WOODBINE, Md. – Hundreds of Maryland’s horses are homeless, abandoned by people who could not afford to care for them in the aftermath of the Great Recession.
Horse ownership increased in the decade prior to the economic downturn in 2009. But with the crash of the stock and housing markets, many owners were unable to afford the roughly $5,000 a year it takes to care for a horse.
“Horses, like all animals, suffered during the recession but horses, being so expensive, suffered the most,” said Valerie Pringle, equine protection specialist at the Humane Society of the United States. “There were many that were starving. People couldn’t afford to feed them. A lot of the rescues in Maryland had very heavy loads during the recession.”
Days End Farm Horse Rescue, a nonprofit in Carroll County that rehabilitates abused and neglected horses, ran out of stall space in 2012 because it had taken in so many horses.
“During the recession we had many rescues that came in 300-400 pounds underweight,” said Caroline Robertson, director of development at Days End. “Horses are essentially the forgotten pet.”
Last month, new groundbreakings for single-family homes in the U.S. and the U.S. stock market reached historical highs, indicating that the economy is continuing to recover. But horse adoptions have not returned to pre-recession levels.
“As people have pulled out of the recession, horses have not,” Pringle said. “The number of horses being given up has decreased now, but people are not adopting horses at the rate they were before the recession.”
Caring for a horse requires disposable income.
Estimates from the Humane Society of the United States place horse maintenance, not including initial costs or rental fees, at more than $2,500 per year. This figure includes the cost of feed, hay and grains, veterinary and dental care, farrier services twice a year, bedding and vaccines. Depending on the location of the horse, boarding fees could cost an additional $3,600 per year.
The price of horse food has increased over the past decade, according to the Hay Price Index. The USDA Agricultural Prices report shows the price of hay per ton — $171 in November — has increased more than 200 percent since the 1990s. On average, horses eat 50 pounds — or $4.28 worth — of hay a day.
Valerie Ormond of the Maryland Horse Council said it’s difficult to track abused or neglected horses in Maryland, and nationwide. The equine industry is largely unregulated. So, precise figures are hard to gauge and it’s nearly impossible to determine number of horses that go to auctions, slaughters, fosters or elsewhere, Ormond said.
The Maryland Horse Council works with the Unwanted Horse Coalition