Last year welfare of the horse in the United States reached the consciousness of not only the industry, but also the general public. The horse and veterinary industries have long addressed issues of equine welfare as it relates to competition, and the equine rescue community has long dealt with the reality of abused and neglected horses. But mainstream media outlets such as USA Today published stories outlining the welfare issues of horses as a result of the processing plant closures, and the U.S. government again brought the issue of “wild” horses and their fate to the general public. Finally, injuries to horses in high-profile competitive events propelled equine welfare to a hot topic last year, and there is no doubt it will continue to be one this year.

In 2007 phrases such as “unwanted horse” and “unintended consequences” became words that were familiar not only to the media and legislators, but ones that trickled down to the average horse owner, who continues to gain awareness of the welfare issues facing the industry. The “unwanted horse” phrase became the universal term used to identify horses that are caught up in the economic and legislative circumstances in our country.

Where we take the lessons learned in 2009 is up to us. In Colorado we have begun to address the issues of the unwanted horse, and this started with gathering data on the number of unwanted horses, the opinions of horse owners in the state, and suggestions on potential solutions. The Colorado Unwanted Horse Alliance was formed and includes representatives from the horse industry, government, and humane organizations, along with educators and others concerned about the issue.

The Colorado Unwanted Horse Alliance published results of a survey funded by the Animal Assistance Foundation that gave us the information we need to move forward in our state. Some of the information coming from this assessment included