Equine Welfare Council Discuss Options for Addressing Unwanted Horses

The Kentucky Equine Health and Welfare Council (EHWC) met January 19 in Frankfort to discuss the future of the unwanted horse in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Rusty Ford, chairman of the council,, presided over the meeting that included members from different aspects of the equine industry and Kentucky government.

Rep. Tom McKee discussed new legislation, namely Kentucky's HB 204, a bill that he said redefines the Board of Agriculture's role and assures that all facets of the agriculture community--including the equine industry--are properly represented. McKee noted that this bill is an important follow-up to HB 398, which established the EHWC as a voice ?for the horse industry? in the state government.

Essie Rogers from the Kentucky Horse Council then gave a presentation on the state of unwanted horses in Kentucky. Rogers noted that from 2005 to 2010, there was a 40% drop in sale prices at the Keeneland sales, and a 42% decline in sale prices at the Fasig-Tipton sales from 2008 to 2010. Rogers said she wasn't able to obtain data from local sale yards, although Ford said he has seen similar trends reported in local horse sales as well.

Rogers also discussed the 28 equine rescue facilities located in Kentucky. She explained that 11 of them had obtained 501(c)(3) nonprofit status, seven of the 28 provide care for Thoroughbreds only, and five of the 28 provide lifetime care for horses.

"There's a difference between rescues trying to adopt out horses and those trying to provide lifetime care," Rogers said, adding that "the ones that provide lifetime care fill to capacity quicker and can't take in more horses until a current resident expires."

Rogers noted that most of the rescues in Kentucky are currently at or near capacity, and that there has been a steady trend of rescues taking in more horses than they are able to adopt out to new homes.

She also brought up the fact that there is currently not a requirement for equine rescue facilities to be licensed in any way, and there is no oversight to assure that rescues work under ethical practices. She added that there are currently a small number of rescues in Kentucky that operate under less-than-ideal practices that attempt to maximize their monetary gain while the horses they rescue often end up in a worse condition than they were initially.

This prompted discussion about whether there should be governmental oversight of rescues, and the council discussed the option of mandatory or voluntary licensing. The council as a whole supported some type of oversight for rescues, but the group abstained from making any action pending further research to decide what the best option will be.

Additionally, Ford and the council discussed a pending minimum standard of care guide for horses in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Ford said that he and other members of the council had reviewed several published minimum standard guides, and he noted that work would continue on the Kentucky guide.

Finally, the council discussed the possibility of implementing programs at state penitentiaries that would care for unwanted horses. Ford stressed that these programs were in the very early stages of discussion. However EHWC members would explore all options for the programs fully in an attempt to provide care for horses in need in Kentucky. No further information was available on this topic, as research is under way.

Ford stressed that the council was doing everything in its power to fight the unwanted horse problem in Kentucky: "This council is united in respect to the health and welfare of the horse. The current Kentucky horse industry may be fragmented, but the health and welfare of the horse is paramount to all of us."

The council plans to meet again in March.

Disclaimer: Seek the advice of a qualified veterinarian before proceeding with any diagnosis, treatment, or therapy.

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