Rescues and sanctuaries not the panacea for America’s homeless horses

Chestnut Horse Standing at Rusty Rail
A recent survey concludes that horse rescue and sanctuaries are not the panacea for the homeless horse population issue in America, and places the onus on numbers bred and educating horse owners.

A survey was conducted of the “unwanted horse” population in the United States, with a studied look at the role rescues and sanctuaries play.

In an article by Marie Rosenthal, MS for The Horse, she states there are approximately 100,000 “unwanted horses” ever year and rescues and sanctuaries help about 13,400 of them.

Kathryn Holcomb, MA, a PhD student at the University of California, Davis, who worked on the survey, says:

“Nonprofit equine rescue and sanctuary organizations have an important role to play in caring for and finding new homes for unwanted horses, but they are not a panacea (a cure-all) for the issue due to their limited capacity.”

The term “unwanted horse” is suggestive. There are, naturally, some horses who are no longer wanted. However, it is the nature of horse ownership that horses will likely pass through several hands throughout their lifetimes, for a variety of reasons. The survey itself explains the reasons most horses end up homeless are “financial hardship, owner’s physical inability or lack of time to care for the horses, and seizure by law enforcement agencies for alleged neglect or abuse.”

The article goes on to say:

But the best way to solve the problem is to limit the number of unwanted horses, Holcomb concluded, and suggested these methods:

  • Reduce indiscriminate breeding;
  • Educate new and existing owners on the responsibility associated with horses throughout their lives;
  • Take responsibility for matching horses to rider ability and expectations;
  • Use behavior science to reassess handling/training methods that might contribute to problems; and
  • Use animal welfare science to ensure that the way we house, use, and care for our horses promotes their mental and physical well-being.

Read more here >>

3 thoughts on “Rescues and sanctuaries not the panacea for America’s homeless horses”

  1. Keenland has a number of TB sales each year. The September 2010 Yearling Sale brought in $23,965,000. If only 1% had been set aside for TB rescues, that would have been a real boost in helping retrain and rehome horses.

    There are so many untapped horse-related activities that could provide funds. Even if they only contributed a flat fee or a small percentage I bet the dollar figures would be astonishing.

    I think the real challenge would be choosing who would collect and administer funds and check the rescues to make sure they’re ligit 501(c)3s and up to standards. Maybe licensing through state livestock boards, as we do in NM? Don’t know how many other states do licensing or how many rescues would want to participate. Many resist having government in their business, but if they truly want to help the horses I should think they would get on board.

    The Unwanted Horse Coalition would probably want a piece of this, but I don’t like their “stakeholder” approach and think much of their information is skewed toward slaughter. The TB industry is way ahead of the curve. Maybe modeling after their program would be a good start.


  2. Perhaps there are limitations, but there are still more than 13,000 Horses removed from a pipeline that would most likely ensure their demise in a horrific fashion. And I find the appeal of personal sacrifice for a heartfelt cause a renewal of faith in humanity.
    I hope the article was intended as a homage to those who make those sacrifices and not to discourage those who might.
    As those who advocate for Horses are uncomfortably aware, there is no panacea at this time but it’s the goal we strive toward. And the 13,000 Horses who are, for the moment, healthy & safe, probably don’t care that we tilt at windmills. They might care that they are healthy & safe because of those who do.


  3. Not a truer word was said when it comes to the prohibitive over breeding of horses and the lack of accountability of the people who conduct these practices. I am talking about the large breeders for racing, other equestrian events and of course the PMU and nurse mare industries.

    Clearly all of this is exploitation of the horses in return for monetary profit. It is indeed sad that this is the fundamental reason for the “unwanted” horse dilemma.

    Even more disturbing is that the very organizations and coalitions (i.e. UHC, AQHA etc.) that claim to provide refuge provisions for these vulnerable innocents are in fact some of the worst offenders in terms of indiscriminate breeding practices and supporters of the worst of fates – slaughter.

    There is no better time than the present to sanction legislation to curtail this harmful and unnecessary ritual.


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