Member organizations of the Unwanted Horse Coalition, formed almost 10 years ago, reviewed progress on several fronts June 23 and solicited input on how to maximize existing programs.
The UHC, which falls under the American Horse Council and grew out of an initiative by the American Association of Equine Practitioners, met in Washington, D.C., as part of the AHC convention. The UHC, a multi-breed organization, was formed in 2005 to foster responsible horse ownership.
There are 27 member organizations, seven associate members, and 10 supporting members in the UHC. More than 40 representatives attended the June 23 meeting.
The UHC was the impetus for a number of efforts in the horse industry, including accreditation of aftercare facilities, gelding clinics, registries for horses that need homes, and networking among equine organizations. It also prepared a 2009 study to determine the scope of the unwanted horse problem in the United States.
"It's amazing to me how far we've come in just a few short years," said Dr. Tom Lenz, vice chairman of the UHC and a past president of the AAEP.
One example is the formation of the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance, which already has accredited 23 facilities and has applications this year from 29 more, according to Kristin Leshney of The Jockey Club. The TAA last year awarded about $1 million to assist aftercare facilities, and this year may award $2 million, she said.
The Jockey Club Thoroughbred Incentive Program is another. Formed in 2012 by The Jockey Club, the program offers performance awards for registered Thoroughbreds that compete in horse shows and competitions.
Operation Gelding has resulted in the castration of about 1,000 intact horses thus far, and its expansion will be a focal point of the UHC, according to discussion at the meeting. Ellen Harvey of the United States Trotting Association, which has several programs geared toward Standardbred aftercare and rehabilitation, said she would like to see a deeper commitment to those types of programs.
"I'd love to see us expand it and seek out other partners," Harvey said. "Personally I think the answer is to plug holes in the boat (rather than take on new projects)."
The group heard a presentation from Janine Jacques, who created the Equine Rescue Network about a year and a half ago, primarily to use social media to locate horses that may not be properly cared for or sent to auctions where they potentially could be bought for slaughter. Jacques is attempting to win support from equine organizations to push for having microchips implanted in horses to assist with tracking.
Jacques said that in her in experience, there is about an 85% success rate if horses can be identified and transferred to good homes.
"We're hoping to make this a nationwide registry for recovering horses," she said. "We're not going save all of them, but we can save a few."
The UHC, which went into executive session at the end of its meeting, also discussed educating the non-horse public about equine care. Col. Dennis Foster, a member of the Masters of Foxhounds Association, suggested the UHC should be proactive in opposing a push by some cities to outlaw carriage horses. He said such bans are a symptom of a lack of understanding of equine issues.
"We're talking about a movement that is trying to make more unwanted horses," Foster said. "It's a classic example of a situation where a group that doesn't know horses is trying to make more horses unwanted."
The UHC defines unwanted horses as those that "are no longer wanted by the current owner because they are old, injured, sick, unmanageable, fail to meet their owner's expectations, or their owner can no longer afford them." The 2009 survey and study estimated the number of unwanted horses in the U.S. to be about 170,000 each year.