From The Desk Of AFJ

Drought conditions further problems for suffering rescue facilities and horse owners

By Jeremy McGovern, Senior Editor

Earlier this week, Bloomburg Businessweek piggybacked onto a New York Times story on how the drought suffered in many areas in the United States will affect horses. Among other problems, the dry conditions are hurting hay production. Some areas are finding very low yields and that hay prices have soared to more than twice its price in 2011. 

Combined with the current economic conditions, this makes a bad situation worse for rescue facilities and horse owners who are just getting by. Even before the drought, it was common to hear stories about unwanted horses being tied to the fences and gates of rescue facilities overnight or turned loose in city, state and national parks.

I suppose it is "out of sight, out of mind" for many of these owners, who feel somone else or Mother Nature will take care of the horses that they can no longer afford. Nevermind the increased burden they will place on the rescues that have reached a critical point of intakes or the hazards a domesticated animal faces when turned loose.

The safe assumption is as things get worse with some folks' ability to afford and feed their horses, then more horses, healthy or not, will be euthanized or slaughtered. And with partisan private and public groups still successfully blocking many new slaughter facilities from opening in the U.S. (despite recent refunding horse slaughter facility inspections by the USDA), horses will still be sent to Canada and Mexico for slaughter. According to watchdog groups, horses destined for slaughter in Mexico will suffer more inhumane treatment prior to being kill than under the oversight supposedly held in the US and Canada.

Of course, many farriers have already seen the impact of tough economic times with their clients. How many want to stretch out a trimming or shoeing by couple of weeks or more? Are more clients asking you to subsidize their horse ownership by haggling over prices? How many clients keep putting off that payment from hoof care provided weeks ago? How many riding centers have closed with little or no warning?

Will things turn south for farriers in drought-afflicted states? Certainly many backyard accounts will be impacted by how the drought affects things like the price of hay — the things that hit a horseowner squarely in the pocket. How widespread this will become remains to be seen.

And while the future is hazy, this isn't necessarily a time to wait and see. While there will always be owners who want to skip an appointment or keep insisting the check is in the mail, there will also always be a need for quality hoof care. And it is the farriers who continue to develop their skill, reinvest in education and manage their business like a business that will insulate themselves from the tough conditions going on around them.