Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Horse Abandonment Hits Home

Over the past several months I've been reading about the hay crisis in the Southern United States. Due to fuel and oil prices skyrocketing, the farmers must charge more for hay to stay in business. They have to pay more to run their machinery, pay more for fertilizer, and we the consumer must pay for it with higher prices for both hay and delivery. Locally here in Northern Nevada, I know that some individuals are actually paying my hay farmer extra just so that he can stay afloat. With so many farms being sold to contractors who use the land to build subdivisions, us horse and cattle owners want to do everything in our power to keep what few hay farmers we have left.

In addition to rising fuel and oil prices, Mother Nature has served a double-whammy of draught in various locations around the United States, resulting in less water and less hay to sell. The demand for hay is greater than the supply, which also pushes up prices. Those who can no longer afford to feed their horses try to sell them, but the market is currently flooded with horses, which is very favorable for horse buyers, but not for horse sellers. Once those individuals find that they cannot sell their horses, they try to give them away. When even giving the horse away fails, they either put the horse up for auction where the horse often goes to slaughter, or they abandon the horse in hopes that some kind individual will pick it up and care for it.

That caring individual often ends up being a horse rescue organization that is already strapped for money and space due to the high number of horse owners giving up horse ownership because of their inability for afford the expense.

Here in Northern Nevada we recently had a case in which someone spotted two starving horses staggering down a rural road. As the rescuer pointed out, wild Mustangs have more meat on them than these poor wanderers, so somebody had to have them penned up without feed for quite some time, probably trailered them into a remote area, and then dumped them off. The horses were branded, but not with anything registered with our local brand inspector, making tracking down the owner very difficult.

The rescuer waited 24 hours before naming the horses, because she wasn't sure they were going to live. Once they made it through the night, she aptly called them "Hope" and "Courage".

People need to address the problem before it gets to that point. Before purchasing a horse, find out exactly how much it costs for feed, shelter, tack, transportation, hoof care, routine worming, and veterinary care. The cost of the horse is most likely the least amount of money you will spend. Make sure that your interest or your child's interest in horses is not a passing fancy. Horse ownership is a commitment that can last 30+ years depending on the age of the horse. You cannot just ignore the horse once you get bored with it. If you want a toy, don't purchase a living thing.

If you have a horse that you can no longer support, make a game plan. Figure out whether you have the time to go through the selling process, which in today's US market can take months or years. If not, start with the step of finding a new home for the horse for free. Explain that due to inflation, you can no longer pay for the horse's feed. People are always suspicious of free horses. They wonder what is wrong with the horse. That is why it is important to communicate that you are giving up the horse due to your financial situation. If you cannot find a home for the horse, take it to a rescue organization along with whatever spare change you can afford to make as a donation. Call the rescue organization first to make sure that it has room for another horse.

If you have exhausted all those avenues and still cannot find a home for the horse, advertise your situation over the Internet or through a newspaper. See if someone is willing to let your horse use their pasture a few hours a day for free. I know of a woman who spends an hour each day cutting pasture grass growing outside of fences along the sides of roads so that she can continue to feed her horses. If you don't like the idea of using clippers, take your horse for a walk and let it eat what's growing on the sides of the road. Just make sure the horse isn't eating anything poisonous.

Though most of us are being hit hard by the current US economy, there are still people out there who have something to give. Keep on asking until help arrives.

Does anyone else have ideas for those who find themselves in the unfortunate position of not being able to care for their horses? If we think out of the box, we can come up with options that could prevent another horse from being abandoned.


Jackie said...

Besides horse rescues, horses can also be donated to therapeutic riding facilities and lesson facilities. These places seem to always need well-behaved horses that are good for beginning riders. I've been involved in several of these, and it's always a struggle to schedule horses appropriately for lots of riders. They need a variety of sizes and personalities to achieve horse and rider compatibility for all the students.

Mrs Mom said...

Not sure what to add, aside from what Jackie did.... We are faced with horses being shipped to the local sales here, not bought, and tied to someone else's trailer in hopes that someone else will take the horse. Or being left at the auction house.

Hard times, but praying for rain!

Callie said...

Good advice for those that can no longer afford to keep them. What a sad story and unfortunately one that is continuely being played out more and more!

