Rethinking of horse breeding plans urged amid Covid-19 pandemic

A US equine welfare organisation is urging horse breeders to re-examine their planned breeding activities this year in consideration of the anticipated economic downturn and resulting effects on the equine market because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Humane Society of the United States’ Responsible Horse Breeders Council made the plea after the HSUS announced more than $100,000 in grants was available to equine rescue organisations experiencing financial hardship as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. The grants have been made possible by donors and funding partners.

The economic uncertainty resulting from this crisis is challenging the ability of some horse owners to be able to afford to feed or otherwise care for their animals – and they are increasingly turning to equine rescues to surrender or rehome their animals. These organizations are facing their own pandemic-related economic challenges, with fundraising events cancelled and donations down.

The Humane Society of the United States’ Responsible Horse Breeders Council has for years advocated for more thoughtful, conscientious breeding practices.

Keith Dane, senior adviser on equine protection at the Humane Society of the United States, said that in consideration of the unknown extent and duration of the pandemic and its financial impacts, some horse breeders had already decided to put their breeding plans on hold for this year. “Our Responsible Horse Breeders Council is applauding this move and encouraging other breeders to seriously consider adjusting their plans as well,” Dane said.

Melissa Forberg, a founding member of the council and an Arabian horse breeder, described the move as a “wise and honorable decision”.

“We encourage every breeder in the horse industry to consider a pause or reduction in their breeding operations at this time – to preserve the value of horses currently in the market and reduce the numbers that could potentially become at risk.”

Recent history serves as a daunting but instructive reminder.

During the Great Recession of 2007-2009, some horse owners struggled to be able to afford to keep their animals. Supply of horses exceeded demand, prices dropped, and healthy, usable horses became at risk of neglect, or even fell victim to the slaughter pipeline. Hay banks and other safety-net programs helped to keep some horses in their homes, while others were surrendered to rescues that were themselves at risk of being overburdened – facing their own financial hardships. Today, these rescues continue to provide a short-term solution for the rehabilitation and rehoming of horses who become at-risk due to financial hardship.

Morgan breeder and council member Diana Kline said that responsible breeders seek to ensure that the number of horses bred is in sync with market demand, “and that every horse born has a reasonable expectation of having a home and appropriate care throughout its life”.

“By making the responsible decision to pause or reduce the number of horses bred during this time, fewer horses will become at risk of homelessness, neglect, or slaughter,” Kline said.

Quarter horse breeder and founding member of the council Robin Bales said being a responsible breeder and horse owner means planning ahead. “It is time to think about the future of any foals born in the next few years. Marketing is hard enough in the best of times and it will become harder and harder to place foals that result from breeding in such an uncertain time.”