Equine overbreeding spurs problems on the Plains | TheFencePost.com

Equine overbreeding spurs problems on the Plains

Nikki Work | Reporter/Designer
Photo by Joshua Polson

Karen Everhart did not intend to start a horse rescue. She and her husband, both based near Wichita, Kan. were looking to buy property on which they could retire their horses. During the real estate search, the Everharts met Moe, a small pony who changed everything.

He was lying in a pasture of fescue, severely foundered and barely able to walk. The moment Everhart saw him, she knew the coyotes in the area would soon see Moe as a meal. She rescued the abandoned Moe, whose owner had been diagnosed with cancer and was out of state undergoing treatment, rehabilitated him and found him a home.

In 2005, Everhart opened Rainbow Meadows Equine Rescue and Retirement, Inc. in Sedan, Kan. Rainbow Meadows has rescued almost 200 horses and found homes for about 90 percent of them. Currently, there are 50 horses in Rainbow Meadows' care, all of which were rescued, except for three retirement horses.

In her eyes, every horse that has made its way into their rescue program came directly as a result of overbreeding.

"We have too many horses in America, and the only place that excess horseflesh comes from is excess breeding," Everhart said.

Overbreeding among horse owners is an issue of unintended consequences, where people do not take into consideration the life span or cost of care for horses, Everhart said.

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"For people who love horses, there's a magic in the gestation, in the birth. There's a magic in watching those babies run around. There's a magic in perhaps forming and helping them in their learning process as youngsters, but they live 30 to 35 years." She said. "There's a lot of hell that happens to them once they leave and go someplace else."

That someplace else is often not in good homes or rescues. Though there is no horse slaughter in the U.S., people commonly called "kill buyers" purchase unwanted horses at auction and take them across the border into Mexico or Canada for slaughter.

According to the U.S. to Mexico Weekly Livestock Export Summary for the week of Nov. 19 through Dec. 6, released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, so far in 2014 the U.S. has shipped 99,183 horses into Mexico for slaughter. This number represents 1,568 more horses than at this date in 2013.

According to the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, in 2013, 36,591 horses were sent to Canada from the U.S. The agency does not break down the percentage sent to slaughter. According to Agriculture and Agri-food Canada's market data for red meat, in 2013, a total of 71,961 horses were slaughtered at federally and provincially inspected establishments in Canada.

"We have to, as horse people, take 100 percent of the responsibility for the excess horses in America, because if we didn't make them, they wouldn't be here in excess," Everhart said.

Pat Miller, president of the board of directors at Ruby Ranch Horse Rescue in Ramah, Colo., said that rescues do not always deal with unwanted horses that are slaughter-bound, but oftentimes with animals that are the result of backyard breeding instead.

"From the rescue perspective, we get the backyard breeder concerns," Miller said. "From the slaughter perspective, it's the breed associations that dump their horses … The breed associations, like AQHA (American Quarter Horse Association), make their money by the number of horses that are born and are registered through the AQHA, so that is kind of a self-perpetuating problem right there."

Miller went on to list many breed organizations, which she said all operate under the same principle.

Ward Stutz, senior director of breed integrity and animal welfare with the AQHA, said the organization works "to educate people on breeding options" and advocate research and responsibility.

"There are many factors that a breeder should consider before making the decision to breed their mare. When it is handled indiscriminately is when the industry runs into problems," Stutz said. "AQHA educates its members on being responsible breeders. Breeding horses is a complicated enterprise. It is in a breeder's best interest and horse's best interest to approach breeding with a goal, knowledge and experience."

Stutz also said that though the AQHA cannot restrict breeding, they do not encourage breeding without "having a goal in mind" to "produce the best foal possible." In addition, Stutz described the AQHA's program Full Circle, a program members can utilize to ensure long-term homes for animals they've bred.

"Breeders are accepting the responsibility for their decisions, and that is where Full Circle allows a breeder to provide a foal they produce a forever home should it ever become unwanted," Stutz said. "Our goal is to create a real positive impact on minimizing unwanted horses for all breeds and from all disciplines … AQHA wants to help owners understand that there are many options that are available to all horse owners, and above all ensure that your horse's health and welfare are at all times paramount to ever other consideration."

Lin Beaune, director of the Epona Horse Rescue in Crete, Neb., has seen plenty of horses come into her rescue both from backyard breeding and from high-quality breeding.

"I run into this attitude all the time, 'I've got this mare and my friend has this stud and it'll make a pretty baby,'" Beaune said. "There's so many quality horses in trouble."

Beane, Everhart and Miller all shared stories of the high-quality, high-dollar horses that have come through the shelter gates unwanted.

"There isn't a horse in America not one horse in America that is free of the risk of being a slaughter horse. Not one," Everhart said.

In Beaune's eyes, the reason for the overbreeding problem is greed.

"Something is not the right sex, the right color, the right moods, and it gets thrown away. Greed is the biggest contributing factor," she said.

Beaune also went on to say that oftentimes, there is a belief about the types of horses that go to slaughter that is untrue.

"The biggest fallacy is people think the only thing going into the slaughter market is the old, the lame, the crazy. No, the kill buyers want fat, healthy horses that they can make a living on. That's where they're going to make their money," she explained.

Currently, the market does not support large breeding numbers because of high numbers of horses in the U.S. Stutz said the AQHA estimates that in 2014, it will register 80,000 horses, compared to 165,000 in 2006.

With the lower market values, Beaune believes if large breeding programs switched to an every two year cycle, their profitability would go up, as well as the health and quality of their horses.

Earlier this month, another problem arose in the overbreeding arena. According to Humane Society International, the European Union suspended import of horsemeat from Mexico following its latest inspection audit, published Dec. 4.

