The Science of Rehoming Horses
Despite the declining U.S. horse population—currently about 7.2 million compared to 9.2 million in 2005, according to the American Horse Council—the number of unwanted horses each year remains steady. That is, approximately, 200,000 horses in the country are deemed “unwanted,” and yet an estimated 1.2 million homes are available to provide places to land for these orphan animals, according to an American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) survey.

“These data suggest that efforts to reduce unwanted horses could involve matching such horses with adoptive homes and enhancing opportunities to keep horses in the homes they already have,” the ASPCA said in a 2017 article published in Animals.

This is why veterinary researchers Sarah Rosanowski, PGDip VCS, PhD, and Kristien Verheyen, DVM, PhD, MRCVS, recently explored the unwanted horse issue in the United Kingdom. Similar to the United States, the number of horses in the U.K. has risen at an alarming rate over the past decade, creating an important welfare issue.

“The top reasons for rehoming were lack of time and money, owner health issues, change in family circumstances, owner retiring from riding/not having anyone available to ride the horse, horse unsuitability, and bad behavior,” Rosanowski said.

Options for rehoming horses deemed unwanted or no longer useful include rehoming, selling, relinquishing to an equine charity, or slaughter. In light of the high number of unwanted horses, however, equine charities are either close to or at maximal capacity, said the study authors.

To determine factors that impact whether a horse can be rehomed and time to rehoming, the research team collected data collected from an equine charity over 15 months from Jan. 1, 2013, to March 30, 2014.

“During that time, 791 horses were listed on the charity’s website as available for rehoming,” said Rosanowski. “Only 410 horses were rehomed during the study period, leaving 48.2% of available horses unwanted.”

The data also showed that the average time to rehoming, when it occurred, was 39 days (range 24-75 days). Of the remaining unwanted horses, 36 died and 345 remained available at the end of the study.

Rosanowski and Verheyen also found:

  • When ownership was transferred, horses were almost three times more likely to be rehomed (rather than permanent loan or sharing);
  • Horses intended for intermediate and beginner riders were two and three times more likely to be rehomed, respectively;
  • Horses only suitable as companions had a 67% less chance of being rehomed than horses that could be ridden;
  • Older horses (>11 years) were rehomed two to three times quicker than young horses (<5 years); and
  • Sport horses were rehomed twice as quickly as native breeds.

Further, as part of the rehoming process, the charity requires a donation to be set by the rehoming owner. Horses available for suggested donations of between £250-499 ($312-625) were rehomed two times quicker than horses available for lesser donations.

Because many owners rehomed horses due to personal factors, such as lack of time and money, rather than the horse itself, Rosanowski said she believes owners need more education regarding the initial purchase of the horse: “They need to be fully aware of the commitment they are making.”

The study, “Factors associated with rehoming and time until rehoming for horses listed with an equine charity,” will be published in an upcoming edition of Veterinary Record. Both authors are affiliated with the Department of Pathobiology and Population Sciences, Royal Veterinary College in Hatfield, U.K. Rosanowski’s current affiliation is as an assistant professor at the Jockey Club College of Veterinary Medicine and Life Sciences, City University of Hong Kong.