Equine Welfare Organizations

From the Mustang protection issue to slaughter bills, equine welfare concerns are getting plenty of attention in the mainstream media. Behind these issues are equine welfare organizations working hard to make a change in horses' lives. Some of the organizations are well known, while others are more obscure. All, no matter how large or small, tackle issues that are huge and complex. The Horse checked in with a few of the charities to see what they are about and what issues they are working on.

Editor's Note: Inclusion in this article does not imply endorsement by the author or The Horse; exclusion does not imply negative concepts, merely the lack of space on the page. You can find--or you can add your organization to--a free listing of welfare groups online at www.TheHorse.com/source. Prior to making donations to any organization or adopting any animals from it, you should research the group and make sure its funds are spent appropriately and animals are cared for properly.


The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) was founded in 1866 when Henry Bergh, a wealthy New Yorker, was deeply affected by the sight of a cart horse being brutally beaten by its driver. The ASPCA was the first humane organization established in the Western Hemisphere, and today the ASPCA has more than one million financial supporters. The ASPCA holds it provides effective means for the prevention of cruelty to animals throughout the United States. The organization has a history of horse protection, which it continues to implement.

"The ASPCA works to protect and aid horses around the country through legislation, advocacy, education, targeted grants, and also the enforcement of the carriage horse and cruelty laws in New York City," says Shonali Burke, senior director of media and communications for the organization. "The ASPCA also helps some of the thousands of PMU foals born every year in the pregnant mare urine (PMU) industry, and the thousands of PMU mares made redundant by drastic production cuts in 2003. Other areas of concern include activities with excessive risk, inhumane substitutes for real training--such as the soring of gaited breeds like Tennessee Walkers-- indiscriminate and irresponsible breeding, and the fate of our nation's wild horses and burros."

In 2007, the ASPCA will for the first time honor people who have made a significant difference in the lives of horses. The 2007 honorees are Kim Burnette-Mitchell, Dennis Mitchell, and Justinus Petrus (Peter) Van Der Kallen, well-known hunter/jumper trainers on the A show circuit. The Mitchells operate Kimberden Farm, which has locations in Knoxville, Tenn., and Ocala, Fla.

"In the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Kim, Dennis, and Peter began their own relief efforts for animals stranded and abandoned by the storms," says Burke. "They also set up The SOS Relief Fund to collect donations to continue their efforts.

"The Mitchells and Peter were some of the only relief workers to ship much-needed hay to the Mississippi coast," adds Burke.

Funding Equine Health Research

Just as there are ways to assist scientists in finding cures and better treatments for certain human illnesses, there are avenues to do this in the equine industry as well. One of many organizations dedicated to funding university research on equine disease is the Animal Health Foundation (AHF).

"I was inspired to start this organization because I had become so frustrated by the lack of understanding as to what causes laminitis," says Donald M. Walsh, DVM, founder and president of the AHF. "The mission of the organization became to find exactly what causes laminitis and how to prevent the often deadly disease."

The AHF has raised more than $775,000 for laminitis research. These funds are assisting Chris Pollitt, BVSc, PhD, in studies that are underway at the Equine Laminitis Research Laboratory at the University of Queensland, Australia; Philip Johnson, BVSc, MS, Dipl. ACVIM, MRCVS, who is examining equine obesity and its connection to laminitis at the University of Missouri; and Kathryn Watts, BS, and her investigations of forage and its relationship to grass laminitis at the Rocky Mountain Research Center in Colorado.

The AHF has funded Pollitt's unit since 1995, applying $573,386 to its scientists' endeavors.

In addition to simply funding the research, the AHF makes an effort to educate the horse-owning public on advancements in laminitis study. Walsh attends gatherings of horse enthusiasts throughout the year at which he disseminates the latest laminitis findings. Supporters organize several horse shows per year to benefit the AHF, and the organization itself holds several annual fundraisers.

"We didn't limit the AHF to one species," explains Walsh. "While our mission initially was to start with one disease, we've stayed with it (laminitis) for 27 years.

"Pollitt is down to the molecular level of this, and I think we're getting closer and closer to understanding the actual pathophysiology of the disease," says Walsh. "Whether or not it's going to be preventable is a good question, especially if laminitis is a secondary event surrounded by other primary events that will also be necessary to prevent." In other words, he explained, perhaps you have to prevent diarrhea and gastrointestinal upset in addition to any number of other steps you must take to prevent the laminitis cascade.

