There it was on the front page of my local newspaper: a
photo of a tall, bony chestnut mare, found abandoned in a weedy field. It was
unknown how long she’d been there, picking through dandelions and foxtails for sustenance.
She was rescued only because a herd of Herefords had busted through a wire
fence and wandered into the same weed patch. When Riverside County Animal
Control officials came to round up the cattle, they discovered the mare.
to the uniformed agents. They happened to have some spare dog leashes on hand
so they buckled them together to create a makeshift halter, and led the big red
mare into the trailer. She walked right in.
Once they got her back to the county facility, a vet
conducted an exam. By checking her lip tattoo they figured she was a
15-year-old Thoroughbred. Though thin and full of burrs and stickers, it’s
predicted she’ll respond to treatment and either end up being adopted out or
sent to a foster home.
I’m not sure what’s going on with abandoned horses in your
area, but out here it’s rampant. In 2006 my county collected 20 abandoned
horses, meaning they were wandering loose on public land, and once captured
remained unclaimed. This year they’re up to 74. And it’s only mid-September.
There’s no denying that the economy is pushing the plight of
the unwanted horse. Unemployment and home foreclosure statistics in my county
are among the highest in the nation. The first non-essential item that’s put up
for sale is the backyard horse. Problem is, there aren’t many buyers. The financially
solvent folks who are horse shopping are typically looking for high-performance
show horses or so-called Cadillac trail horses. All the mid-level auctions that
functioned as marketplaces for nice family horses have pretty much disappeared.
So when the nice auctions are shuttered and your ads get no response, where do
you turn when you need to get rid of a horse?
Unfortunately, something ugly has happened. There was much
rejoicing a couple of years ago when the equine slaughterhouses in the United
States were closed. Hooray! No more
unwanted horses would be killed in America! But in reality more horses than
ever are being sent to the killers. They’re just being shipped to Canada or
These double-decker transport trucks aren’t magically
filling up on their own. Despite rules, laws and regulations, the knackers have
learned how to work the system. The unwanted horses they’ve plucked from
ranches, low-end auctions and naïve backyard owners simply roam a feedlot for a
while before making the long trek north or south. So all that patting on the
back we did for shutting down the horse slaughter industry in America? A lot of
good that did.
I wish I had an easy solution to the unwanted horse problem
but I don’t. But I have a few suggestions. First, we need to continually
emphasize the high cost of maintaining a horse. It’s not the purchase price
that stuns people, it’s the upkeep. Second, we need to stop breeding so many
horses. The era of producing a few fancy horses for fun and profit are over. Get
a different hobby. Next, we should encourage more horse owners to seek hands-on
advice from professionals. Then, if and when a horse does have to be re-homed,
it’ll be much easier to place than one that’s developed bad habits from poor
riding or was never fully trained in the first place. Finally, we have to be
more candid about humane euthanasia. It is a reasonable option when a horse has
become so aged, ill, lame or unruly that it’s impossible to find it a good
While no one enjoys ending a horse’s life, that has to
become a more acceptable choice than turning it loose in a weedy field to fend
for itself. Whenever I present this idea, though, I often hear the response,
“But it’s so expensive to put a horse down.”
Yes, it is. Out here, the total cost for the vet and removal
of the carcass is about $350. That’s a hefty bill if you’re trying to keep a
roof over your head. Yet I still believe that if we promote responsible horse
ownership potential buyers will begin to plan ahead. They’ll know to set aside
some funds not just for a rainy day, but for a deluge. If we work together I do
believe we can improve the plight of the unwanted horse. If you have any other
ideas or comments, I’d like to hear them. Just click on “Submit a Comment”
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