Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Problem of Unwanted Horses

Today I'm going to give you a glimpse into the dark underbelly of the horse world. This decision was prompted when I found this article on the Seattle Times website this morning. This subject is political, and gives some insight into the rule of unintended consequences. Please give the article a read before taking in the rest of this post.

I hesitate to use the term "unwanted", but that is the moniker that has been applied to horses that people can no longer keep, but are unable to find a new home for. The reasons horses fall into this category are are numerous. Some horses are dangerous. I suspect, however, that in the vast majority of cases, people simply can no longer afford to keep them.

Owning a horse is not an inexpensive endeavor. As domesticated animals, they depend on us for nearly all of their needs. They must be fed, watered, and receive regular hoof and veterinary care.

The cost of hay has doubled in the past two years. The price of grain has increased. As discussed in this post, horses require regular hoof care. In this area, a trim with a new set of shoes costs $100, and, on average, is required every 8 weeks. Horses don't have Blue Cross, and veterinary costs are pay as you go. Last fall I paid $200 for four horses to be vaccinated and have their teeth looked at. We are $400 into Ellie's leg injury.

The vast majority of horse owners are regular folk, probably living paycheck to paycheck. Now take that paycheck away due to a lost job. It's not long before they can't afford that bale of hay. They need to sell the horse. But so do many other people. Look at Craigslist. People can't even give good horses away right now.

Make no mistake, I don't like the idea of sending any horse to slaughter. It's a sad end for these noble creatures. But I don't wear rose colored glasses, and I realize that it is a far more humane end than slowly starving to death because the owners cannot afford to feed the horse.

Animal activists promote euthanasia as an alternative. The one quoted in the article states that people can pay for the euthanasia and rendering in installments. Horse puckey. Every large animal vet in this area requires payment at time of service. Period. The same goes with the rendering plant. Our county forbids burying of animals, therefore rendering is the only legal option. If the folks facing this choice can afford the cost of euthanizing and rendering the animal, then it is very likely they could afford to feed the horse, at least a little longer. I know many horse owners who would eat ramen and rice before they would stop feeding their beloved equine friends.

Two years ago, animal activists succeeded in shutting down all horse slaughter plants in the U.S. Currently, horses that are sold into slaughter are now packed into cattle cars and spend two or three days, without food or water, being hauled to Canada or Mexico. Now they want to eliminate even that as an option.

As with many single minded activists, they achieved their goal, but failed to offer any viable alternative. They aren't the ones left to deal with the consequences. Horse rescues are full. They depend upon charitable donations for their continued operation. Not surprisingly, donations to most charities are in the tank right now. Many rescues will tell you, "we can't save them all, so we save the ones that have the best chance."

I don't have the answer to this problem. But eliminating choices does not fix anything.


Mauser*Girl said...

I'm probably going to catch a lot of flak for what I'm about to say, so let me state this first:

I don't own any horses because I can not afford to own any horses. Aside from the fact that we move every couple of years, thanks to the Army, we have a car payment, rent, and all those other little bills that come from living a civilized life ... things such as electricity and Internet.

I am, however, horse crazy and love to ride. I always have been. I've loved horses as long as I can remember and I've ridden off and on since I was 7. At the moment, I have an agreement with a friend who owns and trains Welsh ponies - I help at the barn and ride for free.

That all said: I don't see what the big deal is about slaughter and why it's illegal (or not an option) in the United States.

You would think that slaughter is a better alternative than starving in a pasture because the owner has no money to feed the horse. Or being shipped across the country to be slaughtered elsewhere. Or, as in the case of the article, horses ending up being a nuisance to the whole ecological system because they cannot be slaughtered.

I don't have a problem with slaughter and I don't have a problem with the meat being USED. It should be, rather than going to waste. Up until the 1950's US military working dogs' diets consisted primarily of horse meat, either fresh or canned. And most European nations still have horse meat available for human consumption. I'm honestly not seeing the big deal.

Buckskins Rule said...

Until recently, it was no big deal. Under the radar so to speak.

But then some bleeding heart do gooders got involved, and convinced congress that this was bad, very bad, by appealing to everyone's emotions, rather than using logic. How dare we do this to one of the great symbols of America.

Now it's illegal.

While I do not like that it is a necessity, I accept that it is. We have to be rational about this.

Anonymous said...

Let me educate you two because horse slaugher has NOT been totally banned. Its only illegal in only a handful of states. The national bill has not passed congress yet. That bill is HR503 so with that fact said heres more facts according to the USDA (FOIA) the horses brought into Beltex and Dallas Crown were either pregant or were newborn colts and fillys. Some could not hold weight on all four limbs some were totally blind and this goes against humane laws and USDA laws. For years USDA documented these issues. There fore slaughter will not and cannot be controled by humane slaughter or even transport to slaughter being double deckers were used mixed and loaded with mares,stallions,and foals and the ones that should not have been loaded on a trailer. Whos to blame its the irresponsible breeders and sellers to these auctions not to mention the irresponsible auctioneers that allowed inhumane travel to these horses. Slaughter in mexico and canada had been going on for years this is nothing new. Mexican plants owned Beltex. Now thats why a few people want horse slaughter back they cant sell there undesired color or sized horse. The plants dont want old skinny horses They want fully fat heathy horses. The horse market crash just as Chevy, Ford, and Toyota markets has. Its not the closing of the horse plants. Its mere profit loss for these crying backyard breeders. It time to stop there irresponsible people and put them in jail for abusing and neglecting horses not reward them with a slaughter plant. The Horse is an American Icon a bibical animal and should we loose oil and automobiles horses will be needed.. Think about the future before you listen to these whinnying problem makers. for more info visit including the USDA reports.

Bag Blog said...

