Horses don’t usually jump out of round pens, but a horse named Iron League did. Within hours, everyone within several hundred miles of Baltimore, MD, was aware that the Oldenburg gelding was missing from the farm where he had just arrived for training. By day two, the news had spread nationwide. Fortunately, Iron League was safely recovered less than three days after he made the jump, thanks to countless volunteers and massive publicity.
What most people don’t realize is that although social media played a role in the search and recovery of Iron League, an organization by the name of Stolen Horse International (aka NetPosse.com) was the key factor in his safe recovery.
To understand the role of NetPosse in the case of a missing or stolen horse, it’s helpful to go back to 1997. That’s when Debi and Harold Metcalfe’s horse Idaho was stolen from her pasture in North Carolina. Debi says at the time, there was no information available about how to search for a stolen horse. “We thought we were the only people in the world this happened to,” she said. “We started out to find her, and found out real quick that we had to do it ourselves.”
After a few months of aggressive searching, someone suggested to Debi that she go on line for help. “We ended up posting the first animal alert for a horse,” said Debi, adding that she didn’t even know how to send an email at the time. “It was called the Idaho Alert, named after our horse. A newspaper nicknamed us ‘Net Posse’, and that was picked up by the AP and went nationwide.” That was in March of 1998, before the internet was widely available.
The Metcalfes eventually found their horse — 51 weeks after she was stolen — but not before a lot of time and money was spent, heartache suffered and tears shed. They had no reason to think their horse would ever be stolen, but after the experience, Debi was determined to help others find their lost or stolen horses.
Throughout the ordeal, Debi was frustrated that there was no education about how to keep her horses safe. “There were signs that someone was going to steal our horse,” she said. “We just didn’t know what they were. Our horses were standing in a part of the pasture where they had never stood before at the same time every day. Somebody was going by at the same time every day where they’d be stealing her and put grain in the pasture. That’s where they cut the fence.”
Debi has some tips to prevent horse theft. First, become aware of theft and know that it really does happen. But theft isn’t limited to cutting a fence and removing the horse. “Some are truly criminal theft, but many are scams and fall under civil statutes,” she said. “Any time your horse is out of your hands or you allow someone to take your horse for any reason, and it’s sold or disappears, that isn’t theft. It’s a civil matter because you entered into a contract with them, whether it’s written or verbal.” An example of civil theft would be if someone has a horse at a boarding barn and the owner becomes sick. Someone offers to care for the horse and offers to pay board. The owner returns after a few months and finds that the horse has been sold for non-payment of board — without ever being notified.
“We see a lot of people that are scammed out of their horses,” said Debi, describing civil theft. “The people who are doing it are repeat offenders. It’s the new way to steal a horse. The people who do this over and over again know that the likelihood of going to jail is slim — if you want your horse back, first you have to find it. Then if you want to do anything about it, you have to take money out of your pocket to go to court. Once that horse crosses a state line, you’ll have jurisdiction problems. We know people are doing this over and over again.”
Criminal acts such as shootings, stabbings, tail cutting, and missing tack and trailers should be reported immediately to the appropriate authorities before notifying NetPosse.
Today, NetPosse has a 16-year network of contacts unlike any other. “We also have experience,” said Debi. “When people call here, I put them on speaker phone and listen. I know what they’re telling me, it’s just different people, different places and different time. It’s rare that I have a ‘new’ situation. We can’t give legal advice, but we can tell them based on our experience, what they need to do first.”
Debi says the first step an owner should take if a horse is missing is to contact the law enforcement. “Then call us, before you do anything else, and file a report,” she said. “If people do that first, before they go to Facebook or anywhere else, they’d have the tools in place and every bit of information right there.”
So how did NetPosse help recover Iron League? They immediately contacted newspapers, local equine publications and area radio and television stations to get the news out. A massive social media campaign followed, and people volunteered to search for the horse both on foot and on horseback.
Debi says permanent identification is a critical part of recovering a missing horse. Since brands or tattoos can be altered, Debi encourages horse owners to use microchip identification. NetPosse was the first microchip program for horse owners, and chips can be purchased through NetPosse and inserted by a veterinarian. Debi also suggests posting signs prominently on a property to let people know that horses have permanent identification.
For the story of how the Metcalfes’ horse Idaho was recovered, along with more information about theft prevention, identification, microchipping and the NIP program, visit the NetPosse website at www.netposse.com.