Vel Moore, MS, PhD, is founder and director of the Equine Rescue Association in Marysville, Wash. She has been an equestrian educator since 1972 and taught Leisure and Recreation Studies at California State University, Northridge.
For those of us in the horse rescue field, today's troubled economy has produced serious issues of horse welfare. Increasing numbers of horses are facing homelessness and possible abandonment. Although it is gratifying to see more effort being made by professional institutions and organizations to assist in these crises, it is clear that all horse lovers must become horse advocates. The public domains (federal, state, or local) have neither the resources nor the interest in promoting concerns related to domesticated horses. There are no public funds for equine food banks, free grazing land, veterinary supports, and/or municipal horse shelters.
In many communities horses have been residents since the early days of original settlement, and they are still part of the population. However, like the humans living under our freeways and in their cars, horse residents are often unseen and denied as part of our mainstream culture.
The current economic crisis has accented the homeless issue on both equine and human fronts. But unfortunately, the horse establishment is not a potential "bailout" recipient, even as horse owners lose their incomes, homes, and lifestyles. The situation is not a short-term problem, and it will affect horse ownership and activities for years to come. Once we lose horse property, it is not likely to come back.
The unwanted horse situation is not a short-term problem. We as horse owners must try to divert the ultimate crisis.
For 11 years our organization has provided shelter and a retirement facility for horses, while offering equestrian education through a volunteer program that includes all ages, from early childhood to retired people. We aim to help break the cycle of horse neglect and abandonment through education, using rescued horses as teachers and models. However, we are limited in space and resources, and we're not able to meet the demands of current conditions. We have had to turn away many horses. Sadly, existing programs all seem to be experiencing the same problem.
More alternatives are needed, and we are convinced that horse people must unite in order to save the domesticated horse. We must join hands to provide these alternatives and forget our differences regarding breed preferences, competition venues, and training pedagogy. We need to step up to the plate and give ourselves to the cause.
We are the ones to do this. Why? Because we know the magic of the horse-human relationship. We know the value of sharing our lives with a horse. We know how horrible the world would be without horses!
We must ask how we can help our friends, neighbors, and others deal with possible estrangement from their beloved companions. What will happen to abandoned horses? What will I do if circumstances force me to give up my own horse(s)? How do we ensure that future generations have horses and equestrian opportunities in their lives?
The traditional American way has been to help one another in times of need. This standard has often been manifested in my 35 years associated with equine rescue and equestrian education. In times of need people show up to help. Now, the serious threat facing the horse world demands that each of us commit ourselves.
This is a grass-roots cause that extends up to the most affluent among us. It is not just a poor man's or millionaire's issue. It touches us all, and each of us can find some way to help, whether it be by saving a horse, joining local rescue activities, starting a new program, building a horse haven, donating funds, or motivating sponsorships. We can step out of the confines of our own participation arena to speak up for horses, while seeking the means to divert the ultimate crisis.
Before it is too late we can fulfill our responsibility to the incredible equine by jump-starting the latent energy and compassion in horse people; this will create activists working to protect horses and educate the public. Each of us has an obligation to give back for all the good memories and enriching experiences gained from our own horse backgrounds. Whether we've owned a horse or not, our lives are better for having loved them.
The horse-human relationship works. Let's make sure it lasts.
Originally published in April 2009.