New Study Sheds Light on Unwanted Horse Problem
We may be closer than we think to relieving the plight for unwanted horses in the United States, specifically Thoroughbreds, which comprise the highest percentage of this population. A new study published in July by animal behaviorists by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), discovered that there are more potential homes available than unwanted horses who need them.
1.2 Million Homes Available
Dr. Emily Weiss, Vice President of the ASPCA’s Equine Welfare Department, and her team found “there could be an estimated 1.25 million households who have both the self-reported and perceived resources and desire to house an unwanted horse.” They noted that the 200,000 unwanted horses each year were either shipped to be slaughtered, were held on federal property or placed in rescue facilities.
Defining an Unwanted Horse
According to Dr. Tom Lenz, the phrase “unwanted horse” is defined as horses that are no longer wanted by their current owner because they are old, injured, sick, unmanageable, or fail to meet their owner’s expectations.
One U.S. study noted by the researchers found the most common reasons horses were relinquished to rescue groups were health (54%), lack of suitability for desired purpose (28%), and behavioral problems (28%). Owner-related factors most commonly reported were money problems (52%), physical illness or death of the owner (27%), and lack of time for the horse (16%).
Horses who were relinquished were most commonly Thoroughbreds (22%) and Quarter Horses (19%); 51% were geldings, 7.5% colts/stallions and 42% mares. The average age was 12.
In another national U.S. study of horses seized in cruelty, neglect, or abandonment investigations, the most common reasons leading to the investigation were owner ignorance, economic hardship, and lack of responsibility.
“Many unwanted, but otherwise re-homable, horses are among the estimated 82,000 to 150,000 horses that are shipped annually to Mexico or Canada for slaughter,” the researchers noted.
So…what can be done?
The study’s findings show that there is a serious communication gap between horse organizations offering adoptable horses and those who wish to adopt. This is especially critical as rescue facilities and shelters are overwhelmed and must turn needy horses away.
Rescue and Rehab
There are up to 10,000 horses in rescues nationwide, causing organizations like A Home For Every Horse (AHFEH) to aid the rescues. AHFEH is a partnership between the Equine Network and The American Horse Council’s Unwanted Horse Coalition. The organization connects horses from over 600 horse rescue organizations across the United States to those looking for horses.
Second Stride, a Kentucky-based rescue specializing in Thoroughbred horses, is one of these rescue organizations. Kim Smith, founder and director, was discouraged with the racehorse retirement system and felt owners wanted more control over where and how their Thoroughbreds retired. Second Stride offers retraining facilities and services, and ensures a timely transition into new and loving homes.
New Guidelines and Legislation
Additional assistance can be found through new guidelines, legislation, and funding for unwanted horses as well.
In February, the AAEP developed and published comprehensive guidelines for the emergency race-day management of injured Thoroughbreds as well as guidelines to help transition these horses from the track to new careers.
In April, the Unwanted Horse Veterinary Relief Campaign provided 3,200 doses of core vaccines to protect horses from illness, for the eighth year in a row.
The Unwanted Horse Coalition has also designed a free educational program for horse owners and buyers called “Own Responsibly.”
The Safeguard American Food Exports (S.A.F.E.) Act of 2017 (H.R 113/S. 1706) was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives in January. This bill amends the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to deem equine parts to be an unsafe food additive or animal drug. The bill prohibits the knowing sale or transport of equines or equine parts for human consumption. This federal ban on horse slaughter was introduced to the U.S. Senate in August, where it currently sits.
Regardless of how these horses become unwanted, it appears that there are several opportunities now to house, retrain, rehabilitate and protect them.