Recession to blame for unwanted horse problem

Recession to blame for unwanted horse problem

Responsible ownership called best solution; closing of processing plants ranked No. 2
Aug 01, 2009

WASHINGTON — The economic recession is the No. 1 reason for a dramatic increase in the number of unwanted, abused and neglected horses nationwide.

That's the clear consensus of thousands of persons who responded online to the 2009 Unwanted Horse Survey sponsored by the Unwanted Horse Coalition (UHC), a group formed in 2006 to collect information and raise awareness of the problem.

The closing of the last three U.S. horse-processing plants in the United States in 2007 ranked as the No. 2 leading cause, although there was disagreement among survey subgroups on the role of those plants, past and future.

The UHC, which operates under the American Horse Council (AHC) in Washington, recently published a 36-page breakdown of the survey results on its Web site,

"The response was greater than anyone anticipated when the survey site went live in November 2008," the UHC says in a summary statement. "By the end of the first day, nearly 500 respondents had completed the survey. In a matter of weeks, there were 27,000 more responses and thousands of write-in comments."

It has taken more than six months to compile, evaluate and publish the findings.

Definition of the unwanted horse
Aside from the economy and closing of the processing plants, the survey ranked change in breed demand/indiscriminate breeding as the No. 3 contributing factor and the high cost of euthanasia as No. 4.

"Economics is the most common reason a horse becomes unwanted," the survey states. With the average cost of horse ownership estimated at $1,500 to $2,000 a year, many owners, especially those who have lost jobs and income, say they no longer can afford them and have limited options for what to do with them.

The survey provided two questionnaires — one for horse owners and one for industry stakeholders.

Table 1 Stakeholder perceptions about unwanted horses
By far the largest group of responses, 20,484, came from the "owner" questionnaire. It included responses from 422 non-owners — persons who currently don't own a horse but know or are related to an owner, previously owned a horse or are friends of the horse industry/community.

Those who answered the "stakeholder" questionnaire included 2,245 professionals involved in the horse industry or who have contact with it. Equine veterinarians (593) made up the largest segment of stakeholders. Others included horse breeders, trainers, facility operators, owners and managers of rescue and adoption facilities, directors and staff members of equine associations and others.

While horse owners and most stakeholders say closing of the processing plants is a big contributor to the problem and favor reopening them, most associated with rescue/retirement groups strongly oppose such facilities and say their closing was at best a secondary contributing factor.

Table 2 Primary responsibility for solving problem
Public perception that unwanted horses are a problem has grown dramatically over the last three years, the survey shows. In 2006, only about 20 percent of all those surveyed believed unwanted horses were a serious problem. Today, 80-plus percent of them do.