The Pandemic And Horses In Need – What Are The Facts? - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report
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The Pandemic And Horses In Need – What Are The Facts?

You may have seen the comments on Facebook: “Shelters are full from pandemic adoptions being returned now that everyone's gone back to work!”

Or maybe you saw someone who needed help but were told not to call their local shelter because “they're all full.”

So what's the truth?

Well … it's complicated.

But—and you may be surprised to hear this–it's mostly good news. At least for equid sector of shelter operations.

Let's start with the pandemic fact: During the pandemic the demand for horses (and other animals) skyrocketed. While prices in the private sector shot up, and supply shrank as equids of all types were purchased. Adoptions at animals shelters also went through the roof. In fact, many cleared their paddocks…at least temporarily.

The Equine Welfare Data Collective (EWDC) Fourth Report, which details intakes and outcomes among welfare organizations across the country, tracked changes in intakes and adoptions from January 2018-December 2020.

Shelter intakes and overall surrenders of equines went down sharply from January 2019 to June 2020. Like way down. Good, right? Well, this is where things get complicated and why we may feel like surrenders are now increasing drastically, as well.

Because in all honesty, they are.

But that's not necessarily a bad thing.

During the pandemic many shelters had to close their doors to owners seeking help. Local ordinances forced shelters to limit operations to strictly animal care. In areas without restrictions, shelters needed to protect their staff and limit contact with the general public. That meant shelters were not able to coordinate nearly as many intakes of equines in need.

So what happened to all of those equines and owners that needed help during the pandemic? They had to wait. Now shelters have opened their doors again and those owners are reaching out for help in what looks like a crisis level surge. While this new surge of desperate owners might seem like it can overwhelm the welfare community, in reality it hasn't yet met pre-pandemic levels.

Are you following along?

Overall intakes and adoptions both dropped, though adoptions far outpaced intakes, resulting in what felt like a mad rush to bring home a new horse. This was both good and bad. Intakes and outcomes have not yet rebounded back to pre-pandemic levels, as of the most recent data from 2021. The EWDC Fifth Report that details information for all of 2021 continues to demonstrate that welfare organizations are working hard to accommodate owners in need. The data from 2022 is currently being analyzed as you read this and will be published at the end of the year. However, it is likely to continue to tell the same story.

Let's look at some numbers, thanks to data collected by the EWDC and the United Horse Coalition (UHC):

  • There are over 900 equine welfare organizations operating in the United States.
  • Those 900 equine welfare organizations have a daily capacity of about 47,000 equines.
  • These have historically operated on any given day at about 85% capacity.
  • Which means there is room for roughly 10,000 equines in need.

When the pandemic first began there was fear within the equine industry and welfare community of a repeat of 2008.

What happened then?

There were anecdotes of horses starving in paddocks, being set free on the side of the road and owners in financial crisis. All of these were calling on overflowing rescues for help, only to be turned away. The conversations surrounding the pandemic were focused on avoiding a repeat. I think the industry as a whole managed to do it. And that should be celebrated.

The financial crisis of 2008 inspired the growth of assistance services within the equine industry and welfare community. These services include hay banks, husbandry support, veterinary support, euthanasia and disposal support, mini grant programs and more. All of this with the goal to help owners in need keep their horse when appropriate.

Flash-forward to 2020, and COVID support was found everywhere, including the horse industry. The UHC's own COVID-19 support page saw over 15,000 hits in nine months. Owners across the country felt the need to be proactive and planned for the worst, while hoping for the best.

We can't yet anticipate the future, and things like rising hay costs, diesel prices, and continuing inflation have the industry once more on alert. Rising intakes may not mean there are more horses in need. Instead, it may be that we're getting better at intervention before things get bleak. We can identify and network with horses and owners in need and offer a hand before it becomes a critical neglect case or worse.

There will always be horse owners in need and the equine welfare community is doing an extraordinary job to support them. It's important to continue to discuss equine welfare with facts and not rely on anecdotes. While anecdotes may be true, heard in isolation they propagate a half-formed narrative. They're not the whole story. We can't effectively develop programming with anecdotal evidence. It's important to zoom out and view things on a bigger — more national — level.

Furthermore, having the capacity to help means nothing if we're not willing to network and support each other.

So, how can we all improve horse welfare?

We, as an industry, need to increase owner support. If you're a business or industry association, this could be done directly through funding assistance programs, or indirectly via educating customers and association members on where they can find help. We also need to do better with elevating our fellow equine welfare communities at the national level. Owners can't reach out for help if they don't know where to ask, and welfare organizations can't supply help if they aren't able to access owners.

Supporting good welfare means meeting horses in need at the source – their owners in need.

If you know an owner in need, please direct them to the UHC Equine Resource Database. This is a free to use, searchable directory of all the known equine welfare and assistance programs available in the United States. The database can be found at www.unitedcoalition.org The UHC is always happy to partner in education and outreach initiatives to help owners understand options if they ever find themselves in need.

Lastly, this article was only made possible by the data supplied by the Equine Welfare Data Collective. The EWDC is a first-of-its-kind comprehensive industry driven data collection, analysis and reporting initiative. Formed in 2018, the EWDC collects, analyzes, and reports data on equines in need, organizations supporting them, and owners seeking help. The EWDC is a grant-funded program that relies on industry support to operate. To learn how you can support the EWDC, reach out to the United Horse Coalition at [email protected] You can view all of the EWDC reports for free at www.unitedhorsecoalition.org/ewdc-reports

Emily Stearns is the Health, Welfare, and Regulatory Affairs Liaison for the American Horse Council.

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