'Unwanted Horse Summit' Picks Up Support

More than 20 equine organizations have committed to send at least one representative to the first "Unwanted Horse Summit" scheduled for April 19 as part of the American Horse Council meeting in Washington, D.C.

The summit, organized by the American Association of Equine Practitioners, was first discussed last December during the AAEP annual convention. It's simply designed to bring all parties together to hash out an issue that continues to plague the equine industry.

"This whole issue of the unwanted horse has been around for a long time," AAEP president Dr. Scott Palmer said. "It is being addressed by many organizations, including the AAEP. A whole lot of effort has gone into this already, but the truth is there are so many of them it's difficult to find homes for all of them or make sure all of them are being properly cared for."

The summit will be closed to invited guests only. However, there will be a two-hour open discussion on the unwanted horse the morning of April 19 during the Horse Council meeting.

The AAEP organized a similar summit on medication and drug testing in December 2001. The summit led to the formation of the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, which is realizing success in its effort to get all jurisdictions to adopt mostly uniform equine medication and testing policies.

"This issue (of the unwanted horse) is so controversial and so hot, nobody wants to lead the charge," Palmer said. "It's a lot like the Medication Summit. The AAEP got everybody together, but then it stepped back and became a participant. We're not looking to dictate policy--we're just looking for a similar effect with this formula.

"If we get something similar out of this, we'd be pretty pleased with it."

The Unwanted Horse Summit is somewhat controversial in that it inevitably could touch on horse slaughter. Some industry organizations are split on that topic, but Palmer said the April meeting isn't about slaughter but rather finding solutions to the problem in general.

"This is not a slaughter summit," he said. "That's only one aspect of it. We hope to come up with action plans. We've hired a facilitator to address the core issues. People need to know what the first step is in finding long-term solutions."

An early list of invitees revealed several major Thoroughbred organizations--The Jockey Club, National Thoroughbred Racing Association, and Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association--had either not decided to attend or wouldn't attend. The latest list shows The Jockey Club as sending a representative.

Bob Curran, who handles communications for The Jockey Club, said he would be on hand to observe and listen. Jockey Club executive director Dan Fick normally would be involved but has a conflict and can't attend, Curran said.

TOBA president Dan Metzger said the Unwanted Horse Summit is scheduled for the time of the annual TOBA board of directors meeting in Lexington. He said that's the reason TOBA declined.

"It's just a timing issue," he said. "If it was another date, I would think we'd certainly participate."

An early list had the NTRA as undecided, and the latest list from the AAEP doesn't include the NTRA. On March 18, Keith Chamblin, NTRA senior vice president of marketing and industry relations, said he would confirm the organization's status shortly.

The AAEP, meanwhile, continues to urge more participation.

"Personally, I believe this issue has got to be addressed by the entire industry, not segment by segment by segment," Palmer said. "The goal is to be all-inclusive. This was controversial right from the start, even among our own board of directors.

"The only way we can fail is if we as an industry can't get together to improve horses' lives."

Here's the list of organizations that have committed to attend the Unwanted Horse Summit:

American Horse Protection Association
American Paint Horse Association
American Quarter Horse Association
American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
American Veterinary Medical Association
Appaloosa Horse Club
Bureau of Land Management
Carriage Operators of North America
Day's End Farm Horse Rescue
Hooved Animal Humane Society
Humane Society of the United States
National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association
North American Equine Ranching Information Council
North American Riding for the Handicapped Association
Oak Tree Racing Association
Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association
Standardbred Retirement Foundation
State Horse Council Advisory Committee
The Jockey Club
Thoroughbred Charities of America
Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation
United States Department of Agriculture
United States Equestrian Federation
United States Trotting Association

The summit will focus on issues such as responsible horse ownership and breeding, long-term care options, and affordable and accessible means of humane euthanasia. Palmer said the idea is to find solutions, not get lost in the controversy of some issues tied to the unwanted horse.