I don't post to the Animalicious subforum too often but I lurk here quite a bit. I know there are many horse owners on tPF and thought you might find this of interest. Leaner Pastures: As Horses Multiply, Neglect Cases Rise Boomers Bought Them, But Can't Afford Upkeep; The Slaughterhouse FactorBy PAULO PRADA January 7, 2008; Page A1 Morgan Silver weighing Princess, a horse that she recently took in. 3 minute video MICONAPY, Fla. -- The Arabian horses grazing outside Holly Perea's window were once worth tens of thousands of dollars. Then the horse market crashed, and before long those 19 horses came to the attention of Morgan Silver, founder of a Florida equine-rescue association. Driving last May to the edge of Ms. Perea's property, Ms. Silver used a telescopic lens to photograph the horses. The photos showed sunken hides and visible ribs, prompting sheriff's deputies to confiscate the animals and charge Ms. Perea with misdemeanor cruelty to animals. "They were in awful condition," says Ms. Silver, the 48-year-old founder of the Horse Protection Association of Florida. But she has seen worse. "You've got all these owners out there who thought it would be easy to keep a horse, and their incomes aren't keeping up with even their own cost of living." Ms. Perea concedes her horses were "thin." She says she became ill, then involved in her mother's battle against cancer, leaving her with little time or money to care for the herd. Efforts to sell the horses failed "because the market just bottomed out," she says, adding that the deputies "came at a really bad time." Across the U.S., the number of horses whose owners won't or can't properly care for them is mushrooming. Spurred by retiring baby boomers and their penchant for second homes in the country, horse ownership boomed in the U.S. over the past decade. Americans own more than nine million horses today, up from just over six million horses in the mid-1990s, according to the American Horse Council, a trade association. Along with the boom came backyard breeding, as owners without the discipline or financial muscle to obtain award-winning genes settled for whatever nature produced. More than two million Americans own horses, and more than a third of those owners have a household income of less than $50,000. As the horse population soared -- and the economy ceased to gallop -- selling the animals became more difficult. Some owners could no longer afford their investment. "People are stuck with horses that don't meet certain breed or buyer requirements and it is getting more and more expensive to care for them," says Tom Lenz, a Kansas veterinarian who is chairman of the Unwanted Horse Coalition, a recently formed organization, overseen by the American Horse Council, which estimates over 100,000 such animals exist. The price of hay, the main source of horse nutrition, has more than doubled over the past year because of drought and record-high costs of fuel needed to grow and haul the crop. Though horses naturally graze on grass, they need hay and other feeds, especially in winter when the growth of pasture grass slows or stops. A 50-pound square bale of horse hay, a two-day supply for the average horse, costs more than $6 in most states, up from as little as $2.50 in 2005. Even a small horse farm must buy hundreds of bales each winter. Until recently, a little-advertised market for unwanted horses existed at equine slaughterhouses, which in 2004 killed an estimated 65,000 horses, largely for human consumption in Europe and Japan. But the last three such plants closed in 2007, under pressure from animal-rights groups. "Animal lovers with big hearts and no idea what's required to take care of a horse have shut down slaughterhouses that were needed," says C.J. Hadley, publisher of a cowboy magazine called Range, based in Carson City, Nev. Calling horse lovers who oppose slaughterhouses "innocent," Ms. Hadley says, "Ranchers love their horses enough to put them down when the time comes." Now, some unwanted American horses wind up at Mexican and Canadian slaughterhouses. But others linger and starve, often ending up at rescue homes and other charities. "It's scary," says Jennifer Hack, the executive director of the U.S. Equine Rescue League, an Indiana-based organization that shelters horses in five states and is struggling to accommodate them all. The group took in 186 horses in 2007, up from 56 in 2006. Some owners aren't bothering to look for new homes. Laurie Waggoner, executive director of the South Florida Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, says the group recently rescued five horses that had been abandoned on the eastern edge of the Everglades swamps. The state of Georgia last February seized 99 starving horses from a farm and sentenced the owner, who pleaded guilty to animal cruelty, to five years in prison. Ms. Silver, the camera-wielding horse protector in north central Florida, works in what should be green pastures. The land around north central Florida's Marion County, where abundant aquifers and limestone bedrock enable grasses to flourish, became a hub for horse husbandry in the 1960s and is now home to about 50,000 horses. Equine paintings hang in the hotel lobbies of Ocala, the county seat, and garden shops sell lawn sculptures of animals grazing, bucking, and bounding. A horse farm at a state prison gives inmates and retired thoroughbreds a "second chance" to learn other skills. It also became a hotbed of amateur breeding. Now the 149-acre ranch that Ms. Silver's association operates here, nestled amid live oaks draped with Spanish moss, is burdened with more neglected and abandoned horses than its staff of nine employees is equipped to handle. Ms. Silver, a sturdy woman with a weathered face and close-cropped ash-bond hair, moved to the area in 2001, when a wealthy businesswoman, who helps finance the association, paid $600,000 to buy the farmland the group uses. A Miami native, Ms. Silver grew up riding horses and as a 13-year-old convinced her father, a life insurance salesman, to buy her a sickly horse so she could nurse it back to health. She started the association in 1990 as a sideline to her work as a horse trainer and put the animals she rescued in the backyards and pastures of friends and other horse lovers. Eking by on a salary of $16,000 per year, she relies on donors to finance the association's annual budget of about $250,000. In addition to money for medicines, veterinary care, and feed -- hay alone costs over $6,000 a month for the 57 animals currently on the farm -- she pays employees hourly wages of about $8.50. Ten volunteers help in chores ranging from shoveling manure to putting together a newsletter. Because Marion County employs only two investigators to manage animal-cruelty cases, Ms. Morgan often gets the call if a case involves equines. "She knows way more about horses than I do," says Evelyn Tiencken, one of the two investigators. Ms. Silver became involved with Ms. Perea's 19 Arabians last May after the horses' owner placed an ad for a roommate who could also help care for the horses. After answering the ad, one would-be boarder called Ms. Silver and reported feeling troubled by the horses' condition. Ms. Silver drove to neighboring Alachua County, photographed the horses and filed a report with the sheriff. Ms. Perea, unemployed since a back injury in 2005, says she lives on the proceeds of a court settlement after her accident and what she could make breeding and selling horses. To settle the animal-cruelty charges, Ms. Perea agreed to pay a $4,000 fine and submit to future inspections in exchange for getting her horses back from county custody. Since winning back her horses, Ms. Perea has given away 11 of them. She criticizes Ms. Silver for "talking smack" and calls her "the woman who's been harassing me." Ms. Perea says the government should make it easier for troubled owners to find pastures, get tax breaks, and help set up a cooperative so small-time horse owners can buy feed and other supplies in bulk. Ms. Silver scoffs at the idea that amateur breeders like Ms. Perea should get government help. "A horse is a luxury item," she says, bristling. "You have no business owning them if you can't pay for them. Are we going to give tax breaks to yacht owners, too?" Some rescues are wrenching. One recent Tuesday afternoon, Ms. Silver drove across Marion County to pick up Princess, a gray thoroughbred that a truck driver and his wife could no longer keep because the animal, plagued with diarrhea, wouldn't gain weight. Outside their mobile home, as two young nieces and a barefoot neighborhood boy stood crying nearby, she explained to the couple why Princess was sick. Probably raised as an athletic racehorse, the thoroughbred could not subsist on the low-calorie diet of hay and capsules they had been feeding it. Scott Corson, the husband, nodded, reached through the side of the trailer, and patted Princess on the withers. "You have a good life now, mama," he said, as Ms. Silver climbed into her pickup.