Survey says processing plants a solution
The survey, conducted by the Unwanted Horse Coalition (UHC), operating through the National Horse Council (NHC), was conducted from last December through February of this year. Complete results are expected to be published by the end of this month, but UHC Chairman Tom Lenz, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACT, provided some of the highlights at this week's AHC "Welfare of the Horse" forum in Washington, D.C.
The survey had 23,151 respondents, with participants directed to either of two surveys, one for horse owners and the other for industry stakeholders and non-horse owners interested in the issue. Industry stakeholders include veterinarians, professional trainers and breeders, rescue facility operators, academics and equine association staff members. The UHC reports a survey confidence interval of 95%, and no significant difference in responses by region or state.
The survey's overall top four solutions to the unwanted-horse problem were educating owners on responsible ownership, increasing the ability of private rescue and retirement facilities to care for more horses, reopening U.S. processing plants and increased options and resources to euthanize and dispose of unwanted horses.
The survey noted that horse owners and stakeholders have a set of shared beliefs, as do equine rescue operators and non-owners. Some beliefs are shared, while some - particularly on reopening processing plants - are in opposition.
The survey notes these points about rescue groups and non-owner interested parties: Rescue operators are voluntary caretakers passionate about their work, voice opinions through the media and other public forums and believe processing plants should never be reopened. They cite the economy and irresponsible breeding as the main causes of the unwanted-horse problem.
Of the shared beliefs of stakeholders and horse owners, the survey notes: Horses are an integral part of their lifestyle and livelihood; they believe the media and public don't fully understand the challenges of caring for, training and maintaining horses; believe processing plants should be reopened; that owners should be better educated; and that funding for rescues should be increased. They cite the closing of the plants, the economy, irresponsible breeding and high cost of euthanasia/disposal as the top contributors to the problem.
Among other findings, the survey also noted that public perception that unwanted horses have become a critical problem has escalated, although familiarity with the issue is highest among those closest to it.