Down economy is making things tough on horses, their owners
Some horse owners are finding it challenging to continue caring for their animals in the current economy. Wisconsin horse professionals are holding a teleconference Tuesday, October 6th to talk about the growing issue of abandoned horses and share legal information for those who find themselves in possession of an abandoned horse. More information here. Kyle Geissler reports. You can read more in Friday's Janesville Gazette.
IF YOU PARTICIPATE
What: A teleconference about the legal issues of caring for abandoned horses. The program is hosted by the UW Extension and the Bi-State Equine Educators Group.
When: 6:30 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 6.
How to register: Call Peg Reedy at (262) 741-4961 or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or visit web.extension.uiuc.edu/lake.
Details: Wisconsin horse professionals will talk about the growing issue of abandoned horses and share legal information for people who find themselves in possession of an abandoned horse.
LAFAYETTE TOWNSHIP Most people who own horses consider them members of the family.
Unfortunately, the cost of owning horses often puts the animals in the “luxury” category. They are a luxury some families suddenly might find they have to go without. The poor economy and a lack of American slaughter facilities have created a terrible market for horses, some experts said.
The Walworth County UW Extension office along with the Bi-State Equine Educators Group will host a teleconference in October to give legal information to people who might be dealing with abandoned horses.
Officials don’t have hard numbers on abandoned horses, but they’re hearing more and more about the problem, said Liv Sandberg, the Wisconsin state equine extension specialist.
“I liken them to golf,” Sandberg said. “They are a sport, a recreation, a luxury. There are a few people who use them (horses) for work, but the majority of the horses are a luxury.”
They are luxuries that can cost several thousand dollars a year to care for, said Kevin Dawson. Dawson and his wife, Heidi, own and operate Dawson’s Creek Ranch, a boarding facility in LaFayette Township east of Elkhorn.
The two have not yet had horses abandoned on their property, Kevin said. They have had to ask a few boarders to leave the facility when they got behind on bills, Heidi said.
Kevin has heard horror stories—or maybe just urban myths—about families coming out of rides through Kettle Moraine State Forest to find strangers’ horses tied to their trailers.
What Kevin has seen is horse owners who are looking for cheaper options to house their animals. Professional boarding can cost $3,000 per year on the “low end,” Kevin said. Compare that to $2,000 to keep the animals at home, he said.
Frequently, people are putting horses on an acre or two owned by a family member or neighbor rather than keeping them in a professional facility, Kevin said.
In most cases, that’s fine for the horses, Kevin said. As long as horses have adequate grain and hay, they don’t need an enormous amount of space.
But it does mean owners might be giving up the space needed for riding their horses.
“What’s the point if you can’t ride and enjoy your horse,” Kevin said.
At Dawson’s Creek Ranch, Kevin and Heidi keep 37 acres of lush pastures and trails. The horses are rotated through the pastures for grazing so the grass isn’t stressed.
They have space to separate horses with medical conditions. If owners pay for a stall in the stable, that horse is hand-led in and out every day. Kevin and Heidi design a feeding plan for each horse but follow owners’ specific directions for the care of each horse.
For example, a pink bottle of Water Babies sunscreen hangs from one stall. That horse gets lotion on his nose every day.
The stable is bright and tidy. A colorful activities calendar covers one wall. Heidi keeps a sign-up sheet for vaccinations and hoof trimming.
In some cases, owners might go several months without seeing their horses, trusting Kevin and Heidi to care for the animals.
On the other end of the spectrum, a woman in her 80s makes the 40-mile drive every day to exercise her horse. When the weather is too bad for cart riding, she works with the horse inside a riding barn at the ranch.
“We still have the hard-core people who consider horses a member of the family,” Heidi said. “They can’t give their ‘son’ or ‘daughter’ away.”
The state of the horse market has left many people feeling like they’re giving their animals away rather than selling them, Kevin and Sandberg said.
The problem is two-fold.
Prices are soft because of the economy, Kevin said.
“In many cases, it’s a matter of concern about what’s going to happen as opposed to what has happened,” Kevin said. “People are bailing even though they haven’t been directly affected.”
As an example, people might choose to sell two of their three horses as a way to tighten their belts even if they haven’t lost jobs, Kevin said.
If they do choose to sell, it’s not going well, he said. He points to a blue-gray mare that he considers the highest quality out of the 22 horses on the ranch. She’s in excellent condition and almost fully trained, Kevin said. The mare should be worth $6,000, he said.
The owner might be lucky to get $2,000, he said.
The Dawsons and Sandberg hesitated a little to talk about the problem because it’s sensitive. But a big reason for the soft market is a lack of American horse-slaughtering facilities, they said.
When three facilities operated in the United States, they set the bottom line for horse prices. When a horse wasn’t good for anything else, owners still knew the “kill” price, Sandberg said.
Before they closed two years ago, the facilities were processing 80,000 to 100,000 horses per year for use overseas, Sandberg said. The plants were closed between 2005 and 2007 when federal courts upheld state laws banning the slaughter of American horses for human consumption.
New federal legislation is in the works that would ban the export of American horses for slaughter.
Sandberg said the horses that used to be slaughtered in Texas and Illinois are on the market with nowhere to go and no base price from which to start.
An owner might have 20 horses on his or her property even though he or she would feel more comfortable caring for 10, Sanberg said.
Rescue facilities are filling up and struggling to operate on donations.
While slaughter plants weren’t a great solution to the problem, they were an option, Sandberg said.
“It’s not like we want to see our horses go there, but there is no bottom end to our industry,” Sanberg said. “It’s very challenging for people to find places to sell their horse now compared to before the plants closed.”
Kevin said it would be useful if boarding facility owners created an industry group similar to the Wisconsin Tavern League or other business advocacy group. As far as he knows, no such group exists for boarding facilities.
Such an organization would improve communication between facility owners and help the industry find creative ways to find homes for unwanted or abandoned horses, he said.
In the meantime, horse advocates have to be patient, he said.
“We just have to ride it out,” Kevin said.