Leaner Pastures: As Horses Multiply, Neglect Cases Rise *article and video*

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  1. 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 Factor
    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.
  2. Unfortunately those who are against slaughter didn't stop and think about what would the effects would be.

    The truth of the matter is not all of those slaughter bound horses can be saved and by closing these slaughter houses down they are now just left in fields to rot and die. It's the sad truth.

    I have had horses since the age of 4 and love my three. I hate thinking that many horses were sent to slaughter. But what I hate even more is thinking about how many horses are now suffering because these slaughter houses were closed.

    Ok, off my soapbox now.
  3. It is just such a horrible situation.

    I feel that the responsibility for the health and well-being lies in the hands of those who chose to bred them -- race horse stables, etc.

    It is time that people realize that animals are not 'by products' that could be neglected and starved.
  4. This definitely is a horrible situation. The sad part about is that these horses are left in pastures to die b/c some people do not have the time to take care of them, have money to feed them, pay their Vet and farrier bills, etc. Another sad thing about it is that there aren't enough rescues around b/c it takes a lot of money to care for these sick horses. There are just too many horses.
  5. I`m still glad they got the slaughterhouses closed they are awful places and well done to all involved in getting them shut.
    Its down to the Cr** owners why horses are left to suffer and its the owners who need putting down !!!!
  6. This is just one of hundreds of stories that are all like this with horses. The absolute WORST is the PMU foals.

    *steps on soapbox*
    PMU or Pregnant Mare Urine is used to manufacture the drug Premarin, a well know pharmaceutical used to ease the symptoms of menopause. While deemed a miracle drug by some, most users of this drug have NO IDEA where it came from. Mares are bred, impregnated, and then hooked up into tiny dirty cramped little stalls with a catheter in them. The mares are left with a catheter inside of them for MONTHS while they are pregnant, unable to lie down or move around at all. This urine is taken by the company/PMU farm and distributed the the Premarin manufacturer where it is used in the pills.

    When the mare finally gives birth to the baby, the baby has no purpose in life and they are usually killed at the farm in inhumane ways or they are sent to slaughter because they are of no use to the farm.

    The same mares are impregnated over and over again for this vicious cycle. I really could go on and on for hours because things like this are so disturbing to me. Thank goodness people have been made slowly aware of the PMU foals and there are now rescue organizations promoting the adoption of these babies. Just google PMU foals or Pregnant Mare Urine and you will be SHOCKED at some of the photos and stories on there.

    *steps off soapbox*

    On a happy note, the love of my life (other than BF:p), my 18 month old Thoroughbred colt Amadeus was a rescue that I took on and he seems to just KNOW I saved him. He is my baby and just knows he would have had a life of misery in store for him either at the track or destined for slaughter. I know, stop with the before and after pics....But I am so proud of my work and how far my baby has come along in just a couple of months!
    DSC00006.jpg DSC00005.jpg
  7. i couldn't possibly disagree more -- the way mass horse slaughter is carried out is unconscionably cruel and inhumane. first, horses are injured and terrified in the feedlots where they are collected for transport -- horses battle to establish a herd hierarchy, which is something no other slaughter species does and makes horse slaughter very different ethically from, say, cattle slaughter. and then these fight or flight animals, with a keen sense of fear, are loaded onto crowded transports (usually designed for some other species) and hauled DAYS with no food, water or rest. then they're unloaded at a place that terrifies them, and put through the factory slaughter process on machines that were designed for cattle -- which due to the horse's flexible neck may require multiple blows to be lethal. there is NO way to justify this.

    and why was this done? to eek a coulple hundred dollars of blood money out of the animal and/or to avoid the cost of euthanasia and disposal.

    in my mind it is simple -- no one should own a horse if they are unable or unwilling to pay for a humane death and disposal of the equine when they no longer want the responsibility of keeping it. the most glaring example are the low end race horses -- many of the owners are gamblers rather than horse lovers, and the horse is merely the means of the activity. if they can't be bothered to find a new home for a horse they no longer need, they at the very least owe it euthanasia -- which would be SAD, but not cruel. the owners will squawk that it's too much of a burden -- but that's BS. if they can't afford that, then they can't afford to own a horse. period.

    ending the awful cruelty of horse slaughter was the first step -- but we now need to continue the march to give america's horses what they deserve. if you think about it, the modern industrial age was built on the backs of horses -- and it's time to pay them back.
  8. ^^^^

    DressageQueen -- BEST post I have read ALL day!!!!!!!!!!!

    Kristie -- ITA...the situation with PMU mares and foals disgusts me :sad:
  9. Whoo hooo! Go DQ! ITA with you.
  10. kristie,

    I thought of you when I read this article in the WSJ. I am so happy you saw it. But even more happy for the love of you life: Amadeus!

  11. I only have one thing to say:

    To mistreat an animal as noble and trusting as a horse is disgusting and sinful. The world as we know it today was invented, fought over, and delivered on the backs of horses. No other animal in the history of this planet has given us what the horse has given us and to treat it with such utter disregard makes me sick.
  12. Pooooooorrrrr Baaaaaby, that is his icky "before" picture where he truly looks like a bad rescue case. I went out and gave him hugs for hours today! He is such a gorgeous healthy boy now, if only all horses could be rescued :crybaby:
  13. Ok, I had to post the better pic now!
  14. I love ya Maxter :flowers: I will give baby boy a carrot from you today:p I need to get more pictures of my little man because he is REALLY starting to look like a horse and not just an adolescent anymore......:crybaby:my little boy is growing up so fast!