I’ll start by saying I didn’t always consider “this” to be named problem the main issue faces horses. That said, it has become increasing clear.
The “unwanted pet” problem is more straightforward than the “unwanted” horse problem. Cats and Dogs. . .there are simply too many due to over breeding.: they have far more offspring per birth, cost less, have more humans involved in the handling and mishandling of their care and so forth.
Sheer population and wanton breeding are MASSIVE issues in the pet kingdom.
I think it is vital to understand is when it comes to horses, our issue really isn’t the same. This probably shocks some, angers others and leaves some pondering. . . then a few will just assume as I’ve been long working in the trenches, so I may actually have first hand knowledge. I digress. . .
The MAIN issue facing horses probably is not slaughter, over breeding or not properly caring for your old horse. It actually isn’t even neglect. These are often (not always) secondary issues.
The real issue is unqualified people keeping attempting to own a horse they cannot control.
Before I go further, let me offer a parallel of equine ownership and airplanes.
What if in America, you didn’t need training to fly an airplane. What if planes could be purchased easily? Say you could just cheaply (or even at great cost) buy a highly complex piece of machinery that took thousands of years to invent. What if you could just try to fly it on your own natural ability? What would happen? How often would there be success? How often would there be crashes? How many folks and planes would land okay, totally unharmed? How many would really succeed because they have natural ability, were bright and self taught? If you really had a thirst for flight but failed with the first or 4th plane(s), and then you learned there were more “auto pilot” friendly models out there, what would the odds be you would sell, give away or discard the more crude plane for a more advanced plane? Instead of learning to properly use and fly the plane you have, instead of looking for education and knowledge about what you already own, you might decide an easier “model” would be simpler, right?
It is the same in horses. If more people understand horses, riding and training, FAR fewer horses would end up exchanging hands, the market for selling would be smaller, soundness issues would happen less and behavioral problems would decrease greatly.
Horses are highly complex creatures with minds of their own, and they have been cultivated to work with people through a relatively short span of time in the scope of the world. Why do so many suppose to just hop on and go, not giving a care to gaining knowledge?
Sure, I know you cleaned stalled for a year one summer and have been on 12 guided trail rides, but just because you ride in a plane or watch “TOP Gun” doesn’t mean you can fly fighter jets, does it? Do you really not think when you lack a true understanding of how the animal works, moves, thinks and feels both with and without you, love alone will prevent you from creating issues within the animal? You are putting the horse at grave risk of being ruined, passed around and eventually neglected.
Let me add to this point by saying. . .
What I’ve found through 8 years of rescue work, and what I hear endlessly from rescues across the country, is there is not a shortage of homes for beginner friendly, healthy horses.
Did you know there are around 9 million horses in America (to learn how those numbers are broken down in terms of breed, use and so forth, visit here). Of that number, a bit over 125,000 were slaughtered over the borders in 2015. The number has been more or less relatively stable for about 20 years, even decreasing in the last year. That means under 1.5% of horses in our population are slaughtered yearly (too many, but it is a fraction in the scope of the numbers here). It can be assumed 3 to 5 times that number end up in need, unwanted and/or neglected. What we still see is horses are not nearly at the “homes available” deficient pets are, and while there is no rhyme or reason to the animals going through shelters, as they are purebreds, young, old, gentle, aggressive and everything between, statistics and my experience show most horses slaughtered are young, healthy, untrained or poorly trained or mishandled. Sure, some sick, aged horses go, but that isn’t and never has been typical. Those types of horses also describe the typical lower end sales horse.
If every single horse in the rescue was beginner safe and sound, they would be adopted in 3 days, 3 weeks or, at the most, in 3 months time.
If every single potential adopter or buyer was a true intermediate horse person or working toward that sincerely, most horses in rescue COULD and would be adopted in the same time frame. More importantly, far fewer horses would cycle through homes, so average and backyard breeders would find, in short order, there were fewer “new buyers” each year. It is all supply and demand. While more are bred than needed, the buyers are there to some degree each year because they are discarding that “crazy horse” they mishandled the previous year and buying ANOTHER, thus creating the same old “new” buyer over and over.
Far fewer horses would ever recycle back through rescue or end up posted for resale if people were taking the “I will be a good rider” route.
Fewer would end up with damaged mouths, less would be head shy, rude and be poor loaders. Fewer would end up lame. Less would be unable to stand for a farrier or try to bite. Fewer would buck, bolt or rear. Mishandling or lack of understanding medical issues create almost all of these issues in most horses. These are the most common reasons horses are sold, given away or discarded in any number of ways.
Horse people who wish to continue learning truly cultivate more safe, friendly equine partners. Yet, beginner friendly horses rarely make intermediate riders, and much more importantly, beginners who do not try to continue to learn often turn beginner horses into dangerous equines.
Learning is a partnership between horse and rider, and learning that your horse is only as good as you are is a hard, difficult lesson. A lesson that often isn’t learned until a willing, potentially good horse is ruined and sold.
By leaving horses untrained or ruining lovely horses out of ignorance, we unwittingly are creating a large portion of the “unwanted” horse population. The unwanted horse issue is about mishandling the population we have over and over more than the secondary issues mentioned earlier.
This puts the burden in all of our laps. . .OUCH!
Us: the new horse owner, the interested horse enthusiast who doesn’t yet have a horse, the trainers, the experienced riders and rescues. . .not nearly as much in the laps of breeders who work on supply and demand more than we like to think, and that is a painful truth.
So, can we please tell more new horse people or uneducated owners that LEARNING from those who already know WITH their horse or before they get a horse is VITAL.
I can tell you for every 10 people I suggest taking lessons as a good first step, 9 snap at me that they already know enough. . .and folks, it simply isn’t true.
I’ve had horses in my life for 30 years. I’ve operated a rescue for almost ten of those years. I know a fraction of what I need to know.
Please never think you’re above learning or able to get around gaining knowledge, and the lives of hundreds of thousands of horses willing to be partners if handled right depend on this right now. You can damage a horse to the point she will never end up safe. You can end up injured yourself. You can be the reason a horse rides a trailer to a very cruel death. They deserve a qualified handler, owner and rider.