The unwanted horse (Sponsored by Intervet/Schering-Plough Animal Health)


It's been difficult to hear persistent reports about unwanted or abandoned horses in recent months. But here's the good news: You can help save unwanted horses. And in some cases, finding ways to help the animals you love can even lead to increased client confidence and trust.

Most of you aren't just horse doctors— you're horse people. Whether your passion for these magnificent animals stems from a childhood fascination or a lifetime of respect for the creature's rugged and free-spirited nature, you're for the horse. That's why it's been difficult to hear persistent reports about unwanted or abandoned horses in recent months.


Here's the good news: You can help save unwanted horses. And in some cases, finding ways to help the animals you love can even lead to increased client confidence and trust.

Contributing factors

A less-than-ideal economy was only one issue that caused a spike in the number of unwanted horses from 2007 to 2009, says Ron McDaniel, National Sales Manager for Intervet/Schering-Plough Animal Health's (ISPAH) equine division Another contributing factor, McDaniel says, was the closing of slaughter facilities in the United States. "The loss of the slaughter market, combined with the cost of proper care or euthanasia and carcass disposal, led to some horse owners simply turning their horses loose or take them to a rescue facility," he says.

It's not hard to see how the costs could take an inexperienced horse owner by surprise. According to a February 2009 survey conducted by the Unwanted Horse Coalition (UHC), the average horse costs about $3,000. However, you can buy a horse for as little as $50. The scales become unbalanced when feed costs of $2,300 to $2,500 per year and medical costs of $500 to $1,000 per year become more than owners bargain for.

If someone winds up in dire financial straits and can't afford to keep an old or lame horse, they might consider abandoning it. In this case, you can offer to vaccinate or euthanize at a reduced cost. "The equine practitioner becomes the voice of reason when dealing with someone who just can't afford a horse anymore," says Dr. Tom Lenz, UHC chairman and past president of the American Association of Equine Practitioners.

By early 2008, McDaniel says, more horse owners were feeling financially pressed and the situation was desperate "Every time you opened a magazine or newspaper you saw more articles about unwanted horses being neglected or turned loose," he says. "Rescue facilities overwhelmed with the increased costs of caring for more horses reached out and asked us for anything we could spare in the way of free products. We wanted to respond to that."

A helping hand

McDaniel, along with Cynthia Gutierrez, DVM, equine technical services veterinarian for ISP AH, approached ISPAH executives and won approval to initiate a program to help overburdened retirement and rescue facilities. On January 1,2009, the AAEP partnered with ISPAH in "The Unwanted Horse Veterinary Relief Campaign (UHVRC)." Through this program, AAEP member veterinarians work with rescue facilities to provide care for unwanted or abandoned horses. "We made a commitment to help unwanted horses across America by providing struggling equine rescue and retirement facilities with the vaccines they need to improve the health and welfare of the horse," Dr. Gutierrez says. "Though this partnership with the AAEP, we help unwanted horses become more adoptable and ease the burden on rescuers."

Head off the problem and give clients options

ISPAH set up a special website,, where rescue facility operators can download a program application. Approved applicants receive free vaccines to use when providing care for rescued horses.

Your role is to evaluate any facility you plan to work with and confirm that it is nonprofit, in need, and compliant with the AAEP Care Guidelines for Rescue and Retirement Facilities. The free vaccines included in the program are Prestige® V (KY93, KY02, NM2/93 Flu strains, EHV-1, EHV-4, EEE, WEE, and Tetanus), PreveNile® (West Nile Virus), and EquiRab™ (rabies). A portion of all ISPAH equine vaccine sales in 2009 will be dedicated to providing ongoing support to the relief campaign.

McDaniel says ISPAH initiated the program for two reasons. The first was to help horses. "We wanted to show how much ISPAH and the AAEP care," he says. "We're for the horse because most of us are personally involved. I've owned horses for 29 years. Most horse owners don't get all blubbery or wear it on a T-shirt, but we love these animals. We're trying to keep the damage to a minimum."

The second reason, McDaniel says, was to help local practitioners. "Rescue facilities were inundating practices with requests for help and it was draining some of them dry," he says. "They just couldn't help everybody that asked. Now practitioners can point worthy groups toward this program, which provides some vaccines at no charge, exposes them to the AAEP Guidelines for Care of Rescued and Retired Horses, and pairs them up with an AAEP veterinarian. Local equine veterinarians who might have had to turn facilities away because they were tapped out can point them instead to the Unwanted Horse Veterinary Relief Campaign."

What it means for your bottom line

Helping a rescue facility doesn't necessarily mean you have to provide charity work or waste your valuable time. You can choose to charge your usual fees, discounted fees, or no fees at all. No matter what approach you take, your efforts to help will send a message of compassion and care to your community. And the ripple effect of good deeds almost always pays off in the end. When the dust of the economic windstorm settles, your efforts will be remembered.

By showing you care more about your patients than your own interests, you'll garner trust, which will spur word-of-mouth business and loyalty, Dr.. Gutierrez says. And when someone adopts a rescued horse, the rescue facility will likely refer that horse owner to you for care. "Providing medical expertise and guidance at adoption can lead to a long-term relationship with the horse owner," she says. "You might wind up providing a lifetime of care for that horse," she says.

To push the benefits of participation beyond word-of-mouth testimonials, ISPAH is developing a simple but effective press release that relief campaign participants can send out to raise awareness about the problem and what they're doing to respond, says McDaniel He also encourages participants to contact local newspapers and suggest they write a story or news brief. "Many people in your area probably don't even know what's going on," he says. Raising awareness about the problem and your participation in the solution can position you as a leader in your equine community today and down the road.

Nick Dupont is an associate editor for Advanstar's Custom Veterinary Media group in Lenexa, Kan.

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