June 28, 2008

The general mindset of the United States horse community is to "trade, not train" which contributes directly to the problems confronting the industry today, a Humane Society spokesperson told a national forum on unwanted horses.

Holly Hazard explained the society's opposition to slaughter, saying the group considered it an inhumane solution.

She called for more education throughout the industry on caring for horses, as well as the responsibilities of owning and breeding and training.

Dr Tom Lenz, of the Unwanted Horse Coalition, said his organisation was formed to educate the equine industry and public about the issue and how to "own responsibly".

"We need to focus our efforts on the front end of the problem rather than the rear end of the problem," he said.

"We need to provide for these horses before they become 'unwanted'."

He discussed options to minimise the problem - "buy rather then breed, adopt rather than buy, find alternative careers, euthanize rather than discard."

The forum, backed by the American Horse Council and the US Department of Agriculture, had a wide range of speakers.

Karin Bump, from Cazenovia College, discussed what is fact and fiction in the debate over unwanted horses, and how the answer may not be that clear cut.

She concluded there may in reality be a lot of "faction". She asked whether unwanted horses are actually unwanted, how many unwanted horses there are, whether all the unwanted horses can be absorbed into the industry through rescues and other facilities, how much it costs to care for the unwanted horse population and, finally, whether things were getting better or worse for unwanted horses.

Dr Nat Messer, from the University of Missouri and the American Veterinary Medical Association, brought a historical perspective to the forum, reviewing current equine-related legislation and asking what the consequences have been and whether they were successful in protecting horses.

David Meeker, from the National Renderer's Association, discussed various carcass disposal options, from rendering to composting, burial, landfills, incineration, and alkaline digestion.

Each has certain limitations, he noted, such as regulated use in certain states, potential environmental impacts, or high costs. A general survey done by the association found that there are about 25 rendering plants that take horses and the current charges range from $US40 to $US250, depending on distance, market, and value.

The final portion of the forum focused on potential solutions and options for unwanted horses.

Lynn Cross, owner of Little Brook Farm, described her horse rescue and sanctuary operation that rehabilitates and trains horses. Most horses at the facility, once in better health and trained, are used in educational programmes with schools and various groups. Uses vary from teaching general horsemanship and ground handling, to riding programmes, vaulting, lessons and shows, and therapeutic riding.

Tom Persechino from the American Quarter Horse Association and member of the Unwanted Horse Coalition, discussed the options available to owners with an unwanted horse. These include rescue and retirement facilities, friends with land that may retire a horse to pasture, colleges and universities that take horses for their education and research programmes, retraining and new careers, and the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association.