Last week I saw the story of a beautiful grey Quarter Horse that was found wandering in Nevada with a very large square patch of it's hide cut away. The person or persons that abandoned the horse, had the forethought to cut the brand off of the horse so that if it was discovered alive, it could not be traced back to its owner(s). Details and the photos are here.
http://www.2news.tv/news/50494407.html The story is disturbing and illustrates the lengths to which many horse owners are going to, to remove their responsibility to their horses. However there is a proper and correct way to give up your horse, this of course certainly was a horrific manner to complete that same task.
Abandonment of a horse is a crime in all 50 states, the fines and penalties vary widely and admittedly these "crimes" are not being prosecuted. Having laws on the books, without enforcement is an empty threat at best. In Indiana in 2008 there was a reported story, that a sheriff department official when called upon to act on the starvation of horses found on a lot, said it could not as the county could not afford to feed them. Rescues, shelters and county facilities across the United States are reporting trailers being pulled up to their doors, with underweight horses being left on their doorsteps. Most owners beg for their horses to be taken in. People generally want to do the right thing and are not negligent, they just can't continue the burden of the cost to feed their horses.
The economy has forced all of us to rethink how we spend our dollars. Foreclosures have been the norm for the past two years, and people are having to downsize to stay afloat. Pets are now seen as luxuries and many owners have had to make the painful decision to leave them behind. In real estate dealings dogs, cats and other beloved pets are being found in foreclosed homes at an alarming rate.
Last year, the Los Angeles County shelter took in 188 abandoned or abused horses -- up 600 percent from the previous year. "There are no hard numbers on this," said Michael Markarian of the Humane Society of the United States. "The states don't seem to be keeping numbers. The economy has been hard on everybody, and animals are no exception." (excerpt from a CNN article dated 3/22/09)
A horse is not so easily left behind, it's not easy to hide a horse in a back bedroom. Leaving the barn door open and hoping the horse can fend for itself in the elements is a myth. Adding to this phenomena is that a domesticated horse is not suited for, nor would be accepted by a wild herd.
"To turn a domesticated horse loose into the wilds and think that he or she will blend right in is a somewhat irresponsible notion," Kerry M Thomas, Equine Ethological Researcher/Behavior Expert and Founder of THT, http://www.thomasherdingtechnique.com/ specializes in Equine Athletic Psychology. "A great number of variables fall into play, and the domesticated horse in a wild horse's world, especially a stallion, would have a difficult time belonging to a bachelor herd, and a very difficult go of taking over a breeding band. The life lead could very likely be more like the injured and abandoned wild horse unable to keep up. Diseases and other infirmities could be a serious issue and deeply damage a healthy band of wild horses and adversely affect the intricate social herd dynamics as well as the localized ecosystems. Then there is the issue of the breeding female infecting the genotype. In reality it isn't as much a matter of can they do it, but the question moves toward should they be allowed to. I say certainly not."
Google "abandoned horse" and you will find story after story of horses being found wandering in the Southern California desert, or showing up as this gray horse did on someone elses property.
So how does a responsible horse owner either try to hold onto their horse during tough times or give up their horse? Contact the local rescues in your area. They will have the ability to assess if they can in fact take in the horse. Most rescues network with each other and can give you other alternatives. The Humane Society is a resource as well. Many shelters are full and funds are not available. It will take work on the owners part to find a home. Consider donating your horse to a charity, so that the charity can sell the horse and proceeds from the sale benefit the organization and can also in some cases provide a tax write off for the owner. (Read my post http://thesecondrace.blogspot.com/2009/07/donating-your-horse-to-charity-featured.html). Bartering has become popular with other services and could be conducted similarly between parties so that horse owners could keep their horses in hay, vaccinations and shoes. Allowing a dentistry clinic utilizing an owners horses, could help out students obtain their education and reduce the costs of having a horses teeth floated, thereby using funds to feed instead. Other alternatives are humane euthanasia and there have been recent clinics sponsored by NorCal Rescue among others at a reduced cost to assist owners. These decisions are difficult and ultimately up the the owner of the horse to make.
Posting a horse for "free" brings about a cautionary tale. Often times the person that answers that ad does not have the best interest of the horse in mind and are "fronts" for kill buyers. When possible in offering a free horse, do the homework to ensure that in fact the horse will have a good home. Visit where the horse will be living, meet the care givers, what is their experience, what will the horse be doing. Example a horse that is in someones' backyard as a pasture ornament might not be suited for trail riding, or jumping. Your horse if not suited to the expected 'new life' may find itself right back in harms way.
No one can plan for every facet of life and what will come it's way. Having a realistic plan in the eventuality that you may have to give up your beloved equine friend should be considered well in advance, not at a time when emotions are running high and hope is ebbing.
Let's hope we see less stories in the future of abandoned horses and we wish well the recovery of this beautiful Grey that sparked this posting.