MILAN - Helpers at Schone's Friendship Farm call her Little Bit.
There's not much to her as horses go, said Schone's employee Leslie Hahn, who thinks Little Bit easily could add another 200 to 300 pounds.
"She was real scared when she got here," Ms. Hahn said. "It took a while to get a halter on her."
Little Bit was taken, malnourished and weak, from a Rock Island property last Friday. Since then, she has had a steady diet of grass and alfalfa.
On Thursday morning, she stood outside with Ms. Hahn. Little Bit's exposed ribs and coarse skin -- a severe case of rain rot where the skin is scabbed -- tells a story of neglect.
"Another week or two, she would have been dead," Ms. Hahn said. "I've never seen anything like this. She's bad. Just malnourished. The rain rot actually isn't painful until we start taking the scabs off.
"They've all had their bloodwork done. None of them are diseased."
Little Bit is one of about 34 horses that are part of an investigation by the Rock Island County Sheriff's Department, county animal control office and Illinois Department of Agriculture.
Authorities are not releasing the name of the horses' owner, and Sheriff Jeff Boyd said the owner is cooperating with investigators. Schone's Friendship Farm will have taken in 15 of the mostly quarter horses by today.
At least four or five of the malnourished and neglected horses are pregnant, Ms. Hahn said.
"Our first concern is the welfare of the animals," Sheriff Boyd said. "We're trying to make arrangements for them to be taken care of. As long as they are medically cleared, they can be moved. Then, we can get them up to speed and, hopefully, adopted out."
"This was a tragedy waiting to happen," said Deb Schone, who owns Schone's Friendship Farm with her husband, Roger. "With this Rock Island County resident, this is not the first complaint. He's been reported to the department of agriculture before.
"At this point, he's relinquished them to the county. They're up for adoption."
On a scale of one to 10, with one being the worst condition, she said many of the horses are labeled a two or a three.
"This means their lives were definitely in danger," Ms. Schone said. "They would not have survived the winter. There was no formal shelter for them; no food on the property."
She said the dry season has been a problem for all horse owners because of hay shortages. "A lot of the problem is the really high cost of hay. It has almost doubled because of the drought and the lack of pasture."
Ms. Schone said she suspects there will be similar cases of malnourished horses as a result.
Little Bit whinnies outside after hearing some fellow rescued horses now staying at the farm. She puts her head down and munches on the grass.
"She's been living with them for years," Ms. Hahn said, adding they all endured similar neglect.
Some of the horses already are up for adoption, she said.
Another horse in the Schone's rehab facility has been dubbed Olive Oil.
"She's so skinny," Ms. Hahn said.
Sheriff Boyd said he will take a hard look, along with animal control and the state's attorney's office, to determine if charges will be filed against the owner.