Horse Abandonment

Any domestic horse in the United States that doesn't have an owner who is managing the horse on a regular basis is abandoned. All domestic horses start out life in the United States as the property of someone. Even the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) horses are "owned" by the government. Throughout the United States we're being faced with problems of owners not caring for horses, whether they are on the owner's farm or have been turned loose to "fend for themselves" in National Forest lands, state parks, or even privately owned lands such as large ranches, government-owned grazing lands leased by private parties, or reclaimed strip mines. A veterinarian friend in California several years ago had two horses suddenly "appear" on her farm one morning. They had been dumped by their owner, presumably with the same mindset as someone who dumps puppies, kittens, dogs, and cats on farms in the country. The rightful owner no longer wants the responsibility of the animal, so he takes the easy way out and just turns it loose somewhere he thinks is close to the animal's "natural habitat," or where someone else will be forced to deal with that animal. There have been too many animals killed or severely injured because of these "abandonment" issues with small animals, and the same probably is becoming true of horses.

There is no way to know how many horses are abandoned in the United States each year. No one knows whether abandonment is becoming more commonplace today or just being reported more in the news.

There really is no way to know how many horses have been "released into the wild" on Western rangelands, mountain pastures, or national parks. Occasionally some are found because the owner doesn't even "release" the animal, he simply ties it to a tree and leaves it to die of dehydration and starvation, or without chance of escape to be killed and eaten by a predator.

Someone should tell these owners that first, the horse is their responsibility and they must deal with the horse until death; and second, that "releasing a horse into the wild" is cruel since domestic horses are not equipped to handle foraging for food, seeking out water and shelter, and fending off predators. This isn't like raising geese and helping them find their way into the wild (and not all of them survive). It's not a Disney movie. It's more like a horror film.

Then there are the folks who "abandon" horses right on their own properties. Failing to care for an animal that is owned by you is abandonment, even if you can look out the window and see him every day. This includes letting the horse become malnourished, suffer from the neglect of no veterinary or farrier care, or live with too many animals on too little land (animal collectors).

There are times when a horse owner becomes ill, is faced with financial hardship, or has a horse-loving spouse die that causes neglect of horses simply due to circumstance. Those people need help in either finding the horse a different home, or having the animals humanely euthanatized rather starving them to death.

We often get news of folks who "rescue" horses without the resources to care for those animals, and the horses end up worse off than they were before. Then, these new "owners" want someone to help them pay the bills so they can keep the horses on too little land without the hope of improved resources in the future.

There are many good groups and individuals out there who are ready, willing, and able to help owners find homes for horses when the owners can't care for the animals any more. Even if you aren't one of them, you can assist by being a conduit for getting horses placed in homes where they are cared for.

Unwanted horses are the problem; abandonment is a symptom. Let's work on a cure.

About the Author

Kimberly S. Brown

Kimberly S. Brown was the Publisher/Editor of The Horse: Your Guide To Equine Health Care from June 2008 to March 2010, and she served in various positions at Blood-Horse Publications since 1980.

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