Drought Takes Toll on Horses

Drought, in varying degrees of severity, still grips nearly 50% of the United States. Also afflicted are parts of Alberta and Saskatchewan in Canada (see “Alberta Drought” below). The two areas of the United States most seriously affected by the drought are the East Coast from Maine to Georgia and an area of the West that stretches from Montana to Texas.

The drought has had a broad impact on domestic and wild horse populations of the West, including wildfires that have consumed more than one million acres, some of it grazing range for wild horses. Many fires are still burning, sending a gray pall of smoke over several western states.

Water holes and springs on wild horse ranges are drying up, and the horses are forced to travel great distances to find new grazing areas. Some of them are seeking forage along highways, and that has resulted in vehicle/equine accidents.

“Shorter water supplies due to the drought are changing wild horse grazing patterns,” says Kevin Lloyd, wild horse management specialist for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) field office in Rock Springs, Wyo. “Many of these wild horses are already confused by being in new areas and are under considerable stress from the heat.”

There are approximately 42,000 wild horses and about 5,000 burros roaming the western states of Montana, Oregon, Nevada, California, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, and Colorado. Nevada, heavily hit by the ongoing drought, is home to more than half of the wild horse population—some 25,000-plus head.

In an effort to alleviate the drought-stimulated crisis, the BLM is conducting emergency roundups, especially in Nevada. Once horses are rounded up, the BLM seeks to find new homes for the animals through its adoption program.
On the domestic front, a number of owners are opting to sell their horses rather than pay $100 per ton for hay in drought-stricken areas. This, along with other factors, has resulted in a glut of horses being offered for slaughter.

“I haven’t shipped a load (to slaughter) since May,” says buyer Charlie Needham of Riverton, Wyo. “I either turn down people who want to sell them to me or else tell them they’ll have to take about 10 cents a pound. That’s all I can afford to pay if I have to feed them until there is a demand.”

Unfortunately, the long-range weather forecast in the drought areas calls for less than normal precipitation in the months ahead.

About the Author

Les Sellnow

Les Sellnow is a free-lance writer based near Riverton, Wyo. He specializes in articles on equine research, and operates a ranch where he raises horses and livestock. He has authored several fiction and non-fiction books, including Understanding Equine Lameness and Understanding The Young Horse, published by Eclipse Press and available at www.exclusivelyequine.com or by calling 800/582-5604.

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