"As well as safeguarding EU consumer safety, closing our borders to horsemeat from these countries is important for animal welfare, too. Horse slaughter, regardless of which country it is in, is fraught with inherent cruelty," said Joanna Swabe, Humane Society International's European Union director.

Though this would seem like a victory, it perpetuates the problem of unwanted horses with nowhere positive to go. According to the 2009 Unwanted Horse Survey report done by the Unwanted Horse Coalition, the estimation for the number of unwanted horses in the U.S. in 2007 was about 170,000. The survey listed the top reasons for horses becoming unwanted as affordability, age and injury. In addition, the survey reported that 63 percent of rescues are near or at capacity and have to turn away horses.

"Now that Mexico's not taking meat, I don't know what's going to happen, but I know that (my rescue) is full all the time. I am overfull all the time," Beaune said.

Everhart, who has worked with horses for 33 years, said simply knowing that horses have been hurt in the past is the hardest part of helping them.

"I think the most difficult part is to know that somewhere along the line, someone betrayed this animal," she said. "That's hard, because these horses don't ask to be born, they don't ask to be brought into this world for us to try and seek something with them and they darn sure don't ask to be mistreated and thrown away. We have a responsibility, and this is a morality issue for me, to be good stewards to all animals. If we're not going to be good stewards of the animals, then we need to step away. We are the biggest disappointment when it comes to this. This is the hardest part to see."

Overbreeding in donkeys

In the equine community, horses are not the only animal being overbred. Donkeys also are being taken in droves to rescues, like Longhopes Donkey Shelter in Bennett, Colo.

“We started it because in 1999, the U.S. slaughterhouses for equines were still open, so donkeys who became homeless and didn’t find another home right away were routinely taken to those meat processing plants and cut up and sold for human grade meat,” said Kathy Dean, founder and CEO of Longhopes.

Dean said that she had seen horse rescues, but no organizations specifically for donkeys.

Scott and Lura Shehan founded Lusco Farms Rescue in Malvern, Iowa, for a similar reason.

“We noticed there were a lot of horse rescues, but we actually went and bought a small donkey from a sale barn, which is a horrible place in itself,” Scott Shehan said. “He was very, very skinny and malnourished and you could tell he wasn’t having a good life. (Lura) said, ‘He gets better starting today.’”

Much like with horses, Dean said backyard breeding is a large part of the overbreeding problem.

“There are people who have high quality animals, and we understand that they’re breeding,” Dean said. “But if all you’re doing is keeping your animal intact so it can be out in a pasture with donkeys that you don’t know if they’re related and you’re doing inbreeding, there isn’t the kind of money in selling untrained, unneutered donkeys that haven’t had medical care that people would think.”

Dean said the cost of the neutering a male donkey is far less than the cost of raising a baby donkey.

“I don’t think they really understand the cost efficiency that’s involved, there,” Shehan said. “(It costs) $125 to geld a donkey. You can spend $125-150 feeding an animal real quick.”

For those who cannot afford the procedure, Longhopes Donkey Rescue offers grants.

Both Longhopes Donkey Shelter and Lusco Farms Rescue have no breeding clauses in their adoption contracts.

“For donkeys, like any other animal including humans, if there are more donkeys produced than there are homes available for, then you have this excess supply that’s at risk for abuse and death,” Dean said. “There are certainly not enough good homes for the donkeys that exist. There are not enough homes period, but there are certainly not enough good homes.”

Rescue contact info

Epona Horse Rescue – Crete, Neb.

(402)826-1044

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Rainbow Meadows Equine Rescue and Retirement, Inc. – Sedan, Kan.

(620)725-3402

karen.everhart@rainbowmeadowsranch.com”>class=”NormalParagraphStyle”>karen.everhart@rainbowmeadowsranch.com

Ruby Ranch Horse Rescue – Ramah, Colo.

(719)541-3642

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Longhopes Donkey Shelter – Bennett, Colo.

(303) 644-5930

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Lusco Farms Rescue – Malvern, Iowa

(712)624-9699

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AQHA position statement on legislation concerning horse processing

First and foremost, the American Quarter Horse Association unequivocally supports the humane treatment of horses and vigorous enforcement of reasonable state and federal laws intended for that purpose.

It is this fervent dedication to the welfare of the horse that drives AQHA to address the difficult issues related to humane care, transportation and disposition of all breeds of horses.

Therefore, AQHA supports and joins with the Unwanted Horse Coalition whose mission is to reduce the number of unwanted horses and to improve their welfare through education, and the efforts of organizations committed to the health, safety, and responsible care and disposition of these horses.

End-of-life issues for horses are personal and should remain the right of the individual horse owner.

AQHA opposes abolishing the option of horse processing until there are other provisions to take care of the more than 100,000 horses that meet that end each year. Consistent with positions established by the American Association of Equine Practitioners and American Veterinary Medical Association, AQHA supports the humane, USDA-supervised end-of-life process as a much better option than starvation, neglect or inhumane treatment inside or outside of the United States.

To date, no proposed state or federal law has addressed funding of care for unwanted horses, long-term placement of affected horses or established guidelines for standards of care at retirement and rescue facilities. Failing to address these core issues adversely affects the welfare of horses.

Therefore, AQHA continues to oppose the provisions of state or federal legislation intended to: (a) prohibit the humane end-of-life processing of horses; and (b) prohibit the humane transport of horses that may be destined to processing plants.

Source: American Quarter Horse Association

More information

To see the 2009 Unwanted Horse Survey, visit http://bit.ly/1wPsJrf.

Weekly reports of horses sent to slaughter in Mexico can be found at http://1.usa.gov/1z8sET9 by clicking on the US to Mexico Livestock Export Summary link.

For more information of the AQHA’s Full Circle program, visit http://bit.ly/1AL6K5f.

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