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The unwanted horse: Part 2

Billy, a young Paint horse, an owner surrender. Billy's vertabrae and ribs are clearly visible.
Billy, a young Paint horse, an owner surrender. Billy's vertabrae and ribs are clearly visible.
Susan Hinz

Left behind: what happens to unwanted horses?

When horse owners are no longer able to care for their horses, what happens to these animals?  In recent years, national headlines proclaiming  horror stories of abandoned horses have become all too commonplace: irresponsible owners turn their horses loose in a neighboring farmer's field or in a desolate state game area to fend for themselves. Owners move out of state, leaving their horses behind at a boarding barn.  Another all too familiar story?  Horses victimized by  the foreclosure crisis--horses left with no food, no water, no one to care for them, and no one to speak for them. Their owners simply walk away when unable to pay the mortgage and abandon their horses.  In some instances,  these horses are fortunate; someone discovers them in time.  Often, however, these abandoned, unwanted horses do not live happily ever after.  These former family companions slowly starve to death, becoming gruesome evidence of human desperation, ignorance and cruelty. Responsible, knowledgeable horse owners know that domesticated horses require care, which includes providing food, water, shelter, farrier work, and medical attention. When these needs cannot be met, financially troubled horse owners must be educated about where to turn for help. One option, non-profit rescue and adoption organizations, provide assistance and a safe haven for these unfortunate, unwanted horses.

Choosing a reputable rescue or adoption organization

If a financially strapped owner must surrender his horses to a rescue/adoption organization, he should exercise due diligence in selecting the right agency. Unfortunately, some rescue groups formed by well meaning people with little knowledge of the care and cost involved in horsekeeping, exacerbate the problem of the unwanted horse. They eagerly take in horses with little thought of the work and expense involved. Many of these horses have serious behavioral and physical problems stemming from neglect and starvation. Successfully rehabbing a starved or abused horse is not a simple task. And taking on even one severely debilitated horse can be a very expensive, time consuming project. Would-be rescuers plunge in with good intentions, only to discover that good intentions are not enough. There are no substitutes for experience, knowledge, time, and money. Sadly, some surrendered horses end up in terrible situations because their "rescuers" lack the resources and experience to do a good job. Thus, when choosing a reputable rescue or adoption organization, an owner should consider asking the following questions:

  • Is the organization a 501(c)3 non-profit?
  • How long has it been in operation?
  • Who funds the organization?
  • What is the success rate?
  • Who is the veterinarian on staff? Will he endorse this organization?
  • Are the horses adopted out? If so, what are the requirements for adoption?
  • Is the facility open to the public? If not, why?
  • Does the organization rely strictly on a volunteer staff, or is there a regular staff?
  • Is the facility available for inspection on short notice?

Visiting the facility

Although an owner exercises due diligence, asks common sense questions, and receives satisfactory answers, he should still visit the chosen rescue facility at least twice prior to making a commitment. Visually inspecting the premises is of paramount importance. Legitimate organizations welcome visitors. Overcrowding, insufficient food, lack of fresh water, unsafe fencing, and unattended wounds or medical conditions should raise red flagsAgain, owners must use caution and common sense in placing the unwanted horse. Many rescue organizations desperately need volunteers and contributions because of the poor economy; reputable groups, however, will not take in more horses than they can adequately handle. In this case, most groups will network with each other and foster homes to place as many animals as possible. One well established rescue group, Horse's Haven, located near Howell, Mich, offers a unique virtual farm tour on their website (  

Doing the right thing

Horse ownership carries great responsibility: true horsemen know that the animal's welfare should always come first.  When faced with tough economic decisions, responsible horse owners try to roll with the punches without sacrificing the necessities for their beloved equine friends.  Sometimes, however, even the best owners experience drastic reversals of fortune. Surrendering a horse is not an easy decision to make, but sometimes it's the right decision. When every other option has been exhausted, owner surrender is in the horse's best interest. The alternative?  Abandonment, starvation, and suffering--mere words cannot convey the miserable consequences of doing nothing. Responsible owners advocate for the unwanted horse, who cannot speak for himself.  

 The next installment in this series will examine two major problems contributing to the unwanted horse population: indiscriminate breeding and untrained horses. 


  • carol 5 years ago

    Yes, it is truly a tragedy when owners leave the animal behind. I suspect there are instances of neglect that the average person isn't aware of. When faced with very difficult financial decisions I'm sure it can be an effort to do the right thing and find appropriate care for the large animal. Horse haven is a great resource - are there other options in Michigan? The last two sentences in the article state it loud and clear - doing nothing or ignoring the problem is not a viable option.

  • Shawna 4 years ago

    Thank you for writing an article that brings to light that simply loving horses does not make you a horse rescue. I have worked for large animal vets and all too often find that there are an abundance of people taking in horses and calling themselves rescues who are truly doing these horses a disservice. It is disheartening to go to a "horse rescue" to find horses who've been there for a year and look like they need to be rescued. One is well adviced to follow the tips in the article to find a reputable and safe rescue when you become unable to meet an equine's basic needs.

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