Walsh sees more laminitis cases than he would like to see at his Homestead Veterinary Hospital, which is a general practice in Pacific, Mo. (it also houses the AHF), so the cause is close to his heart and those of his clients and community. "Everything is done by volunteers," he says. "We don't have any paid staff, and all of the expenses are paid for by our board of directors--their donations go to pay for the operating expenses and some of their donations go to research. But of the public funding, 100% goes to the research. People could be assured if they send a dollar in to support research, it goes into research.

"When this is all done and over, I think that we'll have a lot of tools available to prevent laminitis," adds Walsh. "And prevention is a far more practical way of approaching it rather than trying to treat it."

MSPCA/American Fondouk

The Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (MSPCA)- Angell not only works to help animals in the United States, but it also oversees the endowment and operations of The American Fondouk, a charitable animal hospital in Fez, Morocco. "There are 27 million pack animals working in developing countries in Africa," says Brian Adams, MSPCA-Angell public relations manager. "These mules, donkeys, and horses are a poor family's only hope of getting water, transporting goods, and harvesting crops. They are saddled with everything from crafts and leather goods to cement and, literally, the kitchen sink. They are also often improperly packed--leaving these silent employees with severe lacerations, hernias, tetanus, pressure sores, and tumors."

The American Fondouk (Arabic for shelter) is a full-service animal hospital with a modest staff that provides free medical care for the animals of Morocco. Last year, American donors helped the Fondouk treat more than 22,000 animals and teach owners how to care for them.

The American Fondouk was founded by Sidney Haines Coleman, former president of the American Humane Association, in the 1920s at the urging of Amy Bend Bishop, an American who was shocked by the poor condition of the working animals she saw while traveling in Morocco. "As in any country dependent on subsistence agriculture, Morocco's draft and pack animals were worked hard by owners who were often poor and uneducated," says Adams. "The animals needed good veterinary care, improved husbandry and nutrition, and humane handling--both for their own sake and for the sake of the families who depended on their labor."

After successfully launching and maintaining the hospital, Coleman handed it over to the MSPCA, which has administered the Fondouk for more than 50 years.

In modern-day Morocco, the majority of people are still poor. Since there is just one doctor for every 4,500 humans, veterinary care is considered a luxury. "But the economic health of the community rides, quite literally, on the backs of its working animals and often on the Fondouk's programs," says Adams.


It used to be impossible to find a nice Thoroughbred right off the track. Since the public bets on racehorses, their access to the horses is often denied. This inability to connect outsiders with racehorses created a dilemma for years, until the Communication Alliance to Network Thoroughbred Ex-Racehorses (CANTER) arrived.

In 1991, Jo Anne Normile and her husband fulfilled a lifelong ambition to become racehorse owners. Normile was elected to the board of the Michigan chapter of the Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association. But she discovered a distressing side of racing. Unlike her own horses that would rest post-injury or retire at her farm, other racehorses that were injured or couldn't produce had nowhere else to go. Putting a horse up for sale was difficult for race trainers who were here one day and gone the next. Those strapped for cash couldn't afford to house a no-hoper. Many of these horses were sold for slaughter.

Normile wanted to figure out a way to help the trainers and the horses, but she didn't know how. One day in 1997 a trainer approached her. "He showed me a gorgeous 16.2-hand gray gelding," says Normile. "And he said this horse couldn't run a lick. Wouldn't any of my jumping friends want a horse like this?" Normile was able to find a buyer, and word spread. By the end of that year, she had placed 50 horses in various disciplines.

Today, CANTER is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing retiring racehorses with opportunities for new careers. Representatives walk the racetracks gathering information about horses coming up for sale. The horses' information, prices, and photos are listed on CANTER's Web site. Through CANTER, ex-racers have found new careers in jumping, dressage, eventing, and breeding. Several have found their niche on the trail and even in pleasure classes and competitive barrel racing.

Take-Home Message

Advocating any welfare issue can be an intensely emotional roller coaster. Caring people spend their lives working to fight for a change are a unique group. Although their fight might be an uphill battle, change can and does happen. As Ada Cole, founder of the International League for the Protection of Horses, said in 1927, "If all of these animals could cry aloud with one voice it would stir the world to do something about it. We must be their voice."

By Sharon Biggs and Stephanie L. Church


You can find--or you can add your organization to--a free listing of welfare groups online at www.TheHorse.com/source.

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