The Unwanted Horse - Michigan Veterinary Medical Association

Unwanted Horse Issues & the
Interface with the Horse
Slaughter/Processing Issue
Camie R. Heleski, Ph.D.
MSU Department of Animal Science
The opinions presented are my own & based on my own experiences & research; they do not
necessarily represent those of Michigan State University.
Statistics on the horse industry
 US (based on 2005 American Horse Council study)
 9.2 million horses in the US
 10% race horses
 30% competition horses
 51% leisure/trail/ “backyard”
 4.6 million Americans involved in the industry
 Direct economic impact = $39 billion
 Multiplier economic impact = $102 billion
 Directly provides 460,000 FTE jobs
 34% of horse owners have household income < $50,000 (so not
just the “wealthy” have horses)
 Michigan – estimated 155,000 horses (2007 Michigan
Equine Survey)
Try a Google or Bing Search…you will be
shocked at the number of hits (and this is no
longer “just” a US problem)*
 Unwanted horses?
 Abandoned horses?
 Neglected horses?
This issue* has been a controversial one
for me for > 30 years…
 Tremendous deal of thought
behind my perspectives.
 I have gone to great lengths to
study horse behavior, animal
welfare science, and bioethics
in addressing the issue.
The Perfect Storm (started around 2007)
Problem – little to no salvage value for many horses
- Too many unwanted horses (some “unusable” horses within this
category <chronic health problems, dangerous, etc>.)
BLM having
far more
adopting out
horses than
ever before
Troubled Economy – many owners dealing
with reduced or lost income + increased cost
of living (esp. fuel & food)
Increased Cost of Horse Care – esp. rise in
hay, grain & bedding (fuel until recently)
People have decreased disposable
income to go to competitions, trail rides,
etc. (in some cases, simply the cost of
horse care has become prohibitive)
For many, this leads to decreased
reason/justification to have the horse
– horses
are living
In the past, during similar
economic cycles, some people
would elect to take their horses
to low-end auctions…where the
salvage value was in going to
the slaughter market…this
option is now extremely limited
& involves horses going to
Canada or Mexico
Definitions -Unwanted versus unusable horses
Unwanted horses (domesticated)
Owner no longer capable of providing care (physically
or financially)
Essentially normal and healthy
All breeds and ages – reflect the horse population
No longer needed or useful
Fail to meet owner’s expectations – athletic ability
Non-life threatening disease
Owner no longer interested.
Average time of ownership (4.5 to 5 years)
Definitions -Unwanted versus unusable/unfit
Some disability or infirmity
Old age, lameness
Behavioral issues
Vices/stereotypies, head shakers
Truly mean or dangerous
Unpredictable behaviors – bolting, flipping over
Very aggressive
 Number of unwanted horses
exceeds the resources
currently available to
accommodate them.*
 The estimated cost of
providing basic care for a
horse ranges from $1,800$2,400 annually. **
 Currently, there are not
enough volunteers, funding
or placement opportunities
for all of the unwanted
horses across the country.
*Research by Holcomb, Stull & Kass found that 326
registered equine rescues in the US have capacity for ~
14,000 horses…far below the estimated 100,000 that
become unwanted each year.
**Can the absolute basics be provided
more cheaply than that? Yes, but
doesn’t account for land use, labor, or
price variations across the US.
Since closure of USA Slaughter/Processing facilities
• Flow to Canada has increased (# US horses going to Canada for
slaughter in 2005=17,300; in 2012 = 39,200)
– Transport time (~700 miles from mid-Michigan to Quebec)
– Trucks probably more closely regulated than in US
– Plants inspected and horses protected by humane laws
– Killed by gunshot/penetrating captive bolt*
• Flow to Mexico has increased 369% <660% in 2010>
– Long transport time – 700 mi from US border to Zacatecas plant
– Transferred to Mexican trucks at border
– Meat going to Europe must meet European Convention
requirement for stun: puntilla, pole axe, sledge hammer
– AAEP group found conditions at both Mexican plants
*AVMA states 3 acceptable methods of euthanasia*…
 For the past 15 yrs, 1-2% of the domestic equine population, on average,
was sent to slaughter (~ 100,000/yr) w/ an additional 10-30,000 going to
Canada and Mexico
 Approx another 200,000 die or are euthanized on-farm each year…these
carcasses have been buried, cremated or gone to rendering (carcass
disposal is an important issue and needs to be considered in the
 By all indications, number of cases of neglect & abandonment have
increased since closing of US slaughter plants, but it is hard to get firm
 Google news article search for abandoned horses – 698 hits (2009)
 Bing search for “abandoned horses” – 107,000 hits in last month!!
 Colorado – horse neglect & abuse cases have increased 60% since
US Horse Slaughter Statistics
National Agricultural Statistics Service/USDA
1998 - present
Since 2008, technically
no horses have been
slaughtered at USDA
inspected plants (there
is an ongoing legal
battle to try to open
plants in several
**Does not consider horses shipped to plants outside the US
Responsibility for these horses?
Should breeders be willing to take horses back
Should breeders build-in a return fee policy
Education prior to purchase
Responsibility when no longer wanted
Veterinary/agricultural community?
