New Bern, NC – INTRO - As the recession was starting to take hold in 2008 horse abandonments were reported on the rise nationally. For example, in Wyoming officials reported 41 abandonments that year compared to their normal 6-to-8. Equine enthusiasts will soon meet in North Carolina to see if the problem has made its way here. George Olsen has more.
It's not known at this moment whether there is a problem with horse abandonment and neglect in North Carolina part of the reason for the symposium in Statesville on Sept. 24 will be to determine just how severe the issue is in the state. But anecdotally there does appear to be a problem.
"We hear about horses being dropped off in pastures of other farms, in fact yesterday I talked with a lady who found another horse in her pasture over the weekend. Then we hear about horses being dropped off in parks in the western part of the state and then we tend to see higher incidences of horses recently just being neglected, and the animal control officers are telling us it's a bigger problem."
Mike Yoder is an extension horse specialist at N-C State University in the Department of Animal Science. In tight economic times people make cutbacks and that's prompted an uptick in pets left at shelters an official with the Arizona Humane Society reported a 91% increase in abandoned animals in early 2009. But they're talking dogs & cats comparatively inexpensive next to upkeep on a horse.
"As with most animals, the purchase price of a horse tends to be the cheapest investment you're going to make. We figure it's going to cost anywhere from a dollar-and-a-quarter to two-fifty a day to feed a horse and then on top of that you'll have veterinary and health care costs associated with the horse. All total, most people its costing them $1500 and $2500 a year just to care for a horse."
That total doesn't include property taxes or equipment. Part of the problem is that the problem feeds on itself in past years people who could no longer afford their horse could simply put the horse on the market.
"A lot of these people might have taken these horses to a sale in North Carolina or Virginia in past years but the horse market is way down and sales in some cases might be closed or not accepting horses because there's no place for these horses to go."
And even the option of sending horses to slaughter isn't really there. The three remaining abattoirs for processing horse meat in the United States then shipping it overseas were closed in 2007 though Yoder says some consideration to allowing the slaughter of horses again in the United States is being considered.
"My understanding is there is one state in the Southeast that is talking about that. Wyoming and Missouri and Montana have all passed legislation to set up their own processing plants and utilize that meat within their states so that's certainly been on people's minds and you're certainly going to have people who support it and people who don't support it. That's completely understandable."
Another option perhaps more palatable to an American public that views horses as companion animals rather than livestock is one that will sound familiar to coastal residents something very similar to what occurs on Shackleford Banks.
"In the western part of the country especially when you get to the Great Plains there are already ranches that are set out there for horses that are unwanted or have nowhere else to go and those horses are just running free on hundreds of acres of land. How long we can do that I don't know, but at this point at least that's one of the options available."
But there are costs with that. Yoder says he's sure in the winter months those ranches on private land supplement the naturally growing grasses with hay and there's still hoof and other veterinary care going on and that means money which means the ultimate resolution of the problem, as so much of what's going on now, will revolve around waiting out a down economy. Mike Yoder is with the Department of Animal Science at N-C State University. The symposium on abandoned, neglected and abused horses is conducted by N-C State and will take place at the Iredell County Agricultural Center in Statesville on September 24. I'm George Olsen.