Four of the horses seized at a Johns Island farm are on the mend at a nonprofit group's stables in Meggett, but they are just starting their journey back to health, the agency's director said Monday.

For the next two weeks, the malnourished horses will receive hay and high-quality feed to build up their systems so they can be treated for worms and then vaccinated.

The Livestock and Equine Awareness and Rescue Network spent $600 on feed for the horses Monday. The group's director, Elizabeth

Steed, estimated it will take about $1,800 per horse to return them to health.

Six horses described as emaciated were taken from Kennerleigh Farm at 3288 Plow Ground Road on Johns Island on Friday after Charleston County sheriff's investigators entered the 65-acre property armed with a search warrant.

The other two horses were placed in foster care, Steed said.

No one has been charged, according to the Sheriff's Office.

The College of Charleston has riding classes at Kennerleigh Farm. For fall semester, which begins today, 88 students are registered for horsemanship instruction at the farm, said Mike Robertson, the college senior director of media relations.

In 2009, the college signed a five-year contract with Kennerleigh Farm for the horsemanship classes, he said. The college had no further statement Monday on its relationship with the farm.

A horse custody hearing is set for 2 p.m. Thursday in Ravenel before Magistrate Mary Holmes, sheriff's spokesman Maj. John Clark said. There were 30 horses at the farm when investigators arrived to check on their condition. Rebecca Howsley owns 22 of the horses and the remaining eight horses are boarded, officials said.

The Sheriff's Office is monitoring the condition of the remaining 24 horses at the farm to ensure that they are receiving proper care, he said.

"When horses are seized or confiscated and it becomes a legal matter, things really get messy for all concerned. Nobody wins in those situations. It ultimately comes back to the taxpayers," said B.B. Weavil, area director of the South Carolina Horsemen's Council Unwanted Horse Committee. She said the committee is setting up a horse help hot line.

"We are trying to reach out to horse owners in need of help with their horses before abuse, neglect or abandonment takes place," Weavil said.

Experts say there are tens of thousands of neglected or abused horses nationwide. Many unwanted horses are sent to slaughterhouses in Canada and Mexico and their flesh is shipped to Europe and Asia for human consumption. The largest markets for horse flesh are France, Belgium, Holland, Japan and Italy, according to the Humane Society of the United States.

On Friday, investigators asked a judge for a search warrant after entering Kennerleigh Farm for a welfare check of the horses based on a tip received through LEARN. The veterinarian who accompanied investigators on the welfare check said Friday that he saw a lack of water, poor nutrition and overt signs of intestinal parasites on six horses. Dr. Justin Miller of Summerville could not be reached Monday because he is on vacation, his office said.

Miller said Friday that he's definitely seeing more ill or undernourished horses because of the economy and the heat. Cases of heat stroke, colic and foot problems all have been among the illnesses he's seen. He said he's been to a dozen different properties to examine horses recently because they were suspected of being neglected.

A pony, a stallion, two geldings and two mares were seized Friday at the farm.

Reach Prentiss Findlay at 937-5711 or pfindlay@postandcourier.com.