller said. “Sometimes a horse looks starved, but it could be its age or breed. Sometimes (an owner) can feed too much, and could kill the horse with kindness. Sometimes people are just unaware of how to feed a horse. Overfeeding is just as bad.”
Miller was officially appointed to his new position in March following training at Murray State University. Part of his training included how to properly “score” a horse during an investigation.
“A horse has six points (categories) to rate,” he said. “A low score of one or two requires owners to comply or then face prosecution. At the other end, nine is obese, and that’s a bad thing, too.”
In the handful of cases Miller has investigated, none have been what he deemed actual abuse and no horses have been confiscated. He believed many cases related to the downed economy.
“We had a drought last year and hay is expensive,” said Miller. “People give (horses) away that they can’t feed. The price of horses has dropped dramatically and they are worth nothing at slaughterhouses. There are only so many rescue places around. You hope people would slow down on breeding them.”
Another local problem pertained to the release of domesticated horses into the wild after owners could no longer afford them.
“It’s harder for them to survive like wild horses,” said Miller. “People might not have anywhere to take them, and there’s not a lot of alternatives. They can’t give them away, and if they take them to a sale they might actually lose money.”
While some are releasing horses, others are taking them in as rescues. Miller said in these instances the rescuers are not always prepared to offer proper care.
“What I’ve experienced is people saying they’re rescuing the horse, but they may not have the proper knowledge or they are feeding the wrong hay,” he said. “But as long as there’s an attempt at water and food, there’s nothing else you can do but offer advice.”
An issue in Bullitt County involves city residents moving into the area and purchasing horses. Miller said a horse needs almost two acres of space but new owners may put three or four horses in that same space.
The one thing Miller can do is talk with new owners and offer experienced suggestions in the best interest of the horse.
“I’m not the bad guy,” Miller said. “I try to give a positive impression. For the most part people are willing to comply.”
An initial visit leads to follow-up visits, with Miller documenting progress - or lack of it. If an owner fails to comply, others then become involved including Tinnell, county attorney Walt Sholar and David Stone, DVM, of Shepherdsville Animal Hospital.
“I’m not a total expert but I’m surrounded by others,” Miller said.
In preparation for the new unit Tinnell also attended training sessions with the Jefferson County Mounted Patrol.
“It’s too expensive,” Tinnell said of creating a locally trained mounted patrol. “I thought it would be helpful to have a better insight into it all.”
Tinnell said he and Sholar both have personal experience with owning and caring for horses.
“I rode a lot when I was young,” said Tinnell. “My wife likes to ride them now. We keep three of them.”
The main purpose of the equine investigation unit is supplying owners with more information. Miller discussed the financial side of ownership, reminding that it was not as expensive as some would think.
“Their teeth need to be floated (filed) once a year, that’s about $40,” he said. “Worming every 60 days costs $6-10. Good clean grass and hay, fresh water, trimming them from time to time, having their feet fixed every three months for about $25-35. Once you keep it up and maintain it, you can care for a horse for about $35 a month, not including boarding.”
With the success of the established equine investigation unit Miller hoped word would spread among local owners about proper horse maintenance. Tinnell mentioned the possibility of a future volunteer mounted unit in Bullitt County.
If you are concerned about the possibility of horse abuse or neglect in Bullitt County contact the equine investigation unit via the Bullitt County Sheriffs Office, 543-2514.