Options for dealing with unwanted horses are limited
What to do with an unwanted horse is almost always an issue for horse owners, but that question is more predominant these days.
The closure of horse processing plants and the economic downturn have left more unwanted horses to roam Nebraska's fields.
"It's a big problem everywhere," said Kathy Anderson, University of Nebraska-Lincoln extension horse specialist. "People have very limited options as to what to do with a 1,000- to 1,200-pound animal."
It is unknown how many total horses are in Nebraska, but the last estimate a few years ago was about 180,000, Anderson said. The reasons for horses becoming unwanted vary.
In many cases it's due to economic reasons. Horse owners may find themselves in more financial difficulty in the down economy, and that's made worse by the increasing cost of hay. Taking care of a horse costs an estimated $2,300 a year, which includes basic care costs such as feeding, veterinary care and shelter, she said.
Some horses are unwanted because they become sick, lame or elderly, or are no longer able to function as a show, race or work horse. Sometimes the owners, particularly children who have grown up, have lost interest in the horse.
What to do with these unwanted horses has become more of an issue with the closing in 2007 of the last U.S. horse slaughterhouse, Anderson said. Previously, owners could sell their horses to "horse traders." The traders sometimes sold surplus horses to processing facilities which then exported the meat to Europe and Asia, supplied food for some zoo animals, and used other parts for numerous other functions, she said.
The closure of the plants has reduced the options owners have with unwanted horses. The result is that more abandonment, abuse and neglect cases are being seen, Anderson said.
Anderson has received several calls from people asking to donate horses to the university but there is no room for more, she said. Some desperate people abandon their horses on the property of others or even on public land, leaving them to fend for themselves.
One of the worst situations of neglect recently has been the case of an Alliance rancher arrested April 17 after about 60 dead horses and 200 starving horses were found on his property, the 3-Strikes Mustang Ranch.
The best remaining options for unwanted horses include:
1. Market the horse privately through websites, riding stables and barns, feed and tack stores, local and regional horse magazines and publications, veterinarians and farriers, horse shows and organizations.
2. Take the horse to a rescue organization. Nebraska horse rescue organizations include: Epona Horse Rescue in Minden, 308-293-5654 or email@example.com; Phoenix Rising Horse Rescue in Atkinson, 402-925-5836 or firstname.lastname@example.org; Heartland Horse Rescue in Linwood, 402-707-5567 or email@example.com; Lightning Creek Ranch in Crawford, 308-765-1232 or firstname.lastname@example.org; SS Horseshoe Ranch in Holdrege, 308-567-2283 or email@example.com; or The Best Little Horse House in Hastings, 402-461-6917 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
3. Sale barns can provide an outlet for horse sales, but owners have little control over who buys the horse, where it will go or its selling price.
4. Euthanasia can be a difficult decision but a better alternative than neglect or prolonged suffering. However, cost to have a horse euthanized by a veterinarian can range between $100 and $200, which does not include the cost of carcass disposal.
Extension does not recommend one option over the other, Anderson said.
"All I can tell a person is these are the kinds of things you can do. The ball is in their court," she said.
Options for disposing of a horse carcass include burial, composting, cremation and rendering, all of which are at a cost to the owner, Anderson said.
One of the primary factors contributing to unwanted horses is the lack of education people have about taking care of the animals, she said. People need to know more about the costs and responsibilities of taking care of a horse before they get one. The "Unwanted Horse Coalition" (http://www.unwantedhorsecoalition.org/) was formed to help educate individuals on responsible horse care and provide information on dealing with unwanted horses.