“Do You Need to Breed?”

Willowtrail Mountain HoneyStatistics from the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) indicate that there are 300,000 fewer households in America that own horses now than five years ago.  (1)  For breeders, this should be alarming news.  That means fewer people are interested in buying what we’re producing.  A lot fewer.  And the number of horses owned per household has dropped.  (2)  That means the households that are left are less interested in what we have to sell than they used to be.  Two alarm fire!

This year I’ve been watching my ‘adopted’ horse rescue deal with pregnant mares they’ve taken off a slaughter lot.  It breaks my heart to think that some person subjected these mares to the stress of pregnancy without taking responsibility to see them through the non-trivial physical effort required by gestation, delivery, and lactation.  Undoubtedly the breeder came face to face with the grim statistics from AVMA.

There are apparently a lot of misconceptions in the horse-owning community about the source of the unwanted horse/horse overpopulation problem.  Consider the following:

  • In the U.S., non-horse owners and rescues/adoption facilities view indiscriminate breeding as more of a problem than horseowners do.  (3)
  • In the UK, small-scale breeders (1-5 foals per year) breed twice as many foals as large scale breeders (more than 100 foals per year); blame for horse overpopulation, though, is disproportionately placed on large scale breeders. (4)

It appears that some of us may be in denial about the part we play in the problem.  The truth is that anyone who breeds a horse, either intentionally or by mistake, is contributing to the problem of too many horses.  “Every horse born increases the chance of neglect: either to that horse directly at some stage in its life, or by indirectly shunting another horse into an awful situation.” (5)

Some of the most common reasons that people produce foals are the following:

  • To make a profit.
  • To give an out-of-work mare a job.
  • To have the experience of raising a foal.
  • To produce a horse to compete on in the future.
  • Because the mare has a nice nature.
  • To continue a particular bloodline.
  • To produce a foal for eventual leisure riding or driving.
  • Because the mare had a good competition record. (6)

There are very convincing arguments against every one of these reasons.  People producing foals really need to have good reasons that aren’t on this list if there is to be any progress made on the unwanted horse problem.

So what’s to be done?  To start with: “It is vital that every group acknowledges their contribution to the problem and takes steps to rectify it.” (7)  I think breeders have an especially large responsibility to admit that we contribute. Wouldn’t it be something if we each adopted a rescue and made a contribution every time we sold a horse?  I know that it’s very hard for me to ignore the unwanted horse/horse overpopulation problem when I am in regular contact with the rescue that I’ve adopted.  Bless them for doing the work they do; I couldn’t do it.  And adopting the rescue hasn’t meant that I’ve stopped breeding.  Instead it helps me focus on breeding in the most responsible manner I can.  It’s hard to argue with that.

To help answer the question “Do You Need to Breed?” for yourself, you might find the brochure by the same name helpful.  It can be found at http://www.worldhorsewelfare.org/needtobreed .

  1. http://blogs.equisearch.com/horsehealth/2013/01/25/avma-horse-ownership-statistics-veterinarians/
  2. Same as #1.
  3. Unwanted Horse Coalition (UHC) 2009 survey, p. 11: http://www.unwantedhorsecoalition.org/resources/UHC_Survey_07Jul09b.pdf
  4. World Horse Welfare, “Need to Breed?” brochure, www.worldhorsewelfare.org/needtobreed , p. 4.
  5. “Need to Breed?”, p. 3.
  6. http://blogs.equisearch.com/horsehealth/2013/07/05/world-horse-welfare-owners-do-you-really-need-to-breed/ and “Need to Breed?” p. 5.
  7. Same as #5.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2013


About workponies

Breeder of Fell Ponies, teamster of work ponies, and author of Feather Notes, Fell Pony News, and A Humbling Experience: My First Few Years with Fell Ponies. Distributor of Dynamite Specialty Products for the health of our planet and the beings I share it with.
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