The economic downturn coupled with a ban on horse slaughter has resulted in a steadily growing number of unwanted horses with owners who are unable to properly care for them, says Alison LaCarrubba, a University of Missouri equine veterinarian.

She says veterinarians are seeing more thin, poorly cared for and unwanted horses than ever before, and as a result are attempting new efforts to control the horse population.

The unwanted horse population has risen as the cost of buying a horse has dropped, but the cost of keeping a horse has stayed the same. LaCarrubba says it costs about $60 per month to feed a horse hay and grain, depending on pasture availability. With regular veterinary costs for hoof trimming, deworming, vaccinations and dental work, combined with the expenses for fencing and shelter, the cost of keeping a horse adds up to as much as $15,000 per year.

“It’s a supply-and-demand issue,” she says. “It used to be that you could buy an entry-level horse at auction for about $700, but now you can buy that same horse for $50. It is still expensive to feed and keep a horse, however, and there aren’t a lot of options when that cost becomes too great. We’re seeing more and more horses that are not getting enough to eat, and we have been looking for solutions to the problem.”

In addition to the economic woes, U.S. horse slaughterhouses have been closed in since 2007. From 1993 to 2007, 75,000-150,000 horses were sent to slaughter each year. The meat was sent to countries in Europe and Asia where horse meat is considered a delicacy and consumed by humans. While horse meat isn’t eaten in the U.S., Mexico produces it for human consumption and animal food, and countries like Mongolia and Kazakhstan feature horse meat as a staple of their diets. With the U.S. slaughterhouses out of business, many horse owners can’t afford to euthanize their animals.

One approach to controlling the horse overpopulation is a low- or no-cost castration clinic planned for this fall at the University of Missouri. Stallions referred by area veterinarians or equine rescue organizations will be brought to the university’s Middlebush Farm, where students will assist with the procedures and gain valuable experience. The effort is modeled after a similar project in Minnesota that was successful.

“We want the same positive results and feedback as Minnesota. We have certainly seen the evidence that the service is needed,” says LaCarrubba. “This is a win-win situation for horse owners, our students and the horses that will come here. It’s just a small effort to tackle a growing problem.”

She’s asking for donations to offset the cost of the sterilization clinic, which she estimates at $500-1,000. To find out more or to donate, contact the development office at the university’s College of Veterinary Medicine at 573-882-1902.