Debate Concerning Horse Abandonment Continues

The Associated Press today (March 26) released a new article by Jeffrey McMurray concerning horse abandonment in Eastern Kentucky and the alleged link to the closure of U.S. slaughter facilities.

The new story, which can be read via The Lexington Herald-Leader, provides more detail on strip mine grazing, as well as the reaction garnered by the original piece.

"Earlier this month, an Associated Press story reported that to some local observers, the closing of slaughterhouses under public and political pressure appears to be leading some horse owners in eastern Kentucky to turn their animals loose," McMurray wrote. "The Humane Society of the U.S., which has fought the slaughter of horses for human consumption, vehemently disputed that."

McMurray provided information from an interview with Lewis H. Warrix, a former judge-executive in Eastern Kentucky's Breathitt County. Warrix stated that an increasing number of horses have been abandoned in reclaimed strip mines over the past few years. Reclaimed areas cover thousands of acres.

"That's a dumping area," Warrix told McMurray. "When I was county judge, we had a few we had to put down. They were just bringing them up and turning them loose--blind and crippled and whatever."

State officials told McMurray that they do not keep track of the number of horses in the mines. McMurray said the number of truly abandoned horses is unclear.

Kendall Combs, Pike County Extension Agent for Agriculture and Natural Resources, spoke with The Horse following the release of McMurray's original story ( and verified that some horses have been abandoned in reclaim areas.

"I think (abandonment in reclaimed mines) is something that's happening, but I don't believe it's to a major extent yet," Combs said. "It's definitely a concern. There are horses that are already running on reclaimed strip mines, and there definitely are people that's just going up there and turning them loose."

Combs explained that numerous factors could contribute to this situation, citing hay shortages and increased feed and fuel costs, as well as falling auction prices. Combs stated that indiscriminant breeding is also an issue in the area, as people attempt to produce gaited horses from unsuitable stock.

Reclaimed areas can serve as suitable pasture space for responsible owners' use. Combs said some horse owners turn their horses out to graze on the land and return to collect them.

"There's probably a lot of them that's going to come back this spring," Combs said. "Particularly the pleasure horses people that trail ride, they'll go back and get them."

Combs will be conducting a study on strip mine grazing this summer in conjunction with the University of Kentucky.

The Horse is continuing to follow this story.

About the Author

Erin Ryder

Erin Ryder is a former news editor of The Horse: Your Guide To Equine Health Care.

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