An Abandoned Horse Round up on a former Appalachian Mine Site: The feral and deserted horses of West Virginia and Kentucky

In West Virginia and surrounding states, many thousands of horses are turned out onto former and active mine sites or just into the mountains. These areas are remote, difficult to access and are made up on tens of thousands of mountainous acres, usually.

Through the winter, many will die or come near death. Some weather through. Some are born feral, but many are friendly, previous trail, show or companion horses managed by horse traders or simply abandoned. All are denied basic feeding, farrier care or vetting and used to often fill the overseas meat market when locals round them up to take to auctions like Sugar Creek.

Heart of Phoenix Equine Rescue has been raising awareness and trying hard to find a long term solution to solve this problem most people nationwide had no idea existed until late 2010 / early 2011.

There are thousands of horses across counties like Mingo, Wyoming, Clay, McDowell and Boone in West Virginia and in Eastern Kentucky, too.

Yesterday,  Heart of Phoenix, in conjunction with Last Chance Corral of Athens, Ohio and Raider Hollow Farm of Mumfordville, Ky, moved a herd of 9 of these abandoned horses.

Of the nine, 2 mares seem to be unhandled. They were likely born on the land. The foals were used to people and range from 2 weeks to 8 months old. The stallion was removed prior to our arrival, under 7 and has been gelded. Two mares were between 18-20, and they clearly have been handled a lot in their past, halter trained and load well. Then one buckskin mare proved halter broke and 6-8 years old.

Scroll to the bottom of the blog to see over 100 photos

of this round up that went very well


(This is the stallion who was caught and removed during the time the local couple began feeding the herd regularly.)

This herd had been barely surviving for several years on this land, which is not especially hospitable, even in summer, to equines. The conditions improved greatly for them when a kind couple heard of them and began taking up grain, clean water and hay constantly to prevent them from dying of starvation. The weight of all picked up quickly, and another lady deeply involved in small animal rescue got in touch with us to ask for help.

Often, it isn’t safe or legal to remove a herd from these lands for various reasons. This herd has been identified and abandoned for so many years, the mine land owner was able to give us permission to access them, thankfully. This is a rare thing, unfortunately.

The mines of Kentucky and West Virginia are accessible only by brave drivers with four wheelers and tough 4×4 trucks, usually. In the winter, it is impossible to get to most of these remote mountain tops.

Pilots that fly over have told me the numbers would blow your mind from the air over these impoverished regions of Appalachia, and I’ve personally seen the herds numbers into the hundreds in just a mile or two in some of these counties in the past.

While this problem continues to grow, other rescues like Kentucky Equine Humane and Kentucky Humane are working with the ASPCA these days to tackle the issue as best as resources and the current laws allow. Education is expanding the options these horses have, and we hope continued efforts will focus on further legislative changes, especially in West Virginia, as well as more gelding clinics and more awareness.

For now, this herd is safe.

For previous videos and blog on similar situations or more information on these situations:

HOP’s website

The Power Point overview

Revenant’s Story

For information to adopt the follow foals, contact Last Chance Corral in Athens, Ohio


For information on this mare, when she weans her new colt, or for adoption info on the colt when he is weaned in 6 months, contact Raider Hollow Farm of Mumfordville, Ky

For information on the mares that arrived into Heart of Phoenix in Huntington, WV, contact us (the Buckskin is in critical condition due to 2 separate injuries that are months old and may not be able to be saved. Consider a donation to help).


Now, What can you do?

Try to raise awareness and contact your WV and Ohio legislative representatives to request more humane action for these horses in terms of funding to help rescues geld or rescue them and ask for changes to reduce the stray hold times, as well as large penalties for those dumping or claiming these horses.

You can also support rescues working to help the horses by donating, if you’re able.

If you want to offer a home to a former abandoned mine horse, email and give us your information. When round ups do occur, as long as your references and facility are suitable (send this information), we will contact you to make you aware of the need for homes right away. You will always need to provide transport on your own.


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