- Where Barn Banter Goes Global
Please support

Facing the Problem of Unwanted Horses

Published: 11/7/2012
View comments
By Maddy Butcher Gray

Behind the cast iron gates of an Iowa farm, there’s an owner who says ‘I just love the babies.’ Now, some fifty babies have grown into fifty adult horses. The owner cannot handle them and cannot sell them because they cannot be handled.

Neglect is everywhere. It was at Brett and Alexis Ingraham’s farm in Clinton, Maine. It was along the roads of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and New York as I drove west. And it’s here in Iowa, I'm discovering.

Neglect can be at the hands of rich thoroughbred owners, who discard horses “like yesterday’s trash.” That’s what the New York Times reported last week.
The newspaper has been holding American racing’s feet to the fire recently and did so again with an article on pedigree thoroughbreds sent to kill pens.
Jockey Club colts and fillies are among the hundreds of thousands sent to Mexico and Canada every year.
Yes, you read correctly. In 2010 alone, 138,000 American horses went to slaughter.

You’d have to living in a cave not to see that the horse market is glutted. Anyone who pays serious money for a non-elite horse is either crazy or naïve since there are so many quality horses available for next-to-nothing. The folks at MEWA and the MSSPA and any other rescue agency will tell you so.
The Bureau of Land Management further gluts the market by rounding up mustangs and offering them up for adoption. Too bad the biggest “adopters” are kill pen buyers and slaughter transporters. Read recent NickerNews article.

It’s time for us to come to terms with these issues and work for solutions. Some simple ideas:

  • Overbreeding is like overeating: Instead of getting fat, you get too many American horses. Instead of dieting, you get neglect and slaughter.
  • Let's consider breeding a privilege, not a right. It has consequences and responsibilities that go way beyond that cute foal stage.
  • Let’s start locally. Have states mandate that each municipality charge horse owners for each horse owned. That’s what they do for dogs. If you can afford to feed and care for a horse, then you can afford a horse tag. This registry lets towns keep track of horse owners, hold them accountable, and raise funds for horses in need. Just an idea, folks, and just one aspect of a huge problem.

  • Without a crackdown on overbreeding, slaughter is how we’ve come to deal with equine overpopulation. We can’t regulate what happens in Mexico or Canada. But horses headed there aren’t doing so in comfy boxstalls lined with deep beds of pine shavings.
  • Allow U.S. slaughter plants to open and operate so the horses avoid the cruel transport north or south. Put strict standards in place for humane handling. Let there be equally strict consequences for violations.Let there be transparency and accountability.
  • Temple Grandin revolutionized the way corporations handle livestock headed to slaughter. It improved the conditions for the animals, improved the bottom line, and the meat product itself (because the animals were less stressed.) Provide the same model to horse facilities.
  • As we've seen with Washington gridlock, partisanship gets you nowhere fast. In this debate, one side sees horses as pets. The other sees them as a commodity. Sure, there is a spectrum between the two, but basically everyone loves horses in their own defined way. There can be common ground when one puts horses’ best interests above whatever side you’re on.

View Reader Comments:

add your comment
4/20/2014 Amy Skinner
I am happy to see an article about this serious problem. Horses are becoming a dime a dozen and with them being so cheap, easy to "collect." Eventually this situation leads to neglect, or death. I don't wish to take sides on the issue of slaughter, but if it is going to happen, it needs to happen efficiently and humanely. What would be even better is getting to the root of the problem: overbreeding, poor care, and a lack of sustainability as a motto in the horse industry as a whole.

"A canter is the cure for every evil" - Benjamin Disraeli, The Young Duke