Unwanted Horses

In 2007 it was estimated that approximately 170,000 horses go unwanted each year. In 2015, the number was even higher.

Many of the unwanted horses in the U.S. are healthy horses that become more of a burden to their owners than a blessing because of financial limitations, time constraints, or otherwise failing to meet expectations. These horses can often be re-purposed and re-homed.  Others may be sick, injured, or old.  Fewer still are unmanageable, unridable, or dangerous.

No one knows for sure how many unwanted horses exist in the United States, but we do know that the number of unwanted horses exceeds the resources currently available to accommodate them. In the UHC’s 2009 Unwanted Horse Survey, 63% of equine rescue/retirement facilities reported that they were near or at full capacity and, on average, turned away 38% of the horses brought to them.

Equine rescues which specialize in rehabilitating and re-homing unwanted horses play a major role in assisting these horses, but currently there are not enough volunteers or placement opportunities and funding is limited. It can cost in excess of $1,000 to restore a rescue horse back to health, in addition to its living expenses during its time at the rescue facility which can range from $1,800-$2,400 annually. Most equine rescue facilities rely on donations to fund these horses or pay for them out of pocket.

Learn more about Unwanted Horses by watching these videos

The first two videos feature Dr. Tom Lenz, former Chairman of the UHC. Nationally recognized for his work on behalf of equine welfare, Dr. Lenz was also the Senior Director of Equine Veterinary Services at Zoetis and a past president of the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP). Although he has retired from practice, he remains active in equine welfare initiatives.

The Unwanted Horse (2008)

My Horse University

Equine Welfare: Lessons Learned (2015)

TheHorse.com Video Series

The Unwanted Horse Issue and How We Can Help

Certified Horsemanship Association (nominal charge)

Second Chances for Horses (2014)

My Horse University

How to Assess a Horse’s Health and Welfare (2016)

My Horse University

Additional Information and Articles:

The “Unwanted” Horse in the U.S.

The issue of the large number of unwanted horses in the U.S. first came to light following the 2001 Foot and Mouth disease epidemic in Europe. The European consumer’s concern with eating beef resulted in an increase in their consumption of horsemeat. This change drew media attention to the fact horses were being processed for meat in the United States and exported to Europe for human consumption.

Click Here to Read the Complete Article

Equine Welfare

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), animal welfare is a human responsibility that encompasses all aspects of animal well-being, including proper housing, management, nutrition, disease prevention and treatment, humane handling and, when necessary, humane euthanasia.

Click Here to Read the Complete Article

The Plight of the Unwanted Horse: Scope of the Problem

The current plight of the unwanted horse in the United States has been directly impacted by various recent state legislative actions. The legislation was most likely intended to be in the horse’s best interests, but it has brought about unintended consequences that now appear to be having a negative impact on the welfare of these horses. This would not be the first time that mandated legislation has had good intentions, but ultimately resulted in some unexpected consequences that adversely affected the welfare of horses.


Although these horses may no longer be wanted by their current owners, there are options available to them:

These include:

  • Sale, auction, trade, or lease
  • Retirement
  • Donation to programs such a therapeutic riding centers, college or university riding or veterinary programs, or mounted police units
  • Training the horse for a second career
  • Euthanasia

Be sure to check out the RESOURCES tab for information about programs available to help horses and owners.