Google’s online dictionary describes a horse as being “a solid-hoofed mammal used for riding, racing and to carry or pull loads.” This definition doesn’t include, though, the fact that many horses are being neglected and abused, instead of being put to proper use.
Oklahoma is facing a serious problem concerning horse neglect. Due to factors such as drought, lack of hay, and spiked feed prices, several horse owners are having to make the tough decision to send their horses to sale barns, which could eventually lead to the slaughterhouses. Hope for Horses founder, Pat Penn, said she gets phone calls from distraught horse owners that don’t know how they can afford to take care of their horses anymore. “Grown men… crying on the phone because they have to shoot their horses,” said Penn, “And some of them are even choosing between feeding their kids and feeding their horses.” Penn created the non-profit program, Hope for Horses, in order to provide hay for people who are having a hard time taking care of their horses. “I had one guy almost lose his house and truck because he was trying to feed his horses,” said Penn.
The dry, hot summers in Oklahoma have prevented grass from growing, which is causing a mass shortage of hay. Some ranchers have to ship their hay in from other states for their animals. According to Penn, feed prices have more than tripled over the past three years, now costing about $14 for one bail of hay. Sale barns receive thousands of abandoned horses, many of them being shot and put into mass graves. Penn said nearly 95 percent of horses going to the sale are either being destroyed or sent to slaughter. She said in order to have a vet euthanize your horse, it costs about $250. This high price is leading horse owners to shoot their horses themselves.
There are many other horse advocates in Oklahoma who are trying to make a difference with this ongoing problem. Shooting Star Horses owner, Kathleen Treanor, has rescued nearly 20 horses from mistreatment since 2006. She manages a small equine training facility in Guthrie, Oklahoma, which is considered home to her family and her rescued horses.
“Because we are a riding program, I try to find horses that either need assistance or have fallen on hard times…and bring those into the program to utilize them as best as I can,” said Treanor.
The Oklahoma City Animal Welfare Division is another place that is involved in horse rescue. They have field officers that investigate reported horse abuse cases and participate in the seizure of mistreated horses. The operations supervisor at the shelter, Jon Gary, has seen hundreds of severe abuse cases in Oklahoma.
“Once the slaughter markets were banned in the United States, owners didn’t have other alternatives for their horses…so a lot of them would just leave them out in the pasture,” said Gary.
Both Treanor and Gary have witnessed the struggle of starving horses. “Some horses just die in the pasture…and that’s the most horrible death you will ever see…while others are sent to Mexico slaughter farms and are slaughtered for their meat,” said Treanor.
Thousands of horses are literally starving to death out in the pastures of Oklahoma. Crazed horse owners, like Penn, can only hope that this problem will end. Anyone can help halt this overlooked problem. The ASPCA made a list of ten things you can do to help the struggling equine industry in the United States. People can also raise awareness for this problem or donate money to a nearby horse rescue mission. “There are so many rescues here that are trying very hard to stand in the gap as much as they possibly can, and stand for the rights of these animals who have no voice,” said Treanor.
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