Abuse, Neglect and the Unwanted Horse Update 2010
A casual back country rider went on a trail ride last year in Tennessee, and when she got back to the trailhead, she found her horse trailer filled with abandoned horses. No halters. Just horses.

Horse sales auctioneers and horse show facility managers are finding abandoned horses in the barns.

Dr. Boyd Spratling (33 year large animal veterinarian in Starr Valley, NV) participates in flyovers of mustang herds and reports seeing horses with shoes on and saddle marks. He said the abandoned geldings never assimilate into the herds and may not survive a winter.

In May 2008: Unwanted horses in good flesh sold for $250-300 in Bonner Springs, Kansas.
In May, 2008: 62 thin, unwanted horses, including yearlings, sold in Ft. Collins Colorado, for $50 or less.

What is Going On?
There are approximately 9 million horses in the US. Of those, 2%, or an estimated 168,000 horses are unwanted in the US, each year.

The Unwanted Horse is defined as:
  • Old
  • Incurably lame
  • Having behavioral problems or dangerous
  • Feral and adoptable: approximately 12,000 mustangs are held in corrals but only 3000+ were adopted last year.
  • Feral and unadoptable: 22,000 unadoptable mustangs are in long term pasture holdings. These mustangs are older than 5 and too wise in the ways of the wild, or they failed at being adopted after three trials—three strikes and you are out.( Madeline Pickens is trying to arrange a deal to place these mustangs on a private ranch, but she wants a stipend for each.)

Additionally, unwanted horses may not be pretty enough, not athletic enough or fast enough, or they may be the wrong color for a particular owner. They may be spooky trail horses or lazy reiners or ropers. Sadly, they may also be the trusty mounts of children who have grown and gone. They just aren’t wanted any more.

Or, in this economic downturn, they may COST too much to take care of. The estimated cost of caring for one horse for one year is $2340 plus board. And that’s without an emergency.

So, what happens to these unwanted horses?

In 2007—138,000 horses were slaughtered for horsemeat, primarily in the US, with the meat shipped out of the country.

Three slaughter houses in the US were closed in October, 2007. Since then, laws have been proposed to prevent the shipping of horses in double decker trucks when going for slaughter, but they may still go 26 hours without food or water to the border. There is also a law under consideration to completely prevent transport for slaughter, but horses may still be transported for "breeding", or "training".

2008 — A total of 120,000 horses from the US were transported out of the country and then slaughtered for meat that is shipped to Europe and Japan.
80,000 horses were transported from the US to Mexico for slaughter.
40,000 horses were transported from the US to Canada for slaughter
In addition to the mustangs, there are another approximately 14,000 unwanted horses left, who may be underfed, neglected or abandoned already. Abuse, abandonment and starvation are increasing dramatically as the economy falters.

In Colorado there are about 250,000 horses owned by 55,000 people: 4.5 horses apiece. The Colorado Unwanted Horse Alliance reports increasing incidents of abuse (1497 investigated in 07). Approximately 5000 are considered unwanted in Colorado each year.

If transportation for slaughter is banned, over 120,000 additional unwanted horses may be neglected or homeless in the US.

So What Are the answers?
There are some answers.
  1. Education of owners to reduce breeding and teach responsibility for ownership and care and placement in a safe home. Sale yards are no longer an option for any caring owner.
  2. In California, the thoroughbred owners’ charitable fund donates .3% of purses to retrain failed race horses: $400,000/yr. TB and standardbred breed organizations have rescue and retirement facilities in some states (New York, particularly). The Horse.com has a Thoroughbred Adoption Service online, sponsored by Gainesway Farm and more than 50 horses found homes in the first quarter of 2009. We need more of these sites.
  3. The American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) met and discussed the unwanted horse problem in 3/09 but did not impose fees to breed or show that would go toward retirement and rescue. This year, there is a dramatic fall in stallion contracts and showing due to the economy. Hopefully this will translate into fewer foals. There are “Green Pastures” initiative to educate owners about the responsibilities of horse ownership—and AQHA is a major contributor and member of the Unwanted Horse Coalition.
  4. Dec. 2008: Intervet, a vaccine and pharmaceutical company, set up the "unwanted horse relief campaign" with the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) to fund vaccine for rescue facilities that meet AAEP guidelines. Over 100 facilities representing over 5000 horses have applied. In 2009, in Archuleta County, LASSO and St. Francis Sanctuary received vaccine to prevent Eastern and Western Encephalitis, Influenza and Rhinopneumonitis, West Nile Virus, and Rabies in a total of 20 rescued horses. We have applied again for 2010.
  5. Rescue facilities are all close to full. Colorado Horse Rescue in Longmont has room for 60 horses, and they have a volunteer staff of almost 1 volunteer per horse. We need that kind of support right here at home.
  6. All horse owners interested in a new horse should adopt the philosophy: Don’t breed your mares or stallion unless they are exceptional. ADOPT A HORSE.
  7. Lastly, Euthanasia with burial is a caring option where there is intractable, untreatable pain or loss of quality of life.

Anyone considering signing the petition to ban transportation for slaughter should also donate to their local equine rescue/retirement facility. It is going to take time, education, and caring to handle the numbers of unwanted horses. Kudos locally to LASSO that not only saves horses but works with Special Talent youngsters to give them a new sense of mobility, communication, and caring, and St. Francis Sanctuary in Arboles, managed by Pat Jackson, a retirement home for some really old mounts including horses who have put in many miles for the forest service. Donations and volunteers are really needed at these increasingly needed facilities.

National Welfare Code of Practice Endorsed
A national Welfare Code of Practice has been endorsed by the American Association of Equine Practitioners, the American Quarter Horse Association, the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association, the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, the U.S. Equestrian Federation and the U.S. Trotting Association. The Welfare Code of Practice, drafted by the American Horse Council, outlines in generic terms what it means for an organization to be committed to the responsible breeding, training, care, use, enjoyment, transport and retirement of horses. Read it here: http://www.horsecouncil.org/pressreleases/2009_WelfareCode.php

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