The “unwanted horse” dilemma in the United States is akin to the awakening of a sleeping giant. Just how major the problem is and who or what is the prime culprit are questions that are open to debate. There are no easy answers, but a major part of the problem lies with overbreeding. We simply are breeding more horses than the market can absorb. To a large extent, the finger of blame perhaps can be extended toward the backyard breeder–the person who has a mare or two and decides to raise a few foals. In some cases the breeder has no definite plans for the future of the young horses; he or she just desires to raise a few because the mares are present and, perhaps, there is even a stallion on the premises. Sometimes these horses turn out to be excellent animals and are trained and placed in the marketplace, where they command respectable prices. In other instances they languish on the farm where the owner might lose interest in the animals’ well-being.
Unfortunately, the problem doesn’t stop there. Breeders of registered horses also contribute to the problem. If a horse is bred for a particular discipline, such as cutting, reining, racing, jumping, or dressage, and doesn’t make the grade, it no longer has high value within that discipline. These horses–and there are many–also wind up in the general marketplace, where they are sold as recreational animals.
Even the highly specialized sport of racing contributes to the problem. A very small percentage of Thoroughbreds born each year will actually make it to the track. In 2007, according to The Jockey Club, an estimated 37,500 Thoroughbreds were registered in North America, a slight increase over the 37,300 registered in 2006.
No one knows how many of these horses are destined to have successful, or at least productive, care