I suspect the reports of horse abandonment are greatly exaggerated and unsubstantiated.
I know the economy is bad and in some places hay is getting quite expensive, but I seriously doubt the stories of horses being given away or "turned loose" along highways. (The nationally reported story of horses being turned loose in Kentucky was totally false, as are so many of the stories of abuse and abandonment in local horse publications.) I understand bad things happen, but let's not give it epidemic proportions.
I haven't seen any horses wandering about, and I can assure you no one has offered to give me a "useful" horse.
I was told of a "free" horse in the San Antonio area; but it wasn't "free." If you wanted the horse, you had to promise to care for it in a certain way, it couldn't be sold, and it couldn't be sent to slaughter. The conditions changed the "give away" to a "care for" my horse at your expense adoption.
Horse rescues say they can't handle all the horses being offered; they claim to be "jam-packed". And well they might be. But the causes need to be examined; are they "full" because of their own restrictive policies?
I'm not saying there aren't some well-meaning horse rescues or that horse rescues aren't appreciated. But I am saying a lot of horse rescues aren't well managed, have (as so many horse owners) more horses than they can afford, or are simply "donated horse resale" operations.
I've discovered horse rescues which have "sale prices" on donated horses as high as $8,000. If it's a nice enough horse it is going to sell…but it won't move fast, which means no room for other "needy" horses. And when it does sell, the horse rescue is going to have a wide profit margin, even if the rescue is non-profit. Keep in mind, non-profit doesn't mean the CEO isn't getting a fat pay check.
The claim they're practically "giving horses away at the auctions" is an exaggeration and unsubstantiated.
I've traded horses for nearly 50 years and horse auctions aren't any different today than in the 1960s; horses without value (training, bloodlines, accomplishment, soundness) have always brought "killer" prices. Usable, sound, attractive horses always sell for prices reflecting value.
Cass Ringelstein, horseman, trader, auction owner, reports that if you ranked horses on a scale of 1 to 10, those ranked 7 and below are bringing a little less in price than a few years ago, and those ranked 8 and above are bringing a little more in price than a few years ago.
According to Ringelstein, there is usually a horse or two "dumped" at his monthly auction---left by the owner and unclaimed at the end of the sale. "But that's nothing new," Ringelstein says. "There's been no mass dumping of horses."
Ringelstein is both a horseman and a businessman; he sends horses to slaughter. "The closing of the US slaughter houses hasn't helped horses…all it's done is make the trip longer." Ringelstein says sending horses to slaughter is still a profitable business. "I may pay a little less for a horse because the economy is bad and people are willing to let them go for less, but my expenses go up, so everything just about evens out."
I don't know a single answer to eliminate unwanted horses, but I suspect it has to start with education-the education of horse owners and potential horse owners.
A person needs to understand what it costs to properly keep a horse…feed, shoeing, health care and time. And that doesn't mean just a few figures. It means actually understanding equine nutrition, bits and how they work, hoof balance, behavior modification, health and disease management and the hours it takes daily to maintain horse housing.
And I think the second step is responsibility-the responsibility has to be accepted unconditionally and the sacrifices have to be made.
All that said, I'm willing to accept, for free or a token $100 contribution, a young, registered stock horse, trained well enough to do flying lead changes-he or she should have attractive markings.