Student improving horse rescue with thesis

March 30th, 2011

This story just made my day. :) Jacie Cupertino, a student at Cazenovia College in NY, is about to complete her thesis, titled Rescue Me! A Collective Resource for Equine Rescue Facilities to Enhance Their Business Operations.

The project focuses on public perception of equine rescue facilities, and how rescues can become more successful with simple changes that:

  • enhance their perceived legitimacy
  • increase the public’s willingness to donate resources, and
  • improve the quality of the facility’s operations.

I think this approach is sheer brilliance on Jacie’s part, and I can’t wait to read her thesis when it’s published next month!

Education is key, and SDSU is doing it right

March 30th, 2011

As I’ve mentioned in the past, one of the keys to solving the unwanted horse problem is to educate the public. South Dakota State University (SDSU) has begun doing exactly that by offering a course called “Equine Issues and Leadership,” which examines the issues facing the equine industry.

The first semester’s students focused on the unwanted horse problem and presented their findings at the 2011 Black Hills Stock Show in Rapid City, SD. (Details of the presentation can be found here.)

Kudos to SDSU, Professor Rebecca Bott, and all the students involved! I’d love to see a class like this implemented at every college and university that offers courses in equine studies or agriculture.

How we can improve horse rescue

March 28th, 2011

A Google search on horse rescue news currently turns up page after page of stories about rescues gone bad, fake rescue organizations stealing money from well-meaning donors, and starved/neglected horses with nowhere to go.

These stories are incredibly disheartening– not just because of the suffering of the horses involved, but because they damage the credibility of all horse rescue efforts, making an already difficult task even more difficult.

As I was attempting to write up a post to cover the current issues and propose ways to prevent them in the future, I was thrilled to discover that someone else has already said it better than I could. Dr. Sheila Lyons wrote a lovely article last week for Dressage Daily, titled Equine Rescue Under Fire – How to Make Things Better.

Please read it when you have a chance. I’ve covered some of her points here before, but they’re worth covering again. Others are new to me, and I’ll be discussing them in detail here soon.

Horse Slaughter: NOT a Necessary Evil

February 14th, 2010

In 2006, approximately 105,000 horses were slaughtered in the United States. Some of the meat was used by zoos to feed large carnivores, but the vast majority of it (42 million dollars’ worth) was sold to Europe and Japan for human consumption.

However, because all horse slaughter took place at only three plants (two in Texas and one in Illinois, all Belgian-owned), most Americans were unaware that it was happening until proposed legislation in 2006 made the issue public.

In 2007, court rulings shut down all three plants, effectively ending horse slaughter in the United States.

I believe that, in the long run, this will be a good thing. But it was NOT the simple, magical solution that many proponents were hoping for. For many decades, slaughter provided an easy, convenient disposal system for tens of thousands of “extra” horses, and those extra horses aren’t going to disappear overnight. (more…)

The Role of the Racing Industry

February 14th, 2010

According to the Jockey Club, about 31,750 Thoroughbred foals were born in 2009. The majority of these foals were bred for racing. However, a large percentage will never be fast enough or sound enough to race. Instead, they will will be dropped into an already-flooded pleasure horse market, where they have trouble competing due to their highly specialized training and breeding. Many will go to slaughter before reaching adulthood. (more…)

Overbreeding and Irresponsible Breeding

February 14th, 2010

Most Americans are well aware of the problem of overbreeding in dogs and cats. However, the majority are probably unaware that the same problem exists in horses. There are simply too many horses and not enough land. As a result, tens of thousands of them go to slaughter each year.

In the United States, 104,899 horses were slaughtered in 2006 alone. Another 50,242 were slaughtered in Canada that year. (The United States slaughterhouses were closed in 2007, but since then the number of horses exported to Canada and Mexico for slaughter has drastically increased.)

Contrary to popular belief, the vast majority of these horses were NOT old, lame or sick. They were young and healthy. Most of them were not, however, well-trained. Instead, they were the castoffs of planned breeding programs.


So How Can We Fix The Problem?

February 14th, 2010

As I’ve stated before, there is no simple solution to a problem this big. But if we ARE going to fix it, it’s essential that we do two things: 1) Educate the public about responsible ownership and breeding, and 2) Take responsibility for the horses we produce.


People need to understand the consequences of overbreeding horses, just as they are beginning to understand the consequences of overbreeding dogs and cats. Horses live a long time (often 30+ years) and require a lot of expensive care. (It costs $2,000 per year or more to maintain a horse.) A pretty color and a sweet personality are NOT enough to guarantee a good life for a horse. Careful, quality breeding and training are essential to ensure that today’s cute foals will be valuable and useful decades down the road.


Those contributing most to the problem should help solve it. I don’t support legislation to control or ban breeding, but I DO support measures that would help provide for the animals produced. Example ideas include:

  • Earmark a portion of winnings to be donated to horse rescue/retirement/euthanasia.

Approximately $1,165,000,000 in Thoroughbred racing purses were paid in the United States in 2008. If 1% of that was donated to help retired or injured racehorses, $11,650,000 would be raised. That amount could support about 5825 horses for an entire year. (Alternately, it could pay for the humane euthanization of 29,125 elderly or injured horses.)


How Many Unwanted Horses Are Out There?

February 14th, 2010

The Unwanted Horse Coalition estimates that there were 170,000 unwanted horses in the United States in 2007. I can’t find a more current estimate, but I don’t imagine that it has dropped significantly since then, and it’s very possible that the number has increased.

A number of factors have contributed to the problem, including:

  • A drop in the horse market due to economic issues.
  • Overbreeding and irresponsible breeding.
  • The ban on horse slaughter for human consumption.
  • The Premarin industry.
  • Droughts, floods and high fuel prices, which drive up the cost of hay and grain.
  • Owners “dumping” unwanted horses instead of euthanizing them (sometimes due to the high cost of euthanizing and disposing of a horse).
  • Owners losing jobs, property, etc. and having to give up horses.

I’ll be addressing most of these in greater detail later, but taken together, they’ve created a situation in which rescue organizations and humane societies are literally overflowing with homeless horses. Some of them are young, trained and healthy. Others weren’t trained properly or were injured in the course of their work. And many simply committed the sin of getting too old and weak to be useful. Even in good economic times, the market for unrideable horses is almost nonexistent, so the best these horses can hope for is to become permanent residents of a rescue organization, supported through their retirement by donations and volunteers.

Why I’m Here

February 13th, 2010

rhonaHorse rescue has been a pet cause of mine since 2006, when I first read about PMU horses– by-products of the Premarin drug industry. In the summer of 2006, I adopted Rhona, an 11-year-old PMU mare (pictured at right), from a local horse rescue. She’s the horsey love of my life, and since I found her I’ve been educating myself about horse rescue and trying to figure out ways to help others like her.

It has been a long and frustrating road. The problem of unwanted horses in America is far, far greater than I realized when I began this project, and the issues surrounding it are complex. And there are a lot of good — and, sadly, a lot of bad — people on every side. Spend a while reading forums, news articles and blogs on the subject and you’ll see examples of the best and worst of humanity.

This blog is my attempt to make sense of it all, while helping to educate others about what I’ve learned and hopefully finding ways to help along the way. Because while there are no simple solutions, I firmly believe in the power of small acts. I know I can’t save all the tens of thousands of homeless horses out there, but I will do what I can.