March 16, 2008

by Valerie James-Patton

It's truly a shame that due to poor journalism by reporters quoting people who make unfounded and unverified claims, that Kentucky horse owners are receiving an unjust blemish against them.

Last year a story appeared in Kentucky papers about hundreds of horses abandoned at a reclaimed stip mine in Kentucky, and left to fend for themselves. After police investigated the claim, it was found that the horses were not abandoned, but the owners had turned them out to graze on the property, which they had done for years. The article proved to be a hoax.

A letter from US Representative Whitfield of Kentucky stated, "There is no crisis and there is no glut of "unwanted horses" roaming the Bluegrass State or anywhere else. Beyond the inaccurate reporting, it is tragic that the pro-horse slaughter movement has managed to manipulate the mainstream media."

But three more articles have appeared this year making more claims of abandoned horses by the Kentucky Horse Council.

When asked about these claimes Ginny Grulke, the executive director of the Kentucky Horse Council, stated in an email that she was not referring to abandoned horses, although the articles were filled with several stories of abandoned horses. She said she was referring to abuse and neglect cases. Her letter went on to say that there were abandoned horse cases, although there was no documentation. She stated there was no agency in Kentucky that kept these records.

Dr. Doug Byars was quoted as saying: "They're either abandoned or starving, and abandonment would include horses being just turned loose," he said. "So we have a feral horse population ... we don't know the numbers, but we know that they're increasing." He commended the Kentucky Horse Council for taking a stand to help these horses. The Kentucky Horse Council has even set up a hotline to handle these cases.

When contacted, Dr. Byars, who it turns out, is also a board member of the Council, repeated that "there were no statistics kept on unwanted horses", and said to "contact the Unwanted Horse Coalition", which is a pro-slaughter organization. It comes as no surprise that all throughout these articles, they blame this problem of unwanted, abandoned, abused and neglected horses on the closure of the US horse slaughter facilities.

Lori Neagle of the Kentucky Equine Humane Center admitted that abandoning horses is rare, but told of receiving a call from the US Army Corps of Engineers, asking her to take nine abandoned horses found on the US Army Corps land. When Lori Neagle was contacted and asked about the outcome of these horses, she said she had only gotten a call, but never heard anything more about it. She had no contact information from the caller. When asked for any documentation on any abandoned horses, she replied she didn't have any documentation on any abandoned horses at all.

And forget about horses being abandoned in Kentucky state parks. Their reply to an inquiry about abandoned horses there was "We are not aware of any reports of abandoned horses at Kentucky State Parks."

A reply from Kentucky State Police also states: "We have no reports of seizing any horses that have been abandoned."

As to the abuse and neglect claims, no doubt there is a problem. Abuse and neglect cases have always been a problem, although they have never received so much national attention with headline news until now. Usually abuse cases were hidden in the back pages, and were basically unnoticed and ignored. But the closure of the slaughter plants has brought these cases to the forefront, as though they had never happened until the slaughter plants closed.

But statistics from the national database on* for horse abuse and neglect cases revealed that abuse and neglect cases had actually decreased in 2007 from previous years.

2007: 129 cases - 1227 horses
2006: 133 cases - 1387 horses
2005: 152 cases - 1780 horses

Horse abuse and neglect cases were higher in 2006, and still higher in 2005. Horse abuse has DECREASED in the US since 2005, dropping by 553 horses and 23 cases!

So why is the Kentucky Horse Council making these claims? I think that can be answered with this statement from Ginny Grulke's email:

"As to why the original abandoned horses article was written, I think it's just that reporters like DRAMA and nothing better than horses running loose. We DO have horses running loose here in some places, but - at least as of now - it is not causing a problem that we are called on." And this: "Abandoned horses really are NOT the problem here in terms of numbers, however, although there certainly ARE abandoned horses!"

But no documentation or evidence to verify it. Obviously, reporters are not the only ones who like the drama.