Conscientious Ownership

In recent months, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and The Denver Post have reported on the apparent increase in the number of unwanted, neglected, or abandoned equines across the country. Additionally, other print, electronic, and television media outlets have reported that state agencies and rescue organizations are being flooded by requests for help from owners who find themselves unable to care for their horses.

Owners point to a variety of reasons, including overbreeding, the national economic downturn, the spike in hay prices, the drought that has affected many parts of the nation, increasing costs of euthanasia and carcass disposal, and the closing of the three U.S. processing facilities.

These articles describe horses being turned loose and left to fend for themselves or abandoned on farms without food, water, or shelter. Some mention horses standing knee-deep in manure, unable to escape their stalls.

It's also been pointed out that rescue facilities, some already at capacity, may soon have to begin turning away needy animals.

For some time now the Unwanted Horse Coalition (UHC), based in Washington, D.C., has worked diligently to "spread the word" on the key components of owner education. The mission of the UHC is to reduce the number of unwanted horses and to improve their welfare through education and the efforts of organizations committed to the health, safety, and responsible care and disposition of these horses

The UHC has more than doubled in membership over the last year, from 11 member organizations to 23. It continues to grow and receive new support, not only in membership, but also in funding and broader recognition within the industry.

Still, more can and will be done to ensure the horse industry recognizes the importance of the coalition and its message of "Own Responsibly." The UHC has prepared, made available, and distributed a number of useful educational materials that can be found on the coalition's Web site or obtained by contacting the UHC.

The UHC Web site ( is the online source for information on the issue of the unwanted horse, owner educational resources, news, contact and membership information, material on responsible ownership, relevant links, and downloadable UHC educational materials. The Web site also has an online directory of facilities that accept horses, where those who offer services to unwanted horses may list their information. The more than 125 facilities listed include rescue and retirement facilities, therapeutic riding centers, mounted police units, and private individuals able to lend a hand.

UHC Brochure The Problem of the Unwanted Horse explains the issue, the coalition, and its activities.

UHC Handbook Own Responsibly: Guidance for current and potential horse owners from the Unwanted Horse Coalition includes chapters on the responsibilities of horse ownership, options for owners unable to care for their horses, programs that extend the useful lives of horses, questions to ask when trying to place your horse, euthanasia and carcass disposal, and the tax ramifications of contributing horses to a charitable organization.

Public Service Announcements (PSA) One 10-second PSA and a 30-second PSA are available on the UHC Web site or by contacting the UHC.

Window Decals and Lapel Pins These are available for industry events.

These materials are valuable resources for current and future horse owners as well as the industry as a whole. If current and future horse owners learn to own responsibly, we should see fewer unwanted horses ... and fewer headlines about the issue.

About the Author

Tom Lenz, DVM, Dipl. ACT

Tom Lenz, DVM, Dipl. ACT, is chairman of the Unwanted Horse Coalition, an organization dedicated to reducing the number of unwanted horses and to improving their welfare through education and the efforts of organizations committed to the health, safety, and responsible care and disposition of these horses. Lenz was the 49th president of the American Association of Equine Practitioners, and he has served on the American Horse Council's Animal Welfare Committee and the Research Committee of the American Quarter Horse Association.

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