Even the most optimistic about values of horses have stepped back on their views.
Talk about the declining prices for horses started more than four years ago, although there were signs within some breeds prior to that.
Increased regulations on slaughter plants that processed horses for all purposes, including human consumption overseas, closed those facilities. Outlets for equine processing in neighboring Canada and Mexico have been a hush, hush situation, although those countries have imported U.S. horses for that purpose.
The situation has not changed, except that there has been expanded pressure on horse markets. Auction markets that had regular horse sales have been reduced sharply, making it impossible to find that channel in many locales. Some economic evaluators instantly blame the closing of horse processing plants, but much more comes into play.
Mare owners have continued breeding and producing horses at high levels, despite no planned marketing demand. Although it’s only a small percentage of the problem, the government’s continued wild horse program, offering horses at very low prices that are often denied, is adding to the burden.
A recession, some claim to be the worst in the country’s history, is likely the biggest culprit. Cost of living is up and jobless rate is high, with many people struggling to support their families, let alone keep a horse, or several of them.
Before we delve deeper into the dilemma, it is necessary to point out that certain horses are still in demand, readily marketable at high and sometimes record prices. These are truly niche markets.
Horses bred to be champions in specific disciplines such as upper echelon racing, pleasure horse, reining, cutting and working cow horse competitions are selling strong, although the number of horses meeting the high-price criteria has been reduced.
Still, average prices being paid for the majority of horses are sharply lower. Well-broke ranch horses are selling well compared to most horses, but below markets as recent as a year ago. Trail and family horses sometimes will have competitive bidders, but prices are drastically below not long ago.
Young green broke horses will generally sell at a small premium over what is considered a “killer floor.” After that, it’s “almost impossible to give away a horse.” Exceptions can be noted in every circumstance, but in most cases, young, unbroken, thin, old and crippled horses bring rock bottom prices.
Few like to hear the term, but realists have frequently been quoted as saying, “They’re a nickel a pound.” Even seasoned “dealers” have refused purchase of specific horses on more than one occasion, because “I have no way of getting rid of it myself.”
Tales of people leaving horses in another’s trailer at sale barns and trail ride starting points were circulating more than a year ago, and they are reported as true now on a regular basis
Dogs and cats have long been “dumped” by owners who couldn’t take care of them. This is happening frequently now with horses. Reports are commonplace of strange horses ending up along roadsides, loose on country fields and especially in large native pastures.
Those horses freed in somewhat desolate areas are often not seen by human beings for an extended period of time, but they generally have grass and water to survive. According to government reports, this is especially true of horses found on federally-owned rangeland, sometimes in wild horse herds.
Reasons that owners turn their beloved horses to the wild are relatively simple. They can’t afford to keep them, they can’t sell them, it is costly to have a horse euthanized, and even more expensive, and sometimes impossible, to dispose of a carcass. Besides very few people want to kill a horse, no matter the method.
Some horse rescue missions, as one could describe such efforts, still exist and are doing a token part to “save the lives of horses.” In every situation, the managers have found the task to be “more than I bargained for.”
Cost in management, labor, facilities, upkeep and feed far outweighs the feasibility, because again “there is no way to get rid of the horses.” Inventory grows as do all of the requirements to handle them.
Associations have been formed and with others are working on solutions. Mare matings have been reported and urged down by several breed leaders. Efforts to reopen horse processing in this country are on the table. If these commendable pursuits were to succeed, improvements in the overall economy will still be the toughest problem to solve.
The American Horse Council estimated there are about 130,000 unwanted horses in the United States, and the number is growing daily. Their only suggestion is “responsible ownership.” That’s a broad term, interpreted differently by everyone.
Opinions that “Demand for horses will come back. It always has” may be true, but it could be an awfully long time.