Cost of euthanasia
Provide for disposal after euthanasia
Should the tax payer foot the bill for the unwanted
Do we need to fund shelters as with dogs/cats?
What are the options?
Sell horse
Second career
Pasture mate
Lease horse
 Partial or full lease
 Donate horse to a worthy
 Therapeutic riding program
 Give horse to 4-H member
 Police department
 Equine college or university
 Horse rescue group
 Horse retirement facility
 Veterinary clinic
 Have your horse humanely
euthanized by a veterinarian
 According to the American Association of Equine
Practitioner’s National Fee and Market Study, the average
fee for euthanasia by a veterinarian is $66 (+ farm call).
<2008> (A recent euthanasia clinic in Sand Lake provided
euthanasia + disposal for $100)
 Depends on area of the country,
 Does not include carcass disposal.
 Approved methods of carcass disposal include burial,
rendering and incineration. (check on rules for your location)
 Fees for these methods can range from $75 to $250 for
rendering up to $2000 for incineration.
What are people doing?
 Trying to do “the right thing”. Looking for places to donate.
 Leaving them at auction yards, boarding facilities etc. (this
appears to be increasing again)
 Turning them loose. (finding horses with brands, shoes, etc.
mixed in with wild horse herds; finding horses w brands cut
 Hoping things will improve.
 Trying to get them to auctions that will still take them.
Potential Solutions
 Potential Solution –
produce less horses;
already doing in many
breeds; but perhaps an
unfair burden for horse
businesses to bear (?); also
this is complicated by the
fact that improved health
care has horses living
Potential Solutions
• Potential Solution –
Educate owners to
responsibilities of horse
ownership; ensure they
have financial resources
before obtaining horse;
ensure they have training
resources to ensure
manageability of horses
Potential Solutions
• Potential Solution – reopen
US equine slaughter option;
realistic avenue for
unwanted horses; realistic
utilization of resources
• Several states are close to
being able to provide this
option once again (will be
under tremendous public
pressure) *at last check,
New Mexico was going to
have legal right to pursue
Potential Solutions
Potential Solution – use taxpayer
dollars to build/open/staff horse
shelters similar to dog/cat
shelters; these places would try
to adopt out horses that are
dropped off, but would euthanize
those animals that are
(aside: 4-6 million cats & dogs
are euthanized at shelters
annually; the current number of
horses going to slaughter is about
3% of that number)
Questions to be asked that have an
ethical component…
 Does the US ban on equine slaughter play a role in the current scenario of
too many unwanted horses?
 How have peoples’ values & perceptions of the horse influenced the
slaughter debate?
 Is it possible that it’s more acceptable to slaughter some horses than others?
 How much responsibility should each owner take for the lifetime
commitment to horse ownership?
 How much responsibility should each breeder have toward ensuring a long
term home for each foal?
 In the case of dangerous horses, do we have a greater
ethical responsibility to people who might encounter
them (perhaps unknowingly) or to the horses
 Should we separate the issues of: humane
transportation, humane methods of ending a horse’s
life, and whether or not it’s ok to slaughter horses
 Is it fair to ask the horse industry to behave as though it
is not a business?
 Even if we conclude that we’re “anti-slaughter”, is it possible there are
worse scenarios currently playing out for unwanted horses?
 Is it fair to impose the value systems of some onto all?
 E.g. > 90% of US population eats beef…is it really such a far stretch to
imagine people in other parts of the world (or here) eating another hoofed
 Have we done the unwanted horse any favors by banning US slaughter?
 Could things get still worse for unwanted horses?
 For those promoting the end to all US slaughter & the closing of the
borders to slaughter bound horses, have they created viable, affordable
options of what to do with the unwanted horse population?
Even if we conclude that we’re “anti-slaughter”, is it
possible there are worse options currently taking
“Horses are beautiful
& we don’t consume
them in the US so
they shouldn’t be
“I could never do it to
my horse, so I don’t
want anyone else to
do it to their horse.”
Horses suffering
because owners can’t
afford them & have no
reasonable way to get
rid of them.
Dangerous horses no
longer being sent to
slaughter; rather being
pawned off on the
Horses suffering
because trailer trips
are longer; more
mixing taking place;
regulations in Mexican
plants are not as
tightly regulated.
Decision making is not value-free.
However, decisions should be made with careful
analysis; outcomes should be weighed
Facts: there are too many unwanted horses;
economic times are tough; options are very limited
for what to do with unwanted horses
What are potential steps forward?
Solutions/Additional Information
 The Unwanted Horse Coalition.
 Provides resources on responsible ownership, owner education,
 Lists of rescues and retirement facilities
 Reestablish Horse Processing in the US (?)
 AVMA Unwanted Horses & Horse Slaughter FAQ
Solutions/More Information
Facebook – Michigan Free Horses
HC_Survey_07Jul09b.pdf 2009 Unwanted Horses
sts/unwanted_horse_may08 Dr. Tom Lenz webcast
on the unwanted horse
Additional Resources
 US GAO (Government Accountability Office) Report to
Congressional Committees – HORSE WELFARE Action
Needed to Address Unintended Consequences from
Cessation of Domestic Slaughter (June 2011)
 Unwanted horses: The role of nonprofit equine rescue and
sanctuary organizations (Holcomb, Stull, Kass) J Anim Sci

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