Economic woes forcing owners to give up horses (2024)

METHUEN, Mass.METHUEN, Mass.— Andy Cardinale recalls with affection the day one of his horses gently deposited his son on a snow bank when the animal was tired of being ridden, or the smile on his handicapped wife’s face as she watched the animals graze.

Such memories are why he worked so hard to keep his horses after his temporary job agency failed, his mortgage rate rose and the equity in his Jackson, Maine, property evaporated. When the house was finally foreclosed last year, he had to give up his five horses.

“The horses were our family. How much stronger can I put it?” said Cardinale, who now takes his wife to visit one of their ponies at the Last Chance Ranch rescue farm in nearby Troy. “There’s a piece of us missing until we’re there.”

Horse owners around the country have been forced into the same painful situation. Rescue farms are packed, and exponential increases in the numbers of surrendered and abandoned horses are being reported coast to coast.

Job losses and foreclosure combined with higher hay and grain prices have made the cost of caring for a horse – at least $3,000 to $4,000 annually in many areas – just too much. Some say the problem has been exacerbated by closure of the country’s last horse slaughterhouses, which took animals that owners couldn’t afford or didn’t want.

“The economy is at a point now where you’ve got your priority list: ‘Let’s see, are the kids or the horses going to eat this morning?'” said Ed Foster, spokesman for the Nevada Department of Agriculture.

Financial problems are the story behind many of the record 39 horses surrendered in 2008 at Nevins Farm in Methuen, Mass., a shelter for the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said manager Melissa Ghareeb.

The shelter, in the hills of northeastern Massachusetts, struggles with rising costs, falling donations and constant arrivals of horses. It had to get creative with its space, including putting up ponies in a sheep shed until foster homes could be found.

“We’re stretched,” Ghareeb said.

There are no national statistics on the number of surrendered or abandoned horses, though the Washington-based Unwanted Horse Coalition, which works to reduce the number of unwanted horses, hopes to complete a nationwide survey by the end of February.

There is plenty of anecdotal evidence of an increase.

In northern Nevada, 63 abandoned horses were found in 2008, roughly three times as many as in 2007. The Horse Shelter in Cerrillos, N.M., had a record high of 48 horses at one time in 2008, including an abandoned mare that survived being shot five times in the head. In Kansas, the Valley Equine Rescue and Sanctuary hosted a high of 32 horses at one time last year – double its normal population.

In states with more open land and wild horses, such as Idaho and Nevada, owners are simply turning the animals loose, hoping they’ll be accepted into a wild herd. But the horses are inevitably rejected by the herds, and struggle to survive on the fringe of the range, Foster said.

Euthanizing and disposing of unwanted horses typically costs a couple hundred dollars. In the past, such horses might have been sold for slaughter in the horse meat industry. But 2008 was the first full year U.S. slaughterhouses were closed, following the shutdowns of the final three under state-imposed bans, and some say that has increased the problem of abandoned horses.

“In this Pollyanna world, you think you’re going to get rid of – in their minds – this horrific thing, and what it’s created is more problems than we had to begin with,” Jennifer Hanco*ck of the American Quarterhorse Association.

About 95,000 American horses were killed last year in Canadian or Mexican slaughterhouses. That’s about 12,000 fewer than in 2007, when the North American total included horses killed in U.S. slaughterhouses, and 39,000 fewer than in 2006, according to a Humane Society of the United States summary of federal counts and foreign trade statistics.

The Humane Society’s Keith Dane doesn’t believe the slaughterhouse shutdowns are affecting the horse glut, saying the bad economy is the dominant factor. He said foreign slaughterhouses are absorbing the horses no longer being killed in the United States, noting that the number of American horses exported to Mexico for slaughter rose from about 11,000 to 57,000 in the last two years.

Tom Lenz, chairman of the Unwanted Horse Coalition, said a more affordable way to euthanize and dispose of horses is needed, but believes finding one won’t be easy.

“The American public has a tremendous love affair for horses, even if they don’t own horses or have never been near a horse,” Lenz said. “So it’s an extremely emotional issue.”


On the Net:

Unwanted Horse Coalition:

Last Chance Ranch:

Economic woes forcing owners to give up horses (2024)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Neely Ledner

Last Updated:

Views: 6233

Rating: 4.1 / 5 (62 voted)

Reviews: 85% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Neely Ledner

Birthday: 1998-06-09

Address: 443 Barrows Terrace, New Jodyberg, CO 57462-5329

Phone: +2433516856029

Job: Central Legal Facilitator

Hobby: Backpacking, Jogging, Magic, Driving, Macrame, Embroidery, Foraging

Introduction: My name is Neely Ledner, I am a bright, determined, beautiful, adventurous, adventurous, spotless, calm person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.