Whether slaughtering horses is illegal or not, there are no slaughterhouses in the US now thanks to “bleeding hearts” who have no idea what really goes on in the minds and care of horse owners. Horse breeders are in the business of selling horses, and yes, packer prices play a large role in the price of any horse sale. Sure breeders want to produce the best and want the best genetics in their horses, but when they get a horse that does not fit the bill, they just sell the horse – they are in business to get the best price possible. What the new owner does with the horse is up to him. Now that there is no market for slaughter horses, the price of all horses has fallen drastically. The recession has not helped the horse market. Good horses are worth next to nothing and bad horses are not worth hauling to Mexico. Those very horses that the bleeding hearts think they are saving are now worth even less or nothing at all.

Wild horses on the open range are like other wild animals that need to be controlled. Diseases and bad genetics can run through a herd crippling or blinding horses. If people cannot afford to take care of a good horse, why would they want a horse that has severe problems? But what can they do with such horses now?

Years ago we bought a well-papered quarter horse gelding at a sale. Turns out he was foundered. We babied him and spent money on him. We nursed him for several months, but he was not going to get better and was in constant pain – having trouble walking. At that time the price of horse was up, and we sold him. I’m sure it was a packer/slaughter buyer. It was very sad, but we had spent a lot of money on the horse, and he needed to be put down anyway. It was better to re-coup some of our money. If this happened in today’s market, I don’t know what we would do – probably put the horse down ourselves and take a big loss. Slaughter houses play an important role and we need them in the USA.

Buckskins Rule said...

Anonymous, thanks for visiting, but you aren't educating anyone. I never stated that slaughter was illegal in the US. However, all the slaughter plants in the US have been closed down.

Now the activists are attempting to make it illegal to ship horses to the slaughter plants in Canada and Mexico.

What do you propose to do with horses for which a home cannot be found?

AJ said...

Slaughter should NOT be an option for horses as they are NOT livestock as such. There is NO such thing as humane slaughter for these magnificent creatures. We need to crack down on the irresponsible breeding practices more than anything and make breeders and owners responsible for these animals - they are pretty much a lifetime commitment due to their life span. They are also companion animals and have been raise this way, unlike typical "livestock". It is horrific that you people talk about supporting slaughter of horses simply compounds the problem, that and the lucrative horse meat market in Europe and Asia - if someone can make a big buck they will without conscience....all at the cost of these beautiful creatures lives...I hope the individuals that consume this meat find their demise in the toxins they are consuming along with it. Enough said!!!

Buck said...

I don't have a dog in this fight, but I'm sure not liking what I see is the knee-jerk reaction of activists... like PeTA. While I realize Americans have a great attachment to the horse, anyone with half a brain who read your linked article with an open mind would realize the problem is serious and demands attention... for both the Indians AND the native horse population. Getting all emotional about the issue solves nothing... it only prevents the development of solutions.My %0.02.

Buckskins Rule said...

AJ, thanks for stopping by. Despite what I said above, I do agree with you. I despise the thought of slaughtering horses. However, the fact remains that there are more horses than be currently cared for. How do we crack down on breeders? Make more unenforceable laws? There are no easy answers.

Buckskins Rule said...

Buck, your absolutely spot on. These types of problems aren't limited to just horses.

To many quick responses to special interest groups, with no thought given to the true consequences or how to fix them. The people who drive these things through aren't left to deal with the problems.

Bag Blog said...

The problem of unwanted horses is not usually with breeders who are responsibly breeding high-dollar horses. The problem is more with people who are not responsible – like the Indian tribes who let wild horses roam on their land. Sure, it sounds very romantic and cool to have herds of wild horses running free, but the reality is that the horses are inbreeding and passing diseases and not being taken care of – now with the absence of slaughterhouses, there is no monitory incentive to deal with unwanted horses. Keep in mind that there is a difference in laws concerning Indian land Federal or State land. The BLM is more likely to deal with horse problems and try to get horses adopted out. Still, when you have horses that are inbred, diseased, crippled, old, starving, etc. to let them die on their own is painful and ugly. Packers provided a way of dealing with those unwanted horses. As far as I know, no breeder breeds horses for slaughter – ever!

Buckskins Rule said...

Lou, you are absolutely correct. Many of the breed organizations (AQHA, APHA, etc.), and high end breeders are cutting back on breedings. There was a very good article in Horse and Rider recently on this issue. Although there is a downside to less breeding of quality horses, but that's a topic for another post perhaps.

The largest part of the problem, IMHO, is the "backyard breeders" who think they can make a buck breeder poor quality horses.

The BLM has, up to now, done an exceptional job of culling the herds each year. Many of these horses are adopted out. But with the economic problems, I believe this is going to become more difficult.

Daphne said...

In all honesty, my emotional response is that slaughter houses are a despicable evil. That commercial enterprises exist to package horses as food, disgusts me. Unlike cattle, most of these animals were someone's pet. I find the whole idea repellent.

On the other hand, what to do with all of the unwanted horses? As you mentioned, the rescue ranches (I visit their sites and drool) are full and owning a horse isn't nearly as popular with the public as buying a puppy. They are expensive to keep, doubly so if you have to pay for board. I don't own one for that very reason.

I don't know what the answer is, Buckskin. It's a sad situation. I still think slaughter houses are a bad deal for these animals, but I admit I don't have any useful alternatives to suggest for solving the problem.

Laura said...

It just makes me sad.

Michelle H. said...

I don't know much about this issue concerning horse slaughter. But I am glad you posted this topic. Ignorance to any situation, whether for or against the issue, is the true problem. And the more people who can come to understand it, the better chance we ALL have at finding a solution.

Buckskins, thanks for enlightening me about such a thing existing.