Horses becoming victims of economy

Alyssa Sparacino

Portage County horse owners feel crunch as cost of upkeep empties pockets

Annette Fisher, executive director of Happy Trails Farm Animal Sanctuary, Inc. in Ravenna, pours feed for one the many horses the farm has rescued. The farm, currently filled to capacity, is putting animals on a waiting list to be rescued due to space and

Credit: Ron Soltys

The growing prices of gas, hay and grain are among contributing factors in an economic hardship some horse owners and boarders are beginning to experience, locals in the horse industry said.

Annette Fisher, executive director of Happy Trails Farm Animal Sanctuary Inc., a non-profit organization that rescues and rehabilitates abused, abandoned or neglected animals, said this financial struggle is directly responsible for the elevated amount of calls her business and others like it have received recently.

“I definitely think there’s a link; in fact, we’ve received calls this past week from people who say that they can’t afford to keep their horse,” Fisher said. “It seems to be an epidemic.”

As the executive director of Portage Animal Protective League, Sheila Vandergriff said the business received more than 1,000 calls in 2007 regarding abuse, neglect or abandonment of a variety of types of animals. A noticeable leap from just 360 calls in 2006.

Vandergriff also said the league has recently received more calls regarding horses, particularly after a situation in Brimfield, where five horses were found dead Jan. 9 on the property of the Never Rest Ranch, a boarding facility operating by Diane Silbaugh.

Silbaugh has since been charged with ten second-degree misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty, the latest charge brought against her yesterday.

“Since this all broke, we’ve received numerous calls,” Vandergriff said referring to the Brimfield incident. “It has really been a catalyst.”

In 2007, the league had several cases involving multiple horses