In Oregon there are so many unwanted horses, they are being given away for free, according to Linda Davis, executive director of the Equamore Foundation, a nonprofit horse shelter in Ashland.
And there are still too few takers.
Davis' farm, which houses 28 abandoned horses, is full and so are most of the other shelters in the state, she said.
In the last year, as more people have lost their jobs or their homes, they have been giving away — or abandoning — their pets and livestock in record numbers. Horses, which are expensive to feed and house, have fared worse than many animals, especially since there are few shelters dedicated to rescuing horses, Davis said.
"It's really bad. I get e-mails and calls everyday from people who have horses and they can't take care of them anymore. We could have thousands of rescues if we could take them," she said Thursday, sitting on a scrappy bench that faces the pasture, like a schoolmarm watching her pupils, sometimes calling out to a mischievous young stallion trying to cozy up to a mare.
While the Equamore Foundation could shelter more horses on its 22 acres of land and on the 9 acres it borrows, the foundation can't afford to feed any more animals, Davis said. The nonprofit relies on limited donations and volunteers to help feed and care for the horses.
"I can always find space for horses, I just don't have the money to feed them," she said.
And as the economic crisis gallops recklessly on, rescue groups continue to find more neglected horses in need of homes.
On Friday Scott Beckstead, senior state director for the Oregon chapter of the Humane Society of the United States, helped rescue 45 starving, injured horses in Harney County.
"Whenever the economy is in bad shape, horses tend to suffer, but this has been particularly bad," he said as he helped round up the horses and 25 cattle that had also been abused.
While the economy is largely to blame for the number of unwanted horses, overbreeding has contributed to the problem, Beckstead said.
"When you combine the fact that you've got a bad economic cycle with the fact that there's been this aggressive overbreeding of horses, it just creates a perfect storm and that's what were dealing with right now," he said.
To try to curb horse abandonment and to support organizations serving unwanted horses, Beckstead created the Oregon Horse Welfare Council in October. Representatives from horse shelters, the state Department of Agriculture, breed organizations, veterinary groups and law enforcement organizations meet monthly to try to come up with solutions to the crisis.
Davis is one of the people on the council who is trying to establish an Oregon Hay Bank, a food bank for horses. The hay will be given to struggling horse-owners and overburdened rescues, such as the Equamore Foundation.
"We get in the news and then we get a little bit of money that lasts us for awhile, but, the horses don't stop eating," she said.
The Grotto, a Talent pizzeria, held a fundraiser Tuesday for the Equamore Foundation by donating all sales to the nonprofit. The foundation received $2,970 from the event, but that's only enough to feed the rescued horses for about 45 days, Davis said, sounding discouraged.
"We need a benefactor," she said.
But Anna Clay, the owner of the restaurant, who had dropped by the foundation to greet the horses, reminded Davis that "we help one horse at a time."
The rescue has "made all the difference" for several horses, said Clay, who volunteers regularly at the foundation.
Finn, the young stallion who was courting the mares Thursday, is one of the shelter's success stories. He was found with four other neglected horses — one of whom had already died — last August in Central Point.
"He broke my heart. I cried when he came in," Clay remembered.
She was the first person Finn allowed to touch him after he was rescued from a tiny pen where he had been kept for the first three years of his life, she said.
Now, Finn runs proudly in the Equamore pasture, his head held high, his dark mane ruffling.
"He's a horse now," Clay said. "He's not a scared quivering creature anymore. He's who he should have been from the very beginning."
With the recession roaring in their ears, people are scared too, but that's no reason to forget about neglected animals, she said.
"Everybody's afraid right now, and rightly so, but we're not helping each other. They forget that the one thing that can never be taken away from you is helping someone — including a horse."
Contact staff writer Hannah Guzik at 482-3456 ext. 226 or email@example.com.