Starving Horses Abandoned by Owners

Ribs stand out on the sides of the horses, donkeys and mules falling victim to unrelenting drought in Texas. Once grassy fields are bare earth. When hay can be found, the price is double or triple last year’s tally, when feeding a horse cost $150 to $200 a month.

In 2007, before the economy hit the skids, Texas reported 438,827 horses. Some were owned by cattle ranchers, others by recreational riders. No one knows what the tally is now. With no interested buyers and no money to pay for their feed, many of the state’s iconic horses are being abandoned.

While most horse owners continue to care for their animals, a growing number are just trucking them to other counties and dropping them off. Abandoning horses is a crime, so owners hope for the anonymity of distance. Safe Haven Equine Rescue in Gilmer, Texas gets 20 to 40 calls a week about horses wandering the roadside. That’s up from 3 or 4 calls a week last year.

Donkeys and mules are being abandoned too. Animal rescue groups, such as California-based Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue, have never seen so many animals left to fend for themselves as cash-strapped owners turn them loose. From March to September 2011, the rescue center took in 500 donkeys, 100 more than in all of 2010.

With most of the winter still ahead and no assurance next year will bring rain, ranchers are having to ship hay from as far away as Oregon and Idaho. The temporary boon for farmers in those states is no assurance the supply will last as long as the need.

News of the plight of Texas horses comes as Congress has lifted the ban on equine slaughterhouses. The last one in the U.S. closed in 2007 in Illinois. Animal welfare activists promise a massive campaign if any new ones open.

Currently, ranchers ship horses that are old or unfit for work, or maybe just unwanted, to slaughterhouses in Canada and Mexico. Last year 138,000 were shipped, but even carnivores in the U.S. are reluctant to see equines slaughtered for pet food or human consumption, at least if it happens on home ground.

As their owners struggle with mounting debt and disappearing income, horses and donkeys become an impossible expense. The fate of these equines is more than an economic issue. It is also a moral issue and not one with easy answers.

Related Care2 Stories

Droughts Hit Nation, World

Texas Approves Aerial Hunting of Pigs and Coyotes

Wild Mustangs Fighting Crime

Photo from Don DeBold via Flickr Creative Commons

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Diane L.
Diane L.3 years ago

Well said, Annie. This discussion is checked to track and when I read your post, I was wondering what the discussion was about, since it didn't "ring a bell". Now I understand's months old. I wonder why somebody (else) felt the need to dig it up again? As you said, Annie, dying of starvation is a horrible way to go, and too many well-bred horses end up at slaughter or dying of starvation yet tell somebody that good ol' Nellie Bell shouldn't have a foal and they'll scream it's "their right", or that FUGLY crooked-legged colt shouldn't reproduce, and same reaction.....he's a more "spirited" horse if his balls aren't cut, blah, blah.

I'm a former breeder (well-bred, purebreds) and am amazed by the fact some are still spitting out foals by the dozens, if not HUNDREDS simply because they paid a stud fee to the "stud of the day". Many go to auction where the killer buyers are the most likely to buy. In some cases, that's a more humane way to go than being dumped out in the woods, but the point is they shouldn't have been born in the first place.

Annie S.
Annie Sousa3 years ago

There are so many comments in this post that say people should be responsible, but if you have no money and the ground is dry and grassless, how can you feed your horse? You could put it down, but that costs money and you don’t want to kill it, so you take your horse somewhere where there is grass and hope it will survive. Of course this is not the answer. The answer is to stop indiscriminate breeding of all equines. Breeding should be by license. If you want to breed your horse, you apply for a license to do so and pay for that license. No license, no breeding. If you have to apply for and pay for a license, you might think twice about breeding that mare, with not so great conformation, just for the sake of getting a cute foal that you might get a couple of hundred dollars for. For all you out there that have an intact “grade” male horse.... geld it or if you insist on keeping his balls, don’t breed him. The answer is simple. So many people just don’t realize that the horse they breed, is going to live for at least 25 years and if it has inferior conformation, will, in all probability, end up unsound, getting sold for lower and lower prices and end up in a low income home where his owners don't care about his welfare. Breeders need to think about this, not just about how cute to have a foal and what they are going to earn by breeding a mare.

Pinke A.
Pinke A.3 years ago

This is so sad in many ways. I do not believe,that all the owners are doing that just for being cruel! In many cases there are tragedies behind,like loosing the work,home...human tragedies.Then you are no more able to take care even the ones you love.
The ones who are stronger,can call for help,but many people will be crushed under all difficulties. Then horrible,sad things like this happens. -and then there the sobs,who just do not care and leave the poor animals! I hate them!

Linda Jarsky
Linda Jarsky3 years ago

If you have men who will exclude any of God's creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men. ---St. Francis of Assisi

Marie W.
Marie W.3 years ago

Stop having all the kids and take care of the animals!

Nelda Percival
Nelda Percival3 years ago

Attention: A horse slaughter house is opening near Springfield Missouri. Can people protest ? need action taken..I saw a news item about it on KY3TV station.... Can Care2 do something.. a protest march or something???

Penny L.
Penny L.3 years ago

After what horses did for us, breaking their backs, being used building america, this is the thanks they get after years of hardship, pain, and suffering used, until they dropped dead? Now the great american beauties who used to run free and beautiful mean nothing to most dillholes in america, God must be crying to see his horses suffering so much, shame on anybody who abandons an animal to die a slow death like starving! Only the most evil selfish person would do this to their horse, you do whatever it takes to save an animal in your care, you don't drop them off like trash! What is going on in america? Does anybody give a crap anymore about animals, except animal lovers, everbody should care if you have an evolved brain!

Ang H.
angie Harper3 years ago


Engele van Zyl
Engele van Zyl3 years ago

To those horse owners that still take care of their horses, thank you. To those that just abandon their horses, shame on you!!

Amie C.
Amie C.3 years ago

poor horses. please be responsible.