The Ugly Truth About Unwanted Horses

Unwanted horses are becoming an epidemic in the U.S. Even people who honestly love their horses are sometimes not able to keep them. Equines are expensive to feed, house, and care for. And since they’re often a “luxury,” they’re often the first to go when an owner faces financial difficulties. So what to do with a horse you can no longer afford to feed?

There are no good answers, unfortunately. Let’s walk through all the options and the problem with each:

Sell the horse – Great idea, but the equine market is already saturated. I recently saw a registered show horse in perfect health for sale in a nearby town. This animal was gorgeous, young, and healthy, and I kept an eye on the “horse for sale” ad on the internet because I was considering purchasing it for my granddaughter. The owners kept dropping the price because they didn’t get any takers. The last time I checked, it was down to $200, and the owner still hasn’t had any buyers. You’ll find thousands of “horses for sale” ads all over the internet, with many offered at ridiculously low prices.

Take the horse to an auction – BAD idea! Many buyers at auctions are purchasing for the kill market. Horses are shipped to slaughterhouses in Canada or Mexico since they’re illegal in the U.S. This is a horrendous practice. The horses are crammed onto trailers and have to travel hundreds or thousands of miles, with no food or water. After arriving, they might spend more days without food or water, awaiting their time to die. They’re scared, so they’re handled roughly to force them into the chutes. As they wait their turn, they hear the screams of the other equines. Their death doesn’t always come quickly, either. Many suffer several brutal wounds before finally receiving their final death blow.

Give the horse away – If you have a horse that has served you well, you’ll want it to go to a good home. If you can’t sell it, you can just give it away, right? You can even place an ad in the free horse classifieds, and surely someone will jump at such an offer. Not necessarily. People aren’t even taking free horses because they know there’s no such thing as a free horse because of the price of feed and grain.

Surrender the horse to a shelter or rescue group – This would be a great idea if it were possible. Unfortunately, most horse rescues are full, and they’re not accepting more horses because like the owners, they can’t afford to feed the animals, either.

Euthanize the horse – Some owners who have tried desperately but failed to find a new home for their unwanted horse feel that euthanasia is their only choice. Sadly, this is often cost prohibitive. Veterinarians don’t do this service for free, and there’s also the hefty cost of disposing of the carcass. Many locations have strict rules about proper disposal of large animals.

Now, perhaps you understand why this is such a problem. Owners are so desperate that some are taking their horses to horse shows and leaving them tied to a stranger’s horse trailer. Others are abandoning their unwanted horses in national forests, state parks, and even on the side of the road. Others are allowing their horses to slowly starve to death.

Some owners who can’t stand to see their beloved animals starve to death or suffer the cruelties of the slaughterhouse and can’t afford euthanasia decide to kill their horses themselves, figuring this is a kinder end. Most do so by shooting the equine. To be done painlessly, the horse must be shot in the brain. This is accomplished by directing the bullet just above the horse’s eyes. Imagine an X made on the horse’s forehead, with one line from the right ear to the left eye, and the other from the left ear to the right eye. The bullet should enter where the two lines intersect.

Please understand that I’m not condoning killing horses, but some owners simply have no choice. A quick death at the hands of a familiar master is much kinder than the misery of starvation or all the inherent cruelties involved in commercial horse slaughter. If you have a better solution, please let me know.

Also, if you're in the market for a riding horse or a family pet, consider adopting a horse from an animal shelter or from a horse rescue. Before you do, however, make sure you have the means and the knowledge necessary to adequately care for a horse. If you don't, you'll just be creating another problem.

If you'd like to help but don't have the money, time, or experience to adopt a horse, you could always sponsor one. You'll find several horse rescues online that would love getting help to feed their herds!

A terrified horse awaiting its turn to be murdered.
A terrified horse awaiting its turn to be murdered.

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Comments 37 comments

sheila b. profile image

sheila b. 6 years ago

We're both up working, huh? This is so sad about horses, and people having to make a decision like that. Let's hope this economy gets better soon.


habee profile image

habee 6 years ago from Georgia Author

Yep, Sheila, I'm a night owl! I hate it for all the animals people can no longer care for. At least the humans can go to soup kitchens.


theherbivorehippi profile image

theherbivorehippi 6 years ago from Holly, MI

ugh....I just knew this was going to bring tears to my eyes yet I read anyway. This is just so sad. You know I of all people hate the though of a horse being shot but I hate even more the thought of it going through any torture or ill treatment more. (sigh)one day I will win the lottery and buy an island for unwanted and homeless animals. :) I'd love to link this to one of my animal cruelty hubs if you don't mind?


habee profile image

habee 6 years ago from Georgia Author

That's fine, herbhippi. I'll link yours to mine, too!


