Abandoned Horses

Along the scenic route to Prineville, Ore., you'll notice a sign: Redmond Tallow Company. As if the words don't say it all, a loitering buzzard evokes pensive consideration of the cycle of life. I've never had more than two thoughts about Redmond Tallow--best not to follow their trucks on an August afternoon, and that's who to call when there's a dead horse. But, no one really appreciates the contributions of buzzards or rendering plants until changing economies drive their operations upwind.

It's always been tough to be a horse in Central Oregon; relentless, savage winds tear across the sage steppe, and shallow topsoil supports only sparse native grasses. The ecosystem is tenacious in its natural state, but the ranchettes and pavement have sprawled and consumed areas of the high desert.

For a time, equilibrium was reached between hay growers and hay burners, when a family could afford a few acres, a few horses, and a few tons of premium orchard grass hay.

That era is passing as finite irrigated parcels are lost to corporate speculators, then to earth-grinding machinery. Some of the instant gated communities will allow horses. Their owners, generally more opulent, will readily pay inflated hay prices. This drives the commodity further into the realm of scarcity for common folk.

Now, there is only a sign at Redmond Tallow Company, and this compounds the plight of horse owners. Rendering is no longer a solution for the horse owners left in a disposal quandary. This has pushed the equine abandonment crisis literally into new territory--the dumping of horses on public lands.

Last fall, a deer hunter reported a horse tied to a pine tree--without a halter and with just a rope around his hollowed neck. No one knows how long the aged gelding stood without food or water, or how excruciating his walk was to the Ranger Station on that broken and arthritic knee. He joined a second abandoned horse to be auctioned by the Forest Service under government property disposal guidelines. In the end, both horses were sold to caring individuals.

In the fall of 2006, two skeletal, dull-coated mares stood on the center line of a main forest road, when the Forest Service again intervened before they suffered death by motor vehicle, mountain lion, or target shooter. A local sanctuary is negotiating bureaucratic constraints to secure their placement while the horses are kept on the public payroll.

These incidents will undoubtedly escalate in frequency with the increasing costs of both maintaining and ending the horse's life.

In anticipation of this, we are organizing a forum of law enforcement and land management agencies, horse sanctuaries, humane organizations, volunteers, veterinarians, and local landfills. We'll attempt to establish seamless response procedures and rescue protocols and build resource networks. We'll try to increase public awareness of laws that prohibit dumping of dead--or abandoned live--animals on public lands. We hope to eliminate any altruistic thoughts of starved, infirmed equines joining the bands of wild horses in our area, or that being "free" to endure Nature and man is a generous alternative.

We might create some sort of "surrender with impunity" program to pre-empt the illegal and inhumane release of unwanted horses under cover of darkness.

In time, perhaps the laws of Nature and economics would, without intervention, bring this situation into balance. It's possible the casual horse breeder will adopt a wild horse or provide a home to one of thousands of horses waiting at rescues. Perhaps dryland farming (cultivating land that receives little rainfall) will evolve with the ongoing demand for livestock forage.

Until then, it is more realistic to hope for a little introspection on the part of all persons whose lives are interwoven with the horse. Each of us can aspire to a higher level of reverence and engage in a contagious pursuit of the horse's dignity in life and in death. This should be sought as earnestly as any trophy, wreath, or livelihood derived from our dear partner, the horse. h

Gayle Hunt is the president and founder of the Central Oregon Wild Horse Coalition. Oregon has 21 herd management areas that are administered by four Bureau of Land Management districts and the U.S. Forest Service; visit www.mustangs4us.com/Adopt%20Section/oregon.htm.

About the Author

Gayle Hunt

Gayle Hunt is the president and founder of the Central Oregon WIld Horse Coalition.

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