U.S. horse organizations and individual horse owners and breeders are generally mindful of their responsibilities to breed, use and care for their horses, whether involved in racing, showing, or recreation. Nonetheless, tens of thousands of horses end their days unwanted, unneeded, or unusable. These are so-called “unwanted horses.” The Unwanted Horse Coalition (UHC) was established to educate and guide current and future horsemen and women on what it means to “own responsibly.”
No accurate figures document how many unwanted horses actually exist. But, it’s clear that the number of unwanted horses exceeds the resources currently available to accommodate them. The estimated cost of providing basic care for a horse ranges from $1,800 to $2,400 annually. Currently, there are not enough volunteers, funding resources, or placement opportunities for all of the unwanted horses. As a result, tens of thousands of horses that could be classified as unwanted are being sent to processing facilities in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico each year.
By definition, an “unwanted horse” is one that that is no longer wanted by its current owner because it is old, injured, unmanageable, sick, or fails to meet its owner’s needs or expectations. Unwanted horses can be of any age, sex, breed, color, or disposition. Some have non-life-threatening but manageable medical conditions, while others suffer from various ailments that affect their long-term quality of life. Some have behavioral issues and are dangerous to themselves, other horses, and humans, or are feral and unadoptable. Some are normal, perfectly healthy animals without vice or health condition.
The UHC, a broad alliance of equine organizations that have joined together under the American Horse Council, is concerned that some horses may slip through the various safety nets within the equine industry. Too many owners are unaware of, or do not give enough thought to, the available options, services, and assistance available to help them ensure that their horses have caring and humane support throughout their lives. The mission of the Unwanted Horse Coalition is to reduce the number of unwanted horses and to improve their welfare through education and the efforts of organizations committed to the health, safety, and responsible care and disposition of these horses.
The Unwanted Horse Coalition is committed to helping unwanted horses by:
• educating current and future horse owners on responsible ownership, proper care and breeding, and options available before a horse becomes unwanted;
• raising awareness of the issue and its consequences to horses and the horse industry;
• reducing the number of unwanted horses and working toward eliminating the problem;
• ensuring that horses are treated humanely and with dignity;
• facilitating the exchange of information on adoption, care, and alternative careers;
• providing information on end-of-life decisions, including veterinary decisions, euthanasia, and disposal; and
• explaining the issue through presentations at industry gatherings, such as symposiums and horse fairs.
By educating existing and potential owners, breeders, sellers, and horse organizations about the long-term responsibilities of owning and caring for horses, and focusing on opportunities available for these horses, such as retirement, retraining, new careers or uses, donation, and euthanasia, the coalition hopes to help horses before they become unwanted. The UHC hopes to utilize industry resources to put owners of these horses in touch with individuals and facilities that will welcome them.
The UHC grew out of the 2005 American Association of Equine Practitioners’ (AAEP) Unwanted Horse Summit, held in Washington, D.C. Representatives from 25 equine industry groups and numerous individuals gathered to discuss the issue of the unwanted horse and chart a course of action for long-term solutions. A year later, the UHC found a new home under the auspices of the American Horse Council, a Washington, D.C.-based national association that represents all segments of the horse industry. The coalition is financially supported by the donations of member organizations as well as individual contributions.
The coalition’s website, www.unwantedhorsecoalition.org, launched this past spring, has information available on the issue of the unwanted horse along with an ever-expanding resource section dedicated to educational materials and news articles. A brochure highlighting the coalition and its endeavors is available online, to be joined soon by an ownership handbook, “Own Responsibly: Guidance for current and potential horse owners from the Unwanted Horse Coalition.” Hard copies of these resources are available by contacting the American Horse Council at (202) 296-4031.