Hello, hello, profile image

Hello, hello, 6 years ago from London, UK

What has this so-called human race come to? Thank, habee, for trying to help and your hub which is a eye-opener.


Austinstar profile image

Austinstar 6 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

Overpopulation rears its ugly head again.


Angela Blair profile image

Angela Blair 6 years ago from Central Texas

This is one of the most cruel problems in the animal world today. I used to enjoy grade horse auctions but now the "killer" bidders are buying more than anyone else and it turns one's stomach. Selective breeding (and not breeding) would help immensely but orphan horses are like orphan cats and dogs -- the result of human ignorance and lack of responsibility. The whole thing is criminal and I, too, abhor it. Best, Sis


MyWebs profile image

MyWebs 6 years ago from Sheridan, WY

Damn this is really sad that horses are also suffering during these tough times. It really sucks there are no good solutions. Horses are so intelligent and graceful. I bet some probably even understand what's going on, if not most.


Granny's House profile image

Granny's House 6 years ago from Older and Hopefully Wiser Time

Can't they go to that island in NC. where the free horses roam or is that to full now?


Tammy Lochmann profile image

Tammy Lochmann 6 years ago

What a shame. I will definitely be sharing this one. I will also bookmark it for future reference. Great article


Michael Shane profile image

Michael Shane 6 years ago from Gadsden, Alabama

Great topic! Unfortunately, Life can be cruel & something has to be done...I know people around here that will give you a horse if you'll take it. My father has Arabian horses & probably spends at least $500 a month with medicines, food, treats, & etc. They are very expensive to maintain. I have always heard horses that wasn't any count went to slaughter houses & became food for our best friend, "Dogs"..It is sad but apart of the life cycle!


habee profile image

habee 6 years ago from Georgia Author

Michael, actually most of the horse meat is for human consumption in Europe and Japan. My problem is more with the way the animals are handled and killed than it is about the fact they're killed.

Horses are not meat animals. They have a close bond with their humans, much like dogs do. IMO, killing a horse for meat is no different than killing a dog for meat.


msannec profile image

msannec 6 years ago from Mississippi (The Delta)

How sad. Here in our town recently, a landowner was convicted of animal cruelty. He had a couple of horses on his property, and a local vet happened to be riding through and noticed one of the horses was malnourished and ill. He called authorities, and they discovered another horse dead on the land, from starvation. The vet took the other horse with him to treat it and place it at a shelter so someone could adopt it. How people can be so uncaring to a poor animal is beyond me.


habee profile image

habee 6 years ago from Georgia Author

Thanks, HH. Sometimes I think the animals are more "human" than we are!


habee profile image

habee 6 years ago from Georgia Author

True, Austinstar. Supply far outnumbers demand now.


habee profile image

habee 6 years ago from Georgia Author

Yes, Sis, too many backyard breeders are part of the problem. Also, some people buy a horse or pony without realizing the inherent cost in providing for one.


habee profile image

habee 6 years ago from Georgia Author

Mywebs, some people don't understand that animals have feelings just like we do, and they can suffer emotionally.


habee profile image

habee 6 years ago from Georgia Author

Hi, Tams. Great to see you here!


habee profile image

habee 6 years ago from Georgia Author

Granny, most of those islands are at maximum capacity, and they're actually removing some of the horses from them.


habee profile image

habee 6 years ago from Georgia Author

Msannec, glad the vet recued the staving horse, but I wish he had been in time to save the other one.


akirchner profile image

akirchner 6 years ago from Central Oregon

There are no good answers - our trainer the other day just told me about people letting horses go free here in our neck of the woods because they can't afford them - I want to win the lottery and go get them! This is almost as bad as all the dogs and cats - and people - sigh - when will it end?


habee profile image

habee 6 years ago from Georgia Author

That's right, Audrey. There ARE no good answers. It's very frustrating.


prettydarkhorse profile image

prettydarkhorse 6 years ago from US

poor horses habee, hmmm, nice advice there though to sponsor one horse, thanks habee, nice hub, Maita


habee profile image

habee 6 years ago from Georgia Author

Thanks, Maita!


Springboard profile image

Springboard 6 years ago from Wisconsin

It's a very difficult question. I think it boils down to people having to make good decisions in the first place. You buy a dog and you know what it is going to entail in order to care for it. You have to factor in the cost of food, veterinary care etc. Same thing goes for a cat. That should especially go for something like a horse, since obviously a horse is going to have to be kept in a different location most of the time, and the costs of maintaining a horse are going to be far greater, and more difficult than a cat or a dog.

Having said that, I think that a horse is also somewhat like a Porshe. It's a status symbol. You don't think of how much its going to cost to insure it, what the cost per mile of driving is going to be...or any other factor. You just want to be able to say "I own a Porsche."

Incidentally, Porsche and horse rhyme. Anyway...now I'm rambling. But you raise a very important question, and I hope many people get a chance to find this hub and read it, and THINK about it before they buy a horse and wind up putting IT into harms way through their own selfishness and poor judgement.


habee profile image

habee 6 years ago from Georgia Author

Excellent points, Springboard. Unfortunately, even some well informed people are having to give up their horses because of an unplanned job loss. But you're right - many horse owners have no idea what's involved with caring for a horse. I've owned many, and the cost can range from minimal to staggering, depending on whether or not you own your own pasture land. Thanks for the thoughtful comment!


Chris 6 years ago

Some people I know made a documentary about the problem of horse abuse in the United States and elsewhere. I hate to just drop a link in a comment habee, but if you're interested you should take a look at the trailer for the documentary called "Equine Destiny", which is going to be playing in festivals around the country.

The purpose of the documentary is not only to let people know how horses are treated when they are seen as being "past their time," but also to let people know they can make a difference and stand against cruel treatment of animals.


habee profile image

habee 6 years ago from Georgia Author

Thanks, Chris. I'll check it out!


Ms Phoenix profile image

Ms Phoenix 6 years ago

This is an eye opening article. medical people are learning

every day what animals do for the sick including autistic

kids, pets in general for the elderly, and for the isolated

and lonely,sometimes the only reason to get up every day is

the love of an animal companion. We must think of a way to

save these creatures. in this economy and with all the budget cuts, I'm sure it would be difficult but I also

believe that Americans in force can do just about anything.


habee profile image

habee 6 years ago from Georgia Author

That is so true, Phoenix. As you know, horses are often used in therapy for the disabled. So sad what's happening to them and our other furry and feathered friends.


Movies All Time 6 years ago

This article is really an eye opener. No one seems to care a damn for the poor animals these days.. This world is being monetized for nothing at the cost of TLC. Shame!


Jeff Berndt profile image

Jeff Berndt 5 years ago from Southeast Michigan

Bookmarked this to read when I have time. Thanks for bringing this issue to my attention in the forums, Habee!


habee profile image

habee 5 years ago from Georgia Author

I agree, Movies!

Jeff, thanks for stopping by!


waljan profile image

waljan 5 years ago from Pt. St. Lucie

As an owner of 2 rescue horses, and have a through understanding of the horse abuse, more of this informtion needs to get out and appeal to the hearts of many. Alex Brown writes some excellent articles and is very active is the horse racing industry and has made great leaps in stoping the "kill buyers" at the auctions. Sadly, there are not enough folks out there that are able to deal with this horrible treatment of horses. Keep up the great work and keep putting the word out there.


equine profile image

equine 4 years ago from Hillsboro, MO

I had to rescue the only horse I ever sold. Fortunately I found out in time, but it could have had a disastrous ending. I just finished writing a hub about it.


Kaitlyn 3 years ago

I have another soloution for when you can't keep your horse.If they have the money and time,give it to a family menber who wants one.And the idea of slaughterhouses makes me sick.


Kayla 2 years ago

Please people slaughter plants need to be improved not banned. Extreme actions have never gotten (positive) extreme results. Prohibition really did a number on alcohol didnt it? (Sarcasm) I would rather a horse endure even weeks of neglect on the way to their slaughterhouse death (where they atleast feed someone instead of dying for NOTHING) than be starved or tortured as many are.

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