The unwanted horse (Sponsored by Intervet/Schering-Plough Animal Health)

The unwanted horse (Sponsored by Intervet/Schering-Plough Animal Health)

What you can do to help
Jun 01, 2009

Most of you aren't just horse doctors— you're horse people. Whether your passion for these magnificent animals stems from a childhood fascination or a lifetime of respect for the creature's rugged and free-spirited nature, you're for the horse. That's why it's been difficult to hear persistent reports about unwanted or abandoned horses in recent months.

Here's the good news: You can help save unwanted horses. And in some cases, finding ways to help the animals you love can even lead to increased client confidence and trust.

Contributing factors

A less-than-ideal economy was only one issue that caused a spike in the number of unwanted horses from 2007 to 2009, says Ron McDaniel, National Sales Manager for Intervet/Schering-Plough Animal Health's (ISPAH) equine division Another contributing factor, McDaniel says, was the closing of slaughter facilities in the United States. "The loss of the slaughter market, combined with the cost of proper care or euthanasia and carcass disposal, led to some horse owners simply turning their horses loose or take them to a rescue facility," he says.

It's not hard to see how the costs could take an inexperienced horse owner by surprise. According to a February 2009 survey conducted by the Unwanted Horse Coalition (UHC), the average horse costs about $3,000. However, you can buy a horse for as little as $50. The scales become unbalanced when feed costs of $2,300 to $2,500 per year and medical costs of $500 to $1,000 per year become more than owners bargain for.

If someone winds up in dire financial straits and can't afford to keep an old or lame horse, they might consider abandoning it. In this case, you can offer to vaccinate or euthanize at a reduced cost. "The equine practitioner becomes the voice of reason when dealing with someone who just can't afford a horse anymore," says Dr. Tom Lenz, UHC chairman and past president of the American Association of Equine Practitioners.

By early 2008, McDaniel says, more horse owners were feeling financially pressed and the situation was desperate "Every time you opened a magazine or newspaper you saw more articles about unwanted horses being neglected or turned loose," he says. "Rescue facilities overwhelmed with the increased costs of caring for more horses reached out and asked us for anything we could spare in the way of free products. We wanted to respond to that."

A helping hand

Head off the problem and give clients options
McDaniel, along with Cynthia Gutierrez, DVM, equine technical services veterinarian for ISP AH, approached ISPAH executives and won approval to initiate a program to help overburdened retirement and rescue facilities. On January 1,2009, the AAEP partnered with ISPAH in "The Unwanted Horse Veterinary Relief Campaign (UHVRC)." Through this program, AAEP member veterinarians work with rescue facilities to provide care for unwanted or abandoned horses. "We made a commitment to help unwanted horses across America by providing struggling equine rescue and retirement facilities with the vaccines they need to improve the health and welfare of the horse," Dr. Gutierrez says. "Though this partnership with the AAEP, we help unwanted horses become more adoptable and ease the burden on rescuers."

ISPAH set up a special website,, where rescue facility operators can download a program application. Approved applicants receive free vaccines to use when providing care for rescued horses.