April 26, 2018

How Everyone Can Help a Horse...and Why They Should

Matt Bershadker with a horse

By ASPCA President & CEO Matt Bershadker

This month, two tragic cases involving equine neglect and slaughter illustrated some of the many dangers facing American horses. In one, Texas authorities discovered 50 dead horses and seized custody of more than 80 allegedly mistreated and starving animals on a self-described "sanctuary.” In another, an Alabama vet student is accused of scamming horse owners into giving their horses to her for safekeeping and then selling them for slaughter.

These are not isolated cases, and the challenges for American horses are more serious and widespread than most people realize. Many of these horses become homeless each year and often end up abused and neglected. Others end up at livestock auctions where they are at risk of becoming part of the tens of thousands of American horses sent to slaughter every year by an industry that trucks them across our borders for eventual human consumption. 

Protecting American horses is a critical component of our ASPCA mission, and with so many equine lives at stake, it’s important to make sure our equine welfare programs have a meaningful impact on their lives. Below are some specific plans and actions we’re taking to come to their rescue.

Finding Homes for Horses

While thousands of horses need new homes or other forms of help each year, ASPCA research suggests there are at least 1.2 million American households with both the resources and desire to adopt them. Encouraged by these numbers, we’re working with both longstanding and new partners in the animal welfare community and horse industry to make the transition of vulnerable horses into safe and loving homes a top priority. 

This priority is reflected in our new ASPCA Equine Welfare strategy, and demonstrated in our revamped ASPCA Help a Horse Day contest, which, now in its fifth year, is aimed squarely at increasing the number of horses transitioning to new homes and careers.  

This year, ASPCA Help a Horse Day (observed on April 26) is offering 17 grant prizes totaling $110,000 to recognize and assist shelters, rescues and sanctuaries in their efforts to find good homes for horses in their care. More than 120 groups have formally registered to compete in the contest this year, and an additional 16 groups are showing their commitment to equine rescue by hosting their own activities that day.

It’s no coincidence that Help a Horse Day is held on April 26. On that date in 1866, New York City law enforcement made the country’s first successful arrest for equine mistreatment, stemming from an incident in which ASPCA founder Henry Bergh stopped a cart driver from beating his horse. We’ve been committed to horses ever since.

Ending Equine Cruelty and Neglect

Our new program also focuses strongly on ending horse cruelty by ensuring that law enforcement has the tools and resources it needs to combat cruelty effectively. The ASPCA is already working to save horses from cruelty and neglect (most recently in this 2017 Wisconsin case), and assisting law enforcement in these cases will give us the opportunity to layer our work and increase our impact. 

Sometimes our strongest countermeasures against horse cruelty and neglect happen not on a ranch or in a raid, but in Congress. The latest federal budget, which passed and was signed into law last month, contained several important and hard-fought animal welfare measures for horses. These include a continuing annual ban on horse slaughter inspections—which effectively prohibits horse slaughter in the U.S. for a year—as well as a prohibition on the killing of healthy, federally protected wild horses and a plan to provide for their long-term care.

Among other legislative efforts, we continue to push for passage of the SAFE Act, which would create a permanent ban on horse slaughter and prohibit the dangerous transport of horses across our borders for slaughter.

Creating Safety Nets

Often, the cost of medical care or simply a lack of information about rehoming options can make the difference between a horse staying in a safe home and one at risk. So we’re creating and supporting safety net programs focused on keeping horses out of harm’s way. 

These programs, which provide critical services that enable financially-challenged, but committed horse owners to keep their animals, protect those horses and conserve space and resources at shelters and rescue groups for other horses in need. We’ve also launched a pilot project aimed at enabling veterinarians to provide support to local horse owners who are unable to afford veterinary care.

Everyone Can Be a Voice for Horses

Equine welfare is not just the concern of people who own horses. Recent research indicates there are over 38 million horse enthusiasts in America, and many more who have a connection to horses. Even those with limited horse experience can and should get involved because cruelty is cruelty, regardless of the animal in need.

To help everyone play an active role in helping vulnerable horses, we recently launched a national call-to-action campaign called Raise the Barn. This campaign encourages the public to commit to a variety of actions that can make a meaningful difference in equine welfare. Please visit and share www.aspca.org/raisethebarn to learn more and get involved.

Fighting for Their Future

The challenges facing U.S. horses have changed in many ways in the 152 years since Henry Bergh’s original act of compassion, and new threats come from a variety of sources including laws and policies that diminish the priority of equine welfare and impede the flow of resources to animals and owners who need them most.

Those challenges are daunting, but not insurmountable. Obviously, additional resources help, and in 2017 the ASPCA awarded 91 equine grants totaling nearly $800,000 to support programs covering important needs including emergency hay relief, assistance for retired racehorses, tactics to keep horses and owners together and reduce horse relinquishment, and efforts to reduce the suffering of homeless and neglected equines. 

But what’s most exciting this year is the great energy and collaboration we’re seeing between animal welfare organizations and horse industries that inspire hope for creating impactful and lasting change. With the right commitment, resources and adoption-focused approaches, I’m confident we can assure good welfare for all of America’s horses. 

Your support is critical to accomplishing that goal, so whether you own a horse, know a horse, ride horses or just love animals, thank you for stepping up to make a difference.