Milwaukee Edition

Horse Rescue

Caring Homes Sought for Aging and Abandoned Horses

An estimated 9 million horses in the U.S. are used for racing, show, informal competitions, breeding, recreation, work and other activities. Many need a new home when they start to slow down physically or when an owner’s finances become tight. Horses need space to run, require hoof care and when injured or ill, may require costly procedures.

Domestic Horse Rescue

“We foster 50 horses right now,” says Jennifer Taylor Williams, Ph.D., president of the Bluebonnet Equine Humane Society, in College Station, Texas, which has placed about 800 horses in the last decade. “We could have 10 times that many if we had more foster homes and space. There’s often a waiting list. We help law enforcement, animal control, and shelters with horses found through neglect or abuse cases.”

Starved and too weak to stand, Tumbleweed was an emergency case when she arrived at the Humane Society of Missouri’s Longmeadow Rescue Ranch clinic on a sled. Having since regained her health, including gaining 200 pounds to reach the appropriate weight for her age and size, she illustrates the benefits of the facility’s status as one of the country’s leaders in providing equine rescue and rehabilitation.

The Communication Alliance to Network Thoroughbred Ex-Racers (CANTER USA) serves as an online matchmaker for racing horses. Volunteers take photos at tracks, obtain the horse’s bio from the owner or trainer and post them to attract potential new owners. Along with the healthy horses, the 3,000 ill or injured horses cared for by the alliance have been retrained, rehabbed and re-homed to participate in polo, show jumping, cart pulling and rodeos.

“Race horses are intelligent, used to exercise and retire as early as 2 years old, so we find them a second career,” says Nancy Koch, executive director of CANTER USA. The nonprofit’s 13 U.S. affiliates work with 20 racetracks across the country. “I can’t emphasize enough the importance of volunteers. No one here receives a salary.” Collectively, they have placed more than 23,000 horses nationally since 1997.

Horses Count
Racing ................ 844,531
Showing .......... 2,718,954
Recreation ...... 3,906,923
Other ................ 1,752,439

Total ................. 9,222,847

Note: “Other” activities include farm and ranch work, rodeos, carriage tours, polo, police work and informal competitions.

Source: The Equestrian Channel; U.S. stats


Wild Horse Rescue

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management calculates the appropriate management level (AML) for the number of wild horses. Excess numbers are captured and offered for adoption or sale. In December 2015, 47,000 horses were waiting in holding facilities at an annual cost of $49 million. The AML projects removal of an additional 31,000 horses from Western lands. As an example, although local wild species predate the park’s existence, horses in Colorado’s Mesa Verde National Park are labeled “trespass livestock”, and subject to removal.

Return to Freedom, a nonprofit wild horse rescue in Lompoc, California, recognizes the tightly bonded nature of these herd groups. Its American Wild Horse Sanctuary is the first to focus on entire family bands, providing a safe haven for about 200 horses and burros.

The Wild Horse Rescue Center, in Mims, Florida, rescues, rehabilitates and finds homes for mustangs and burros, usually housing 30 horses at a time. With many needing medical care upon arrival, expenditures average $3,000 their first year and $1,700 annually once they’re healthy. Although the goal is adoption, equine fans also can sponsor a horse by donating $5 a day or purchasing a painting done by a horse. The center also provides public educational forums.

Sponsored by the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), April 26 is Help a Horse Day, a nationwide grant competition. Last year, some 100 U.S. equine rescue groups held events to recruit volunteers, gather donated supplies and find homes for adoptable horses (

Call to Action

Although a U.S. law now bans slaughterhouses for domestic horses, each year 120,000 are sold at auction for as little as $1 each and transported to Canada and Mexico for slaughter, their meat destined for human consumption in Europe and Japan or for carnivores at zoos. Horses can legally be confined to a trailer for up to 24 hours without food or water during shipment.

The average lifespan of a horse is 30 years. It should have two acres of land for grazing. The minimum annual cost for basic food and veterinarian services is $2,000, not including equipment and boarding, which can be more expensive in urban areas and in or near racing meccas like Kentucky or Florida. Rescues budget $300 a month per horse.

Two-thirds of all horse rescue operations are either at or approaching capacity. Almost 40 percent turn away animals because of lack of space or money. Many horses are ill, underweight or injured, which raises the cost of care.

“We need foster homes and volunteers. We need the time and skills people can donate; not everything is hands-on, so those that like horses but don’t have handling skills can still help,” says Williams. “Bluebonnet, for example, has many volunteer jobs that can be done remotely. Office work, social media to spread the word, gathering donations—everything helps.”

Rescue groups ask that concerned horse lovers donate time, money and land to help and lobby for legislation to ban the export of horses for meat markets.

Connect with Sandra Murphy at

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