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The Role of Nonprofit Equine Rescue and Sanctuary Organizations

Closure of US equine slaughter facilities in 2007 along with the concomitant economic recession have contributed to a sharp increase in the number of unwanted horses with estimates totaling 100,000 horses per year…

The objective of the study was to obtain comprehensive data regarding nonprofit organizations caring for unwanted horses, along with the characteristics and outcome of horses relinquished to these organizations

Unwanted horses: The role of nonprofit equine rescue and sanctuary organizations, Journal of Animal Science Article

AVMA, JAVMA News, 15 DEC 2010 … Nonprofit equine rescue and sanctuary facilities can accommodate only a fraction of the estimated 100,000 unwanted horses in the United States each year, according to a recent study. Researchers at the University of California-Davis School of Veterinary Medicine found the maximum capacity of the 236 registered rescue and sanctuary organizations totaled about 13,400 horses a year.

Kathryn Holcomb, a graduate student at the school’s Behavior Management Laboratory, and her colleagues surveyed 144 organizations in 37 states to find out more about these organizations along with the characteristics and outcome of horses relinquished to them. In turn, the researchers hoped the results would provide a basis for understanding the organizations’ capabilities, capacities, and challenges, including economic issues and equine characteristics, needs, and outcomes.

Some of the study’s key findings were the following:

  • Slightly more than half the horses that arrived at the nonprofit facilities did not appear healthy and suffered from various disease conditions including illness, lameness, injury, or poor body condition.
  • For every four horses relinquished to a nonprofit organization from 2006-2009, only three were adopted or sold, and many organizations refused to accept additional horses for lack of resources.
  • Funding was identified as the greatest challenge for three-quarters of the organizations, followed by adequate housing (11.8 percent).
  • 4 percent of organizations identified their major funding sources as individual donations, and 38.8 percent as personal funds.
  • Federal, state, and local grants were not considered a major source of funding for 95 percent of the organizations.
  • Since January 2008, 83.9 percent of respondents had received an increased number of requests to accept horses, and 5.6 had received a decreased number.
  • Maintenance costs for the care of relinquished horses averaged $3,648 per year, including veterinary and farrier care.

The study concluded that nonprofit equine rescue and sanctuary facilities appear to be struggling with insufficient resources to meet the increasing demand for accepting, caring for, and providing sanctuary or finding new homes for unwanted horses in the U.S. Further, without additional resources, these organizations cannot predictably expand to provide quality care and rehabilitation for more horses than they are now.

The study, “Unwanted horses: The role of nonprofit equine rescue and sanctuary organizations,” was published online ahead of print in August in the Journal of Animal Science. The abstract is available at