Monday, December 20, 2010

Study develops hard data on reasons for increasing problem of unwanted horses

A new study published in the Journal of Animal Science takes a close look at the problem of unwanted horses and the nonprofit equine rescue groups and sanctuaries that care for them. Using a database of registered equine-rescue organizations, researchers K. E. Holcomb, C. L. Stull and P. H. Kass collected responses to a survey by 144 of 326 eligible groups in 37 states. Some of their findings:
  • 84 percent of respondents reported an increase in the number of requests received by rescue groups to accept horses since January 2008.
  • Most horses at the facilities (61 percent of 279) were voluntarily relinquished or donated. Horses seized by law enforcement agencies and impounded at the facility accounted for 15 percent.
  • Owner-related issues were more likely to contribute to the relinquishment of a horse to a nonprofit organization than horse-related characteristics or unknown factors.
  • The most oft-cited reasons for giving up a horse were financial hardship and the physical condition of the owner to care for the horse, including the death of the owner (in five cases). Within the horse-related factors, health problems accounted for almost half, followed by horses that were unsuited for the purpose of the owner, then those relinquished for behavioral issues.
  • At the time of the survey, 69 percent of horses still resided at the facility of the organization, while 26 percent had been placed in new homes, and 5 percent had been euthanized.
  • Just over half of the horses in the survey were considered unhealthy, which strengthened anecdotal claims that horses become unwanted in many cases due to medical problems. However, 47 percent of the horses were reported to be healthy, supporting statements by the nonprofit organizations that many unwanted horses are healthy or can be rehabilitated and are simply in need of good homes.
The practice of rescuing horses goes back to Henry Bergh, founder of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in 1866, who established farms where old horses could be retired. The survey found that nonprofit equine rescue and sanctuary facilities in the U.S. appeared to be struggling with insufficient resources to meet increasing demand for accepting, caring, and providing sanctuary or finding new homes for unwanted horses. Most owners who gave up their horses were financially or physically unable to continue caring for them. The nonprofit organizations invested money and time rehabilitating horses to health, and provided training to increase their marketability to potential adopters. But for every four horses that entered a nonprofit facility, only three were adopted or sold. The researchers concluded that without additional resources, the nonprofit equine organizations cannot predictably expand to provide quality care and rehabilitation for more than 13,700 horses, only a fraction of the estimated 100,000 unwanted horses in the United States. (Read more)

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