The bidding for the black pony started at $500, then took a nosedive.

There were no takers at $300, $200, even $100. With a high bid of just $75, the auctioneer gave the seller the choice of taking the animal off the auction block. But the seller said no.

“I can’t feed a horse,” the man said. “I can’t even feed myself.”

Kentucky, the horse capital of the world, famous for its sleek Thoroughbreds, is being overrun with thousands of horses no one wants–some of them perfectly healthy, but many of them starving, broken-down nags. Other parts of the country are overwhelmed, too.

The reason: growing opposition in the U.S. to the slaughter of horses for human consumption overseas.

With new laws making it difficult to send horses off to the slaughterhouse when they are no longer suitable for racing or work, auction houses are glutted with horses they can barely sell, and rescue organizations have run out of room.

Some owners who cannot get rid of their horses are letting them starve; others are turning them loose in the countryside.

Some people who live near the strip mines in the mountains of impoverished eastern Kentucky say that while horses have long been left to roam free there, the number now may be in the thousands, and they are seeing herds three times bigger than they did just five years ago.

“There’s horses over there that’s lame, that’s blind,” said Doug Kidd, who owns 30 horses in Lackey, Ky. “They’re taking them over there for a graveyard because they have nowhere to move them.”

It is legal in all states for owners to shoot their unwanted horses, and some Web sites offer instructions on doing it with little pain. But some horse owners do not have the stomach for that.

At the same time, it can cost as much as $150 for a veterinarian to put a horse down. And disposing of the carca