Unwanted, Part 2

The equine community struggles to deal with the growing numbers of neglected and abandoned horses.

This is the second in a two-part series. Need to review part 1? From The American Quarter Horse Journal

An Unmanageable Burden

Many argue that the closing of the slaughter and rendering plants in the United States marked the beginning of the increase in unwanted horses, horses deemed not useful or that have sustained an injury or can no longer be cared for. Other mechanisms that have driven the problem into a growing crisis are the rising cost of hay and grain and the failing economy, according to Sandy Gilbert of Refuge Farms Inc. of Spring Valley, Wisconsin.

“When I look at the number of horses we rescued (in) winter (2008), 93 in January alone, I can only reason it was due to the effects of the anti-slaughter bill,” Sandy says. “Many of these animals were abandoned and neglected because the owners didn’t have any place to go with their unwanted animals.” Gilbert’s Refuge Farms is about 70 miles east of the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area. In 2008, the nonprofit 20-acre facility rescued about 180 horses. According to Sandy, most of the rescued animals came from western and northwestern Wisconsin. As jobs are lost and the cost of living rises, horses often become an unmanageable burden. While many desperate owners call rescue and adoption facilities for help, too many choose to dump their unwanted animals along a country road, says Charlie Melancon, a deputy with the Jefferson County (Texas) sheriff’s department.

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In the past, Charlie primarily worked patrol and occasionally investigated the rare report of abandoned livestock. Three years ago, the number of seizure warrants, accompanying paperwork and care of confiscated animals became overwhelming. Today, investigating and seizing neglected and abandoned animals is his full-time duty. “We’re seeing desperate horse owners, hurting because of a bad economy, getting rid of horses that are older, injured or sick” Charlie says. “Not having anywhere to go with them, they dump the animals. The sale barns won’t take the animals, the rescue centers are at capacity, and the slaughter houses and rendering plants are closed. They feel they have no other option.” Things aren’t much different on the East Coast where Bud and Lydia Lauck operate Quality Acres in Anthony, Florida. The Laucks have been selling horses in the Ocala area for five decades. Several of the couple’s customers tell how when trail riding, they return to their trailers and find horses tied to them with a note asking “please take care of my horse.”

Roll It!

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“Many of the horses we receive have gone hungry because good people can no longer afford to feed them properly, and place them with us in hopes (that) we can find a new home for them,” Lydia says. “The numbers we have taken in over the last year have been unbelievable. We could easily take five horses each day if we had room for them, but like most rescue centers, we’re at capacity.”

Responsible Ownership

The American Horse Council estimates there are 92,000 to 138,000 unwanted horses in the United States. Most experts think the number is probably much higher. During the last five years, the problem of unwanted horses has become a concern within the equine industry, according to Jay Hickey, AHC president.

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“Three years ago, the American Association of Equine Practitioners met at the AHC annual meeting to discuss the problem of unwanted horses,” Jay says. “As a result of that meeting, the Unwanted Horse Coalition was formed. Its purpose is to remind the industry, horse owners and prospective horse owners of our responsibility toward our animals and what exactly that means. ” UHC, whose membership includes AQHA and 24 other equine associations, is focused on resolving the problem before a horse becomes unwanted. The group is trying to get owners to carefully consider what they will do with a horse when it is no longer useful to them, before they breed or buy it. They argue good stewardship should start before ownership and continue until they no longer own the horse.

“We want to change the way owners see their responsibility to their horse,” Jay says. “Our slogan is ‘own responsibly.’ That’s the message we’re trying to get out.” UHC has a website packed with important information about horse ownership and responsibility. The organization offers numerous helpful downloadable documents, including the booklet “Own Responsibly.” Desperate owners with unwanted animals will find helpful resources – including a list of retirement, retraining and rescue facilities – on the website. “Neglect and abandonment don’t need to happen; there are options,” Jay says. “People can donate their horses to a high school, college, public stable, police force or a nonprofit therapeutic riding center. Our website lists about 200 various facilities that will take horses, if the facility isn’t at capacity.”

Unwanted Horse Coalition 1616 H Street, NW • Seventh Floor • Washington, D.C. 20006 (202) 296-4031 •