Saturday, August 18, 2012
180,000 Horses Fall Victim to Hard Times and Dry Times on the Range
AZTEC, N.M. — The land is parched, the fields are withering and thousands of the nation’s horses are being left to fend for themselves on the dried range, abandoned by people who can no longer afford to feed them. They have been dropping dead in the Navajo reservation in the Southwest, where neighbors are battling neighbors and livestock for water, an inherently scant resource on tribal land. They have been found stumbling through state parks in Missouri, in backyards and along country roads in Illinois, and among ranch herds in Texas where they do not belong. Some are taken to rescue farms or foster homes — lifelines that are also buckling under the pressure of the nation’s worst drought in half a century, which has pushed the price of grain and hay needed to feed the animals beyond the reach of many families already struggling in the tight economy.
While precise figures are hard to come by, rough estimates from the Unwanted Horse Coalition, an alliance of equine organizations based in Washington, puts the number of unwanted horses — those given up on by their owners for whatever reasons — at 170,000 to 180,000 nationwide, said Ericka Caslin, the group’s director.
Many more could be out there, though. The Navajos, for instance, have no tally on the number of feral horses on their land; a $2 million effort to count and round them up was vetoed by the tribe’s president because of the cost. Roundups are being carried out almost every day, all across the reservation. The horses are sold, at least some of them destined for slaughter in Mexico. One morning in Cornfields, Ariz., on the western edge of the reservation, a woman tried to keep the feral horses from being penned in her corral, cursing and screaming at the men who had rounded them up at her grandson’s request. Ms. Johnson watched it unfold from afar. “What do we do?” she asked. “Do we leave them out to die of hunger and thirst?”...more