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Jackie - Thanks for that one. In fact, I remember an article coming out in our local paper in which our theraputic riding facility was accepting donations of horses. So, it does seem imbalanced when one place needs horses and someone else is dumping them.

Mrs. Mom - Tying horses to trailers sounds like leaving a baby on a doorstep. I feel for people's desperation, but we have to recognize that our economy is no longer stable and we can't rely on always being able to keep the status quo. So many people are living beyond their means, and their animals shouldn't have to pay for it when the money runs out.

Callie - I was wondering when I'd start hearing horse abandonment stories closer to home. A few months ago the locals were still yammering on about breeding as if they hadn't noticed the crisis going on around them.

Abraham Lincoln said...

Your cause is horses and it is the same with dogs and cats. There was a piece on television last night about the increasing numbers of dogs and cats dropped off at the animal shelter as families lose homes, cars and jobs and can no longer care for their pets. All of this is, in my opinion, part and parcel of the Bush Economic Policies.

I hope the people can walk their horses or give them away rather than sell them for dog and cat food.

Twinville said...

What an important and wise reminder for ALL horse owners.
Thanks for this post.

It was such a serious decision for us when discussing wether or not to buy a horse. We have spent several years talking about it and knew for sure that we had to be in the position to afford for the FUTURE of any horse we bought.
For us a horse is not just 'livestock' to be bought and solf, it is a part of lives, a part of our family. So we don't take horse ownership lightly, even though it can seem a little overwhelming at times.

I do feel bad for some of the people who, through no fault of their own (job layoffs, serious illness, etc) are forced to give up their horses.
I am always hoping that those horses end up in a new very special home, instead of at auction or in any bad situations.

BrownEyed Cowgirls said...

It is a sad state of affairs that is for sure. We have 3 mares that we would like to sell, one is broke, broke, broke, the other two are halter-broke and gentle. Haven't had a single nibble on any of them-so they will stay in our pasture.

Just a small side note NM-feeding grass clippings to horses is not really a good idea. Believe me, I understand that if that is all someone has to feed their horse-it is better than nothing, but clippings that come from a lawn mower are linked to choke and colic.
Personally, we used to do it and never had a horse have an issue but other people have had problems, so we quit doing it.
Just another one of those bits of information to file away ;)

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

abraham - I know dog and cat food can be just a pricey as horse chow. I just got finished reading a memoir about a woman who "was so poor that (she) ate dog food." That doesn't apply now-a-days. Some dog foods can cost more than people foods.

twinville - I've been in that situation where my husband and I got laid off from our jobs multiple times, so I know it happens. Once we were homeless for four months. Not even two college degrees can save a family in a recession or a depression.

browneyed cowgirls - Though I haven't heard any negatives about grass clippings, I had a strong feeling that someone would bring up a problem with that. I'm guessing the choke is when you feed it to the horses wet and fresh. It probably gets rolled up in a ball in their eusophogus. We leave our clippings spread out in the sun to dry before feeding them, so they are closer to the consistency of hay.

I was actually more worried about any dog poop residue being on the grass, so I only use the clippings from the lawns that the dogs are not allowed to poop on.

fvclassic said...

i was just reading about this last night.. one option would be to "co-own" horses if possible to share costs. Also if you ride trails... pick places that are as local as possible to cut down on gas and travel!

be safe all and dont forget to kiss your horse
gp in montana

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

browneyed cowgirls - I just did more research into the subject of feeding grass clippings to your horses and found that there are several problems with it that I didn't want to cover in great detail in this post, so I removed my suggestion to feed mowed clippings to your horse. There is not only the problem with wet, fresh clippings getting wadded up into chokable balls, but if someone bags up the clippings, they mold quickly. Also, you don't want your horses eating grass that has been sprayed for weeds. Greedy horses can even choke on dry grass that has been cut and spread, because the clippings are small, so they tend to bite off more than they can chew.

fvclassic - Thank you so much for the additional ideas on how to save money and keep your horse at the same time!

Flying Lily said...

NM: Off-topic but the potholders arrived today and they are beautiful! I can't wait to write about them on my blog. They are too beautiful to use!! I think I will hang them on the kitchen wall or just use them for "good" dinners as table decorations. Thank you so much! You are a talented artist.

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

flying lily - You are too kind. I'm glad you appreciate them. I learned a lot while making them.