General Info, Writings

Symbol of the American West Needs Our Help

 Missoulian Guest Opinion by Janet Rose, Founder & Director of Horse Haven Montana • Copyright, November 25, 2009

It is a uniquely American tragedy that one of the most treasured and recognizable symbols of the American West is in crisis. That symbol, of course, is the horse.

Recent news stories and articles of abandonment, neglect, abuse, as well as human efforts to help, are not new, but the crisis is in the fact that their numbers are growing. And the problems that we are reading and hearing about are only the tip of the iceberg, and getting worse. Concerned citizens can and are helping; local rescue groups, humane associations, hundreds of individuals and a few caring animal welfare organizations are stepping forward to help. As a result, many of these treasured symbols in black, brown, gray and sorrel, tall, short, young and old, are finding homes, some temporary, others permanent.

But this is only a Band-Aid, a grain of sand in a desert of problems. Increasingly hard economic times, the rising cost of hay, vanishing land, loss of jobs and we’re going to see a meteoric rise in the number of homeless horses. From Montana to New Mexico, Colorado to California, this is a crisis and we need a big-picture solution. It is going to take a committed network of resources and problem solvers to have an impact of any significance.

We can address and we can alter the crisis; we humans are problem solvers if we put our minds to it and if we make the commitment. For starters, we need to change and increase the criminal penalties for abuse; increase the fines for neglect and abandonment; build a fund that funnels fines and penalties back into the solutions we achieve. Beyond that, we need a region-wide, if not nationwide, plan of action to address this problem or we are going to witness a cascading epidemic.

Consider a network of ranches, a consortium or coalition of public and private landowners providing temporary, if not permanent, shelter; build an information network of public and private entities working together on new laws that stem the tide of indiscriminate breeding; provide government and tax incentives for growing hay at a lower cost to consumers; provide for a program of low-cost or no-cost euthanasia for the very sick or feeble (as opposed to a cruel and painfully slow death by starvation or other inhumane means); provide for low-cost veterinary care and an equine vaccination program; create a network of foster homes and adoption services; and, finally, education.

Owning a horse may be a dream come true for many, but you can’t do it in your sleep and it is also a huge financial responsibility and commitment of time, energy, knowledge and care. Education would go a long way in solving many of the problems we’re seeing today.

Let’s start with the basics; let’s attack the problems, and face the crisis head-on. If we believe that the horse is the symbol of the American West, if we agree that its image is an international calling card for America, then we owe it to this magnificent creature to step up and take action now.

From time to time we will also include here, special articles, editorials or informational pieces, surveys and reports of interest to horse owners and horse enthusiasts.

 Missoulian Guest Opinion by Janet Rose, Founder & Director of Horse Haven Montana • Copyright, November 25, 2009