Horses abandoned in West as feed prices rise

Mon May 12, 2008 8:15pm EDT
 
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By Laura Zuckerman

SALMON, Idaho (Reuters) - In the classic Hollywood western, a cowboy portrayed by John Wayne gallops across the sagebrush steppe and rocky ridges of the American West with only his horse for a companion.

What the films don't show is the cowboy buying and hauling hay for his horse, or what happens to the horse when it is too aged, infirm or irascible to ride.

Those more mundane details are at the heart of a debate about growing cases of mistreatment of horses in the United States, at a time when hay and grain prices are skyrocketing and when options for disposing of unwanted horses are dwindling.

Just a year ago, the sale of an average horse suitable for recreation -- one with neither prized bloodlines nor a performance record to heighten its status -- would have fetched several thousand dollars.

Today, prices in some cases have dropped to just hundreds of dollars, largely because of higher costs for their maintenance and transport.

The situation for marginal horses -- horses whose poor physical condition or disposition makes them targets for slaughter -- is even worse, after a court ruling sought by animal-rights groups effectively shut down the U.S. horse slaughter industry last year.

The result is that a growing number of unwanted horses are being starved or turned loose to fend for themselves in the U.S. West, according to animal welfare advocates.

"What concerns me is a fate worse than slaughter," said Temple Grandin, professor of animal science at Colorado State University and an authority on the handling of livestock such as horses. "We've got people turning horses loose in fields, dropping horses off in the night -- my worst nightmares are coming true."   Continued...

 
<p>The quarter horse &#147;Trigger&#148; is seen in this May 8, 2008 handout photo. An Idaho family this month surrendered it because they could no longer afford to care for the aging gelding. The situation for marginal horses, those whose poor physical condition or disposition makes them targets for slaughter, is even worse, after a court ruling sought by animal-rights groups effectively shut down the U.S. horse slaughter industry last year. Picture taken May 8, 2008. REUTERS/Brent Glover/Orphan Acres/Handout</p>