The Unwanted Horse Dilemma
By Karen Nelson
I am sure even my fellow Canadians are aware, that horse slaughter was banned in the US. All the unwanted horses
that used to go to slaughter in the US, aren't just tidily dealt with by the "evil" meat man, now they are in the public eye,
being starve, mistreated, and sold for mere dollars. Some end up being shipped to Canada and Mexico for slaughter,
often in less than adequate conditions. If the horse's are lucky, they find new homes, maybe with a rescue, but the
unlucky and unwanted often end up suffering with less than adequate care. Some blame the end of slaughter for the
unprecedented amount of unwanted horses, but why are there so many in the first place? Why are there so many foals
and young horses in the feedlots? It is not as though there are farms that breed and raise horses specifically for meat.
So who are these unwanted horses that end up and auction, at slaughter, or being left to starve?
1) They are weanlings and yearlings mass produced by breeders who have mares and a stallion, but give little thought
to the market. In the past they were often "by-products" of the PMU industry; they needed the urine from pregnant
mares, which resulted in a large number of foals produced each year. Some were quality, but even then, when supply
outstrips demand, you have unwanted horses. Some are backyard breeders who just wanted to have a foal. Some
were bred by people who just had a stallion and some mares and figured they could make some money with
foals...even if it was only meat prices. Often giving no thought to the conformation or breeding of the sire and dam, and
producing foals with no market.
2) Some are older horses that didn't receive training. "Halter broke only" 8 year olds don't have a huge market! These
are usually the result of people that buy or breed a young "project" but either don't have the skills or time to bring it
along, and don't bother sending it to a trainer.
3) Some are horses with training issues that were deemed unrideable. Often the product of poorly thought out
breeding plans, poor training programs, or owners that bought a horse that was not suited to their levels.
4) Some are horses with severe conformational issues, career ending injuries, or just plain ugly.
5) Some are older horses that are at the end of their careers, with no one wanting to spend the money to retire them.
These could be broodmares that produced foal after foal to make money for their owners. These could be lesson
horses. They could be riding horses that offered years of pleasure.
6) Some are broken down young horses that couldn't hold up mentally or physically to the demands of their
owners...race horses, futurity horses and show horses.
7) Some though, are perfectly useful, and possibly well trained, horses that just ended up in the wrong hands and
suffered neglect, or whose owners can't take the time to find them a new home.
This is even more an issue now with the American economy in recession following a bad year for hay..people can't
afford the horses they have. Former one or two income families find themselves with no income, and have to choose
between feeding their horse or feeding their family. Without slaughter as a buyer of last resort, these families can't
even count on being able to sell their horse at auction, so some don't risk spending the money to haul them there, and
instead hope for better times before the horse starves to death.
Some call for the return to slaughter in the US so these horses have somewhere to go, but that would just continue to
encourage bad breeding and training policies. It is hard to think that trusty lesson horses, and innocent babies deserve
Some call for more responsible breeding. That is great and will help balance the supply to the demand, but the
problem with this, is that it is the responsible breeders that will stop breeding and the irresponsible mass producers
that will continue to breed babies with no market waiting for them. For a breeder that leaves its stock to fend for itself
all year with no care, feed or vet work, selling a $100 baby still nets a profit.
Even with responsible breeders and responsible owners, horses will be born with defects, or break down before their
time. Their will be dangerous horses, unsafe for riding that missed out on getting the correct training, or that just had
untrainable issues. People still won't want to look after the old horses in their retirement. People will still loose their jobs
and get in over their heads financially.
I have thought about this, and I have the solution:
1) Horses should have savings accounts.
2) Horses should be chipped with their records encoded throughout their lives.
3) Sanctuaries should be created to take in the unwanted horses.
Part 1: Horses with Savings Accounts.
When a horse is born, the breeder would have to put credit into their account to pay for their basic training. This would
help reduce the number of horses that are untrained and therefore unwanted. It would also make breeders invest more
in their foals and help make them think more about WHY they are breeding, and what the horse's market will be.
If a colt is born, then the breeder also has to put money into a fund to pay for it to be gelded. If the owner decides not
to geld, then a "stallion" fee will have to be paid into the sanctuary fund every year until the stallion proves that he is
worthy of being stallion with having marketable foals. Hopefully this will make people think harder before keeping their
horse a stallion. It will no longer be the cheaper option to gelding. The built up sanctuary fund can offer subsidies to
geld cryptorchid stallions, as people currently will keep these horses ungelded, rather than accept the additional cost
of gelding them.
Throughout the horse's life, then its owners will have to put money into its savings account for every ribbon it wins,
every race it places in, for every trail ride or ride it gives. Lesson horses and horses for hire will get money into their
account for each ride they give. Broodmares and stallions will get a percentage of the money each of their foals is sold
for. Horses that work hard and bring joy to their people will earn their retirement. Lesson students will feel better
knowing that their favourite lesson horses will be looked after in their old age.
Suddenly there will be more incentive for people to own older horses as these horses will have built up a retirement
fund to support them in their old age. Novice horse owners might actually start buying horses suited to their skills
rather than getting something young just because it is cheap. People will actually have to start paying their fair share
for ensuring that each horse gets cared for, from start to finish.
Part 2: Horses are micro chipped.
