Unwanted horses: A growing problem

As drought and legislation change the equine industry, horse owners across the country are faced with the problem of owning horses they are unable to feed. The growing problem has experts in the ArkLaTex worried about the future of those animals and the economy surrounding them.

It was in January of 2012 that a grim spotlight shined on the ArkLaTex and on the problem of horse neglect. That's when 79 horses were found starving, dying or dead on a Sabine Parish ranch. The law and public opinion came down on the owner, who claimed he was in over his head and couldn't afford to keep the horses.

But the what happened on that Many, Louisiana farm is not an isolated incident. Similar cases on a smaller scale are reported to be happening across the country. Marshall, Texas veterinarian, Bud Boyd, told KSLA News 12 the problems are not because the needs of horses are changing, but rather the market for them.

"Since they closed the slaughter plants about eight… years ago, this problem is just getting worse and worse and worse. There's no place for the animals to be marketed," Boyd said.

In 2007, Congress passed a law shutting down the remaining slaughterhouses in the country. Boyd served as the veterinarian over two slaughterhouses in the Dallas area.

While he admitted that more regulation was needed, Boyd said they served an important purpose for unruly or unusable horses. Working in east Texas, Boyd has seen the effects of the 2011 drought. Many farmers and ranchers blamed the drought for the shortage and high prices of hay, an essential part of a horse's diet when there is a lack of healthy grass.

"It's a combination of things. I know it's not all because of the slaughter plants. People just all of a sudden had cows or had cattle, and they just can't work it out," Boyd said.

In 2005, the Unwanted Horse Coalition estimated the cost of caring for a horse for a year to be around $1,800. In this 2009 report, the group increased that number by $500. Senator Mary Landrieu said if an owner can't afford to keep a horse, they need to have it humanely put down.

"Anyone who owns a horse knows that it's extremely expensive to care for these animals, so if you're going to take the responsibility to keep them, breed them, or raise them, you're going to have to take responsibility to put them down humanely," Landrieu said.

Landrieu recently published a bill looking to ban the transport of horses for slaughter across the border. Moving horses to Mexico increased after the 2007 US ban on slaughterhouses, but she said the ban is not to blame for the current state of the equine industry.

"It's not really the closing of slaughterhouses that have led to the horses being abandoned but it really is the economic downturn that's lead to the increasing number," said Landrieu.

In the bill, Landrieu reported it costs about $200 to put a horse down, but in 2008, the USDA estimated that it cost that much alone to bury a horse, without the cost of the humane euthanasia.

"Horses are not livestock. Horses are not raised like cattle and sheep and pigs. I mean those are raised for slaughter. Horses are raised for companionship," argued Landrieu.

Boyd says he appreciates the beauty and majesty of the animal, and that's why he'd rather see them put down in a slaughterhouse than wasting away in a field.

The Government Accountability Office published a report studying the horse slaughter industry. In it, the GAO recommends either a complete ban on all horse slaughter trade or lifting the ban to allow horse slaughter in the United States.

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