A double whammy of economic turmoil and a ban on horse slaughter has resulted in a steadily growing number of unwanted horses with owners who are unable to properly care for them. Equine veterinarians are seeing more thin, poorly cared for and unwanted horses than ever before, and as a result, are attempting new efforts to control the horse population.

Alison LaCarrubba, a veterinarian who heads the equine ambulatory section at the University of Missouri in Columbia, said that the unwanted horse population has risen as the cost of purchasing a horse has dropped, but the cost of keeping a horse has stayed the same. LaCarrubba said it costs about $60 per month to feed a horse hay and grain, depending on pasture availability. With regular veterinary costs for hoof trimming, de-worming, vaccinations and dental work, combined with the costs for fencing and shelter, the price to keep a horse adds up quickly, to as much as $15,000 per year.

“It’s a supply and demand issue,” LaCarrubba said. “It used to be that you could buy an entry level horse at auction for about $700, but now you can buy that same horse for $50. It is still expensive to feed and keep a horse, however, and there aren’t a lot of options when that cost becomes too great. We’re seeing more and more horses that are not getting enough to eat, and we have been looking for solutions to the problem.”

In addition to economic woes, horse slaughterhouses have been closed in the United States since 2007. From 1993 to 2007, approximately 75,000 to150,000 horses were sent to slaughter each year in the United States. The meat was sent to countries in Europe and Asia where horse meat is considered a delicacy and consumed by humans. While horse meat isn’t eaten in the United States, Mexico produces horse meat for human consumption and animal food, and countries like Mongolia and Kazakhstan feature horse meat as a staple of their diet. With the U.S. slaughterhouses out of business, many horse owners cannot afford to euthanize their animals.

Horse neglect stories abound in the United States, reaching states such as Kansas, Illinois and Maryland. One approach to controlling the horse overpopulation in the United States is a low- or no-cost castration clinic planned for this fall at the University of Missouri. Stallions that are referred by area veterinarians or equine rescue organizations will be brought to the university’s Middlebush Farm, where students will assist with the procedures and gain valuable experience. The effort is modeled after a similar, successful project in Minnesota.

“We want the same positive results and feedback as Minnesota. We have certainly seen the evidence that the service is needed,” LaCarrubba said. “This is a win/win situation for horse owners, our students and the horses that will come here. It’s just a small effort to tackle a growing problem.”

LaCarrubba is asking for donations to offset the cost of the sterilization clinic, which she estimates to cost $500 to $1,000. To find out more or to donate, contact the development office at the College of Veterinary Medicine at 573-882-1902.