Horses have always been special to me, and a part of my farm life as I grew up. We always had a horse or mule on the farm. Even before I started to school, I would ride holding onto the hames of our plow horse Doc as my father would plow between the rows of corn before we had a tractor to do the same task. Doc was special. He had been a show horse, winning a lot of ribbons in Walking Horse competitions until he badly hurt his foot and could compete no more. My father traded for him and Doc became a fixture on our farm. After years of working on our farm, he became too old for the plowing and retired to the pastures around the barn. There he lived out his remaining days grazing, attempting to roll over and being fed the occasional sugar cube by me.
It would be great if all horses had the opportunity to be raised this way, but that is not possible in today’s America. In fact, USDA statistics indicate there are 60,000 to 80,000 horses abandoned or neglected in this country and the number continues to grow daily. Many well-meaning individuals have taken horses to raise and soon realize that a horse is more than a pet. They are costly to keep,
costing an estimated $1,900 per year or more to house and feed. That does not include vet bills.
Once a person realizes they no longer want the horse, what do they do? Many are not saleable and
there is not a market for horses like Doc anymore. This leaves euthanasia as the only “humane disposition” of these animals. And, if that is the case, how do we plan for the disposal of thousands of very large animals?
In the state of Tennessee, the economy has taken a toll on those who thought they would like to be lifetime horse owners. Affordability is an important thing to think of when owning a horse; and if you have several of them, affordability becomes like a millstone around your neck when you are trying to provide hay, grain and housing for those large animals. At a recent livestock sale in the Upper Cumberland area of the state, an individual brought his horse to sell due to his lack of funds to keep the horse healthy. However, there was no one there that day wanting to buy horses, so he just left his horse in the trailer while attending the auction. As he drove home that evening he noticed the trailer pulling sort of strange and he stopped to check out the problem. That’s when he discovered that someone with the same problem he had at getting rid of their horses had put two horses in his trailer while he was not looking. This may sound humorous but believe me it was no laughing matter to the guy now stuck with three horses he did not need.
With an estimated 170,000 horses annually needing something done to take care of their not being wanted any longer, what do you do with them? Some estimates put the number as high as 100,000 for horses abandoned in parks, on land of unknowing farmers and about anywhere they can be unloaded. Slaughter plants once took care of this problem, but the last three horse slaughter plants in this country were closed in 2008 due to legislation and over-the-top regulations supported by well-meaning humane groups.
The removal of 84 horses recently from a Middle Tennessee farm due to charges of alleged animal cruelty has brought a lot of attention to this state of a problem that is larger than the scope of those 84 horses. Some have said “sanctuaries” are needed to assimilate these animals and even the animal rights movement groups acknowledge there are too few in operation to handle this number. Plus the care standards at existing facilities now in operation are not set by USDA, and are lower than those at dog and cat shelters, meaning that those horses will not live out their years in the most pleasant conditions. It is projected that a minimum of an additional 2,700 such “sanctuaries” will be needed with horse slaughtering being done completely away with in this country.
There are those who support doing away with any form of horse slaughter with intent to prevent cruelty. But, how humane is it to abandon them to starvation, predation and disease, which will happen if a person’s out go exceeds his income while providing for a horse that no longer is as much
fun as it use to be. Humane care comes in many ways and a lot of understanding must be taken to deal with the unwanted horse population in this country.