Housing The “Unwanted” Horses Of The U.S.A.
There are millions of horses in the U.S. And each year, there are many thousands of “unwanted” horses. The Unwanted Horses Coalition defines this term as “horses [who] are no longer wanted by their current owner because they are old, injured, sick, unmanageable, fail to meet their owner’s expectations (e.g., performance, color or breeding), or their owner can no longer afford them.” There are an estimated 6–10,000 horses housed in rescue operations at any given time. And there are an additional 200,000 horses that fit the above definition of “unwanted” but who are still kept by their owners.
Various factors may lead to owners relinquishing horses to rescue groups. One study found that common reasons included “health (54%), lack of suitability for desired purpose (28%), and behavioral problems of the horses (28%).” Other factors included “owner-related” decisions such as “financial hardship (52%) physical illness or death of the owner (27%), and lack of time for the horse (16%).”
Rescue operations can struggle to accept more horses if they are already full. This study aimed to use a national survey to gather information about the number of potential homes for horses. It focused on people who are “horse interested.” This means they would have lived with a horse in the last five years, they currently live with a horse, or they are interested in homing a horse in the near future. The researchers used a telephone-based survey, which had over 3,000 respondents.
What they found is potentially heartening. The study data show that an estimated 1.25 million households are interested in adopting a horse and that they have a “self-assessed, perceived capacity” to adopt a horse in the U.S. This includes horses with medical or behavioral problems. Accounting for uncertainty, the researchers estimate a “true count” to be somewhere between 0.83 and 1.80 million households.
The researchers add that their estimates may not “reflect an immediate, objectively suitable set of adopters.” But, their study suggests that the number of people out there who have a willingness and perceived ability to look after “unwanted” horses could far exceed the estimated number of unwanted horses. This, they note, is a potentially “substantial and underutilized resource.” And horse advocates should take note as well.