by Linda Benson
I've been reading the horse classified ads since I was a small girl dreaming of my own horse. It's a long-instilled habit many decades old, and although I'm not currently in the market for a horse, I still read them daily, although mostly in online format now. I will probably still know the price of horses, and dream about which ones I'd like to own and ride, when I'm in a nursing home someday. Hey - it's in my blood.
But never in my entire life have I been so appalled at the amount of nice-looking horses that people are having trouble finding homes for, even at the price of "free." It's scary and disheartening.
We can talk long and hard about the slaughter issue. I, like many of you, believe that slaughtering horses for meat, at least in the way it is done right now, is wrong. But we all know (or we ought to be aware of) that hundreds of thousands of horses pass through auction houses each year, and are loaded onto trucks and shipped to Canada or Mexico to meet that fate. At this very moment, there are no slaughter plants open in the U.S., although there are people on both sides of the conflict looking to either open them, or close them down in a more permanent fashion.
But what can we, as the horse-loving folks that read this blog, actually do about what I see as the over-abundance of horses available right now? Can we just put our heads together for a minute?
Where I live, in the Pacific Northwest, there are lots of gorgeous green pastures and many horses standing out to pasture. Very few of them, I believe, are actually ridden very often. Horses are, of course, quite beautiful to look at and be around, and many people keep them just for that reason. Until something changes in their lives and they can no longer afford to feed them or have no place for them. Then, that lovely horse is in trouble, unless it's been ridden lately and is gentle and well-trained. And so many of them aren't!
The horses that I see in online classified ads that are having trouble selling are the ones that:
a) are not trained at all
b) are trained, but have not been ridden in awhile so it's hard to diagnose how well they behave
c) are young stock, often registered, that are kept until they are 2-4 years old, at which time the owners have a lot of money in them, but no saddle training
d) are TBs off the track, or Arabians, or something else a little hot-blooded that needs a good rider and a sensitive hand
e) are old horses age 20+ who are past their prime
f) are stud colts that have not been gelded.
And from my point of view, I see a lack of trainers, owners, horse-traders,or qualified horse-people with the time or money to continue on with these horses and make them ready for the average novice horse owner. And so they sit, and the price comes down and down, until they are offered for free or perhaps hauled to an auction and an unknown fate.
So if this is the problem, then what is the solution? I've seen a couple of things happening to address these problems and I applaud them.
One is low-cost gelding clinics. I've heard of these in several different states, where veterinarians and other volunteers hold a clinic to provide gelding (of some of those stud colts) at a very reasonable price. Still, this means that the owner must haul the horse to the clinic, which means they have to have a trailer and the horse has to load. But it's a great idea!
I've also heard of low-cost or free euthanasia clinics. There is a horse rescue in Northern California called Horse Plus Humane Society, and I believe they will take any horse that is surrendered to them and try to find it a home, or put it down if it is suffering. This is a wonderful option for owners who have come to end of their ropes and don't want to have their horse go for slaughter.
What about over-breeding? Are there too many horses being bred today, for the jobs required of them? I was actually horrified recently when I noticed an ad from a horse rescue, which had a 16-year old registered AQHA mare available they had saved from starvation, and they were advertising her as a prospective broodmare. Really?? Isn't that just contributing to the problem? Just because something has "papers" doesn't mean it should be bred. I happen to love Quarter Horses and Paints, but I see way too many of them floating around, unbroke and unrideable, but people keep them and assume they are worth a lot because they are valuable "breeding stock."
I saw a column recently discussing this overabundance of horses where it was proposed that horse owners have a license to breed, and only so many horses could be produced. This seems rather harsh, but how else can we keep people from breeding too many horses when there are not enough homes for them?
Another positive solution, which I touched on in my recent post called Mentoring, is to help develop a love for horses in the younger generation. Pass down your skills. Help that young (or older) horse lover learn to ride. This is one way we can provide homes for what I see as an overabundance of horses right now.
Who else has any good, positive ideas to address this problem? I know we can rail away all day long at what we think is the problem (racehorse overload, backyard breeders) but in my mind, the surplus of horses today (and what is happening to them) is akin to that of the fate of war horses after World Wars l and ll, as well the work horses on our farms after tractors became readily available in the 1940's. It's a crying shame. But we, as horse lovers, need to be concerned, to talk about it, and to take action.
Do you really need to breed your gorgeous mare? (Will the resulting foal be assured of a caring home for 25+ years?) Do you really need to breed your registered stud colt, even though he has (insert famous horse here) in his bloodlines?
What positive things have you heard of, or been a part of, in your community to help solve the issue of Too Many Horses? Let's put our heads together. Let us know!