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Copyright 2009 Rocky Mountain Rider. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Reproduction of any editorial material, artwork and photos is strictly forbidden without express written permission of the publisher. For information about reprint rights, please contact the editor;

Highlights of Unwanted Horse Lecture

By Natalie Riehl, Editor


April 2009 Issue


      Douglas G. Corey, DVM, and Immediate Past President of the American Association of Equine Practioners (AAEP) presented a lecture on “The Problem of the Unwanted Horse” in mid-February, 2009, in Hamilton , MT. The lecture was sponsored by Shawn Gleason, DVM, of Corvallis , MT , and was attended by an audience of almost 300 people.

      Dr. Corey began by explaining how “animal welfare” is a sensitive issue and one that affects the entire horse industry. He believes that the industry can solve its own problems without government intervention, and stressed that horse owners should “own responsibly,” as outlined by the Unwanted Horse Coalition. (Please see the Own Responsibly sidebar.)


Defining the Term

      The term “Unwanted Horse” was coined by the AAEP, and describes horses that are no longer wanted because they are old, sick, injured or unmanageable. Their demographics are horses with non-life-threatening diseases, those with behavior problems, those considered dangerous, geriatric horses, and unadoptable feral horses. Some horses fail to meet owners’ expectations; for example, they are unattractive, not athletic enough, or the wrong color.

      The new descriptive category, spurred by the current U.S. economic conditions, are horses whose cost of care has become too expensive for the owner.

      Some of the unknown factors at this time are the breeds represented, sex, average age, purebreds vs. grades, the horses’ most recent occupations, their current value, and why have they become “unwanted.”

According to Dr. Corey, the unwanted horse issue started in 2000 when BSE broke out in Great Britain and most cattle in that nation were put down. This increased a demand for horsemeat throughout Europe, and in turn drew attention to the U.S. horse processing plants.

      Legislation to ban horse slaughter was stimulated by the discovery that Kentucky Derby winner, Ferdinand, had been sent to slaughter in Japan in 2002.

Inspection of a Mexican Slaughter Plant

      Dr. Corey sits on the animal welfare boards of several national horse organizations, and was a member of a group from the AAEP who visited two equine slaughter plants in Zacatecas , Mexico in November 2008.

      He explained there are three types of Mexican slaughter plants. The AAEP visited the first two.

      TIF plants process both U.S. and Mexican horses, and operate under European Union and Mexican slaughter regulations, with federal Mexican veterinary inspectors. Each week, the plant visited by the AAEP group, processes 500 U.S. horses, and 500 Mexican horses.

      Municipal plants which process only Mexican horses for use in Mexico , undergo weekly inspections, and the plant visited by the AAEP group processes about sixty horses per week.

      Clandestine plants that operate under the “regulation radar,” process only a few horses, and are the sources of the most disturbing videos found on the internet of horse cruelty in slaughter plants. The AAEP group did not visit this type of plant.

      Dr. Corey noted that the majority of horses the AAEP group observed at the TIF plants were not treated inhumanely. The horse meat is processed according to precise European Union standards, which require that each horse has an individual record.

      Each U.S. horse which is shipped to Mexico is first inspected in a Texas feedlot by Mexican inspectors who tag and number each individual. When the horses are loaded in a trailer for shipment across the border, that trailer is sealed. It is only unsealed by a federal Mexican veterinarian when it arrives at the plant. Horses are then held in a Mexican feedlot, so that the total time before slaughter is at least thirty days, and little or no drug residue remains in the horse’s system.

      Horses are killed with a captive bolt, and Dr. Corey pointed out that most plants have one or two employees who are experts in using this equipment. In addition to the horse meat, the other parts of the horses (hides, manes, tails, intestines) are shipped elsewhere around the world to be made into a variety of products.

[See a recent JAVMA article about the AAEP’s group tour of Mexican plants at mar09/090301h.asp]

      Although Dr. Corey said that he has not toured Canadian equine slaughter facilities, he has spoken with Canadian officials who report that there are seven slaughter plants in Canada , and that Canada ’s surplus horses are caused by 80,000–100,000 U.S. horses going to Canada .

[Please note that RMR ran an article in the June 2008 issue about the Canadian system. This article is available online at]

Euthanasia and Carcass Disposal

      Dr. Corey discussed the current options for unwanted horses, including changing occupations; going to rescue facilities and hopefully being adopted; donated to veterinary teaching hospitals and therapeutic riding programs; processed for meat; abandonment or neglect; and euthanasia.

      A horse would be euthanized if its prognosis is hopeless; if it is undergoing unnecessary pain and suffering; or if it is a danger to itself or others. If euthanasia is opted for, Dr. Corey believes veterinarians need to help their clients decide to make this difficult decision, and that they should make sure the horse’s life ends with as little stress as possible.

      Dr. Corey explained that the AVMA accepted methods of euthanasia are bartituate overdose, gunshot, and penetrative captive bolt.

      Horse owners and their veterinarians should first discuss the method of euthanasia as well as carcass disposal. There was a case in California where both a rancher and his veterinarian were legally responsible when horses that were put down with barbituates were left on the rancher’s property, and the carcasses became environmental hazards when eagles were poisoned by the horse meat.

      Some options and costs for carcass disposal are: Burial on private property ($250–$500); Landfills ($80–$150; some do not accept chemicals); Rendering ($75–$250); Cremation ($600–$2,000); Composting on private property (the cost of sawdust or woodchips); and Biodigestion ($220–$1,000, at a facility that has a biodigester).

[Editor’s note: Rocky Mountain Rider is taking a survey of costs of equine euthanasia and carcass disposal in our distribution area. This article will run in our May 2009 issue. Please look for it!]

Closing Topics and Questions

      Dr. Corey asked the audience several open-ended questions which require rumination: Have any segments of the horse industry acknowledged that they may be part of the problem? Is there over production? Will Federal legislation cause an increase in neglect or abuse? Has the closure of plants impacted the number of unwanted horses?

      Dr. Corey believes that the entire equine industry must work together to help reduce the number of unwanted horses. Corey encourages all of us to get involved and become educated about the issue and the solutions; call your legislators; become pro-active and to never underestimate what one person can do.

      For more information, visit


We hear lots of rumors, but we can’t find the facts....

If you know of horses turned loose on public lands, or abandoned on private property and sale yards, please contact Rocky Mountain Rider Magazine with the details. Call 800-509-1537 or 406-363-4085 or email editor@


From the Unwanted Horse Coalition website:

   By educating existing and potential owners, breeders, sellers and horse organizations about the long-term responsibilities of owning and caring for horses, and focusing on opportunities available for these horses, such as retirement, retraining, new careers or uses, donation and euthanasia, the coalition hopes to help horses before they become unwanted. The UHC hopes to utilize industry resources to put owners of these horses in touch with individuals and facilities that will welcome them.

   The coalition hopes teaching people to own responsibly will help lower the number of unwanted horses.


Questions to Consider Before You Buy a Horse

Can I afford to own a horse?

What will I do if my horse gets sick?

How long will I own my horse?

Is my child going to leave home soon?

Am I planning to relocate?

Questions Owners Should Consider

What are my options if I can no longer take care of my horse?

What will I do if my horse dies?

Copyright 2009 Rocky Mountain Rider. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Reproduction of any editorial material, artwork and photos is strictly forbidden without express written permission of the publisher. For information about reprint rights, please contact the editor;


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