The same chip that tracks the horse's savings account, will also track all vet work, training and other comments. People
will be able to horse shop with more confidence knowing if the horse has been looked after. Sellers will be able to sell
with more confidence knowing that future owners will be aware of the horse's history.
A while back I had a nice, kid safe pony to sell, but he had a massive splint below his knee. Our vet figured the splint
was broken and badly healed, so not suited to jumping. We priced and advertised him accordingly and made sure his
buyer knew of the issue and even put it on the bill of sale. Sadly, his buyer was not so honest and tried to sell him as a
kids show pony and suited for jumping! I wish I there had been a way to put a warning on him when I sold him so
someone couldn't do that. I just wanted to give a kid a chance at owning an affordable horse...but the buyers saw the
chance to make a few dollars. Luckily the child they had bought the pony for made enough of a fuss that emotions won
over greed, and the little girl got to keep her pony.
I have also heard of people nerve blocking navicular horses to mask their pain before selling them as "sound". If the
vet could record that the horse was nerved, then people couldn't do it.
People could no longer sell an HYPP positive horse as "grade" at an auction, and put an unsuspecting buyer at risk of
being hurt by the horse if it has an attack.
People could no longer fool the animal control officers by claiming a skinny horse is a rescue for year after year.
Maybe too, we could better track damaging training practices and create better statistics on the dangers of over
training young horses. On a positive note, breeders, trainers, and sellers could see just how their stock was doing, and
improve their practices as needed based on the feedback.
The chip could also have GPS, to stop horse thieves.
Part 3: Horse Sanctuaries
Even with Part one and two in place, there will always be unwanted horses, so that is where the Horse Sanctuaries
come in. People can send their unwanted horse to Horse Sanctuaries set up across the country. These sanctuaries will
partner with horsemanship, vet and farrier schools. Students will assess the horses and ones that are deemed suitable
for retraining and rehabilitation, will be worked with and sold at semi-annual sales. Horses that are not deemed suitable
for rehoming will either be euthanized, or slaughtered in a humane facility. Proceeds from the sale of the horses and/or
horse meat, will go to support the sanctuary and will help with the rehabilitation of more horses.
Horses would be donated to the sanctuaries, and pick up of horses would be available. There would be no reason for
someone to allow a horse to starve or be neglected. People who just plain have to find their horses a home fast, would
be able to do so with confidence and without guilt.
Ah, but this will never happen will it...people are far to selfish to spend money they don't HAVE to, or to give something
away that they could make a few bucks on.
But...maybe breeders could start only breeding horses with a plan to have them trained and offer incentives to buyers
to enrol the horses in training programs. If someone buys a weanling and knows they can get discounted training from
certain trainers, then it might add incentive for them to buy that weanling. I know I would offer a discount for horses
bred from a reputable breeder over one that came from who knows where.
Maybe people could accept that if they use the horse, then they have a responsibility to ensure that the horse is
looked after for the rest of its life. A person should NOT feel OK training a horse at two and enrolling it in futurities and
not worry about its soundness when it is a teenager. These owners and trainers should be held accountable. Training
practices as well as racing and showing programs that result in a high percentage of horses breaking down should be
looked at and altered. We should NOT accept a large number of discarded horses and culls from a certain program.
Lesson students should NOT turn a blind eye to how the horses they ride are treated, particularly as they age or
become injured. Students should question the management practices of the barns they ride at if they think the horses
aren't receiving adequate care and maintenance. (see Responsible Horse Stables for more on my thoughts here)
Vets and humane organizations should have more power to help horse's in distress and to address inadequate care.
People should speak up if they see a breeder dumping old broodmares at auction, left to an uncertain fate after years
of producing an income for their owners.
If someone shows a horse for years, and soon after selling it, the horse develops a career ending injury, then maybe
they should feel some responsibility in ensuring it gets proper care if the new owners are unable to. People should
consider a horse a lifelong commitment, much as we do cats and dogs. It isn't always practical to keep a horse as
riders outgrow horses, and needs change, but we should be willing to make a commitment to ensuring that horse is
looked after until the end.
The expense of owning a horse of ANY age, should include consideration for its retirement and care should it become
injured. If you cannot provide for these eventualities, then you can't afford a horse of your own.
Maybe trainers owners, vets, and farriers could work together to create files that could follow each horse throughout its
career so that future owners could be aware of the horse's history, and that breeders, trainers and past owners could
be kept up to date with the horse's progress. Maybe people would realize that it is better to know the "good, the bad
and the ugly" about a horse, rather than have a horse with an unknown past, and suddenly those horses would have a
Maybe people shouldn't feel that euthanasia is such an evil thing; only suitable for horses that are on deaths door...is
there a reason a horse must be forced to suffer before we decide to end its life? A horse doesn't have plans for its
future, it just knows its present and its past. Putting it down should be a viable option if the owner cannot look after or
find a new home for their unwanted horse. People should not feel guilty making this decision.
Unwanted horses are a big problem, particularly in the US, and my heart breaks every time I hear of an owner that
can't find their trusty pal a new home after loosing their job, I feel sick thinking of old broodmares being ran through
frightful auctions after spending decades in the same field raising babies, and disheartened when I see skinny trail
horses giving rides to an unknowing public. It is time horse owners and horse professionals became more accountable
for their horses from the moment the horse comes into their care until the day the horse goes to green pastures.
Maybe, all it takes to change things, is to change our perception as to our responsibility for the horses we breed, own
and have owned.