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AHC and USDA Host All-Day Forum on Unwanted Horses

The issue of unwanted horses was the center of attention on June 18, 2008 as the American Horse Council and the United States Department of Agriculture sponsored a day-long forum on “The Unwanted Horse Issue: What Now?”

AHC President Jay Hickey framed the purpose of the forum, stating that it was to “collectively identify the current situation regarding the well-being of these horses and to discuss solutions and alternatives to deal with them before they slip into the ‘unwanted’ category.”

The forum brought together speakers from Congress, USDA, equine industry groups, welfare groups, equine rescue centers and more. There were discussions on historical and ethical perspectives of the issue, what is fact and fiction, the Federal role in creating viable solutions, transportation issues and potential solutions and options for unwanted horses.

Various Perspectives

Dr. Nat Messer from the University of Missouri and the American Veterinary Medical Association brought a historical perspective to the forum, reviewing current equine- related legislation and asking what the consequences have been and whether they were successful in protecting horses. He also introduced basic questions that would be discussed throughout the day, such as what is an “unwanted horse” and what makes it “unwanted.”

Switching gears, an ethical perspective was presented by Dr. Camie Heleski from Michigan State University. She discussed the social contract theory and whether it is ethical for one person to impart their values onto others.

Unwanted Horse Issues

A panel titled “Unwanted Horse Issues” consisted of four speakers: Mr. David Meeker from the National Renderer’s Association, Ms. Holly Hazard from the Humane Society of the United States, Dr. Tom Lenz from the Unwanted Horse Coalition and American Association of Equine Practitioners, and Ms. Karin Bump from Cazenovia College.

Mr. Meeker discussed the various carcass disposal options, from rendering to composting, burial, landfills, incineration, and alkaline digestion. Each of the various choices has certain limitations, he noted, such as regulated use in certain states, potential environmental impacts, or high costs. A general survey done by the association found that there are about 25 rendering plants that take horses and the current charges range from $40 to $250, depending on distance, market, and value.

The next three speakers discussed the topic of “Unwanted Horses: Fact or Fiction?” Ms. Hazard pointed out the HSUS position against slaughter, stating that the organization considers it an inhumane solution. She suggested that the general mindset in the horse community is to “trade, not train” and called for more education throughout the industry on caring for horses, the responsibilities of owning and breeding, alternatives, training, etc.

Dr. Tom Lenz introduced the Unwanted Horse Coalition’s definition of unwanted horses, which reads “Horses which are no longer wanted by their current owner because they are old, injured, sick, unmanageable, or fail to meet their owner’s expectations.” He discussed the statistics and demographics of unwanted horses, which for the most part correlate with the demographics of the general equine population.

Dr. Lenz explained the Unwanted Horse Coalition was formed to educate the equine industry and public about the issue and how to “own responsibly.” “We need to focus our efforts on the front end of the problem rather than the rear end of the problem,” he said. “We need to provide for these horses before they become ‘unwanted’.” Dr. Lenz closed his talk by focusing on the need to minimize the problem, offering the options “buy rather then breed, adopt rather than buy, find alternative careers, euthanize rather than discard.”

The final speaker was Ms. Karin Bump, who spoke about what is fact and fiction, and how the answer may not be that clear cut, concluding that in this area there may be a lot of “faction.” She asked whether unwanted horses are actually unwanted, how many unwanted horses there are, whether all the unwanted horses can be absorbed into the industry through rescues and other facilities, how much it costs to care for the unwanted horse population and finally, whether things were getting better or worse for unwanted horses.


Transportation issues were discussed by Dr. Timothy Cordes of USDA. Dr. Cordes described the Slaughter Horse Transport Program and the regulations in place to protect the welfare of horses while in transit to processing plants. He mentioned how some are now getting around the regulations when bringing horses to slaughter in Mexico and Canada by classifying them as “riders,” which need a Coggins or EIA test.

Ms. Jennifer Woods from Alberta, Canada spoke of the importance of horses being fit to travel, and the problems that lie with the transportation of horses to slaughter. She also reviewed the Alberta Horse Welfare Report which presents facts on the humane treatment of slaughter horses in Canada, and identifies areas that need improvement.

Both Dr. Cordes and Ms. Woods noted that USDA has been working with Canadian authorities to monitor the environment and traveling conditions of U.S. horses sent to processing plants in Canada. Ms. Woods pointed out that Canada has banned the transport of horses into Canada on double-decker trucks.

Potential Solutions and Options

The final portion of the forum focused on potential solutions and options for unwanted horses. Lynn Cross, owner of Little Brook Farm, described her facility, a rescue and sanctuary that rehabilitates and trains horses. Most horses at the facility, once in better health and trained, are used in educational programs with schools and various groups. The uses vary from teaching general horsemanship and ground handling, to riding programs, vaulting, lessons and shows, and therapeutic riding.

Mr. Tom Persechino from the American Quarter Horse Association and member of the Unwanted Horse Coalition discussed the various options available to owners with an unwanted horse. These options include rescue and retirement facilities, friends with land that may retire a horse to pasture, colleges and universities that take horses for their education and research programs, retraining and new careers, and the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association.

Dr. Al Kane closed the presentations by reiterating the need for more information and data on unwanted horses and rescue and retirement facilities.

Moving Forward

There were great discussions and points made throughout the day on what the unwanted horse issue is, and what can be done to better the situation for these horses. It was clear that all speakers and attendees agreed that there is a critical need for more substantive information and solutions.

Proceedings from the forum will be available shortly through Mr. Richard Reynells of USDA. He can be contacted by email at rreynells@csrees.usda.gov.


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