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.

Education

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.

Responsibility

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.)

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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.