The Durham Region Humane Society is asking for the public’s help in raising funds needed to care for several neglected horses — a problem it says may only get worse due to upcoming changes that threaten the future of the province’s horse racing industry.

Durham SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) investigator Debby Houghton said animal protection agencies across the province working in rural areas are already seeing a spike in cases involving horses marking the beginning “of what we fear is going to be a horrible winter.”

“I think this may be the tip of the iceberg.”

Eight horses and five ponies, ranging in age from six months to 17 years, were found in bad health in late October. Houghton wouldn’t provide specific details about where the animals were because the case remains active. She said charges are pending.

The Humane Society estimates it will cost $7,000-a-month to care for the animals. It says resources are stretched very thin right now due to several “high-profile” cases and the high number of animals it’s had to care for this year.

Houghton said the horses were found in “horrible condition” and were “very emaciated.” One six-month-old horse had to be euthanized. She said the animals had “rain rot” due to lack of shelter. Their coats were in bad shape and they had “horrible” body sores.

“They’re on the road to recovery. They’re eating all the time and they have gained weight,” Houghton said. “We’re hoping in the very near future we’re going to accept applications to put them in great new homes.”

There’s currently heightened concern for the well-being of horses, the SPCA says, because the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. (OLG) is set to ends its slots at racetracks program in March, putting the future of several horse racing tracks in peril.

Dry conditions this past summer have exacerbated the problem, the SPCA says, creating concerns over a lack of feed for the animals.

“There have been rumblings through the whole province … we’re already getting calls about horses not being fed,” Houghton said. “The hay is very expensive this year and then the fallout [due to] the changes to the revenue-sharing agreement between the horse racing industry and the provincial government.”

An ‘open house’ is expected to take place next week at 13709 Warden Avenue, located on the southwest corner of Bloomington Road East and Warden Ave. in York Region