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The Ugly Truth About Unwanted Horses

Updated on August 30, 2013

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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