Castration Clinics Address Unwanted Horse Issues

When Alison LaCarrubba, DVM, Dipl. ABVP, head of the College of Veterinary Medicine's equine ambulatory section, learned the Unwanted Horse Coalition (UHC) would lend financial support to establish a castration clinic at the university, she recognized the program as a way to deliver a valuable veterinary service to cash-strapped horse owners at no cost and to help reduce the number of horses whose owners are unable or unwilling to care for them.

According to the UHC, tens of thousands of horses in the U.S. become unwanted or unable to be cared for by their owners annually. Many come under the care of equine rescue agencies after economically hard-pressed owners relinquish them, or after law enforcement authorities seize the animals in connection with criminal animal cruelty cases. But a University of California, Davis, study recently revealed that thanks to limited economic and other resources, rescues can only accommodate a fraction of the animals in need of new homes.

The UHC established Operation Gelding to provide funds and materials to assist organizations, associations, and event organizers that wish to sponsor clinics to which horse owners can bring their stallions to be castrated in August. The goal of the program is to reduce the number of unwanted foals that might eventually arrive at rescues. The program pays veterinary practitioners, rescues, and other organizations $50 for each horse gelded during the low- or no-cost clinics they sponsor. So far 11 individuals and organizations including LaCarrubba, have applied to receive the funds.

"We're seeing more and more horses that are not getting enough to eat, and we have been looking for solutions to the problem," said LaCarrubba. "This is a win/win situation for horse owners and the horses."

Equine welfare advocates' interest in castration to curb the unwanted horse population surfaced last year when some rescues and other institutions established clinics for area horse owners. In April 2009, a cooperative involving the Minnesota Horse Council, Mineesota Association of Equine Practitioners, and rescues and humane societies in Minnesota established the Gelding Project to provide no-cost castration clinics to horse owners in that state. Since then, 40 stallions have been castrated through the program, said Krishona Martinson, PhD, equine extension specialist for the University of Minnesota Extension Service.

"At $250, which is the usual cost for each surgery, we saved horse owners $10,000," Martinson said. "We've also eliminated 1,000 possible foals that could someday have been taken to rescues."

During the University of Missouri-Columbia's clinic on Oct. 10, 11 stallions received castration surgeries. Owners saved $150-$200 per horse in veterinary costs, LaCarrubba said. She hopes a clinic planned for later this year generates even more interest.

The clinics are effective in reaching horse owners who are aware of equine care costs and responsibilities, LaCarrubba said. She believes educating prospective owners about care responsibilities before they acquire their animals is also key to keeping horses out of overburdened rescues.

About the Author

Pat Raia

Pat Raia is a veteran journalist who enjoys covering equine welfare, industry, and news. In her spare time, she enjoys riding her Tennessee Walking Horse, Sonny.

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