Milwaukee — As dogs swirled around his feet and a cat slept curled nearby, Jack Lieske, a former sheet metal worker from Chicago, sat at his kitchen table and explained how he came to own the eight horses that stood grazing in a green pasture.
"Everybody has to do something in retirement," said the 73-year-old, who moved with his wife to a farm in Walworth County, Wis., from Park Ridge, Ill., in 1991. "This is what I do: I take care of horses."
Unlike Lieske, who bought his horses because they were abused, many former urban dwellers new to the rural areas of southeastern Wisconsin are buying horses because they view them as pets that look good in their new surroundings.
The growing number of horses that are being purchased under these circumstances, however, poses problems. Unaware of the cost and care involved, many of these first-time owners neglect their horses. Their ignorance is causing concern among humane officers.
"People move out to the country and get a horse because they think it will be this big backyard puppy that only needs grass," said Denise Oettinger, a humane officer in Waukesha County, home to the largest population of horses in southeastern Wisconsin.
They don't know that a horse's teeth must be filed, that its hooves require frequent care and that the animal must be checked for worms throughout the year. They don't know that caring for one horse can cost more than $100 a month, said Jody Halladay, humane officer for Racine County, Wis.
Last year, Halladay was tipped off to more than 100 neglected horses, a record number for the county. The majority were owned by newcomers who did not know how to care for the animals, she said.
One complaint took her to the home of a couple who were new to town. There she found four skinny horses that were suffering from worms and sores.
News that they had failed to provide the proper amount of food and veterinary care came as a shock to the couple.
"They really thought they were taking care of the horses," Halladay said. "But they had never studied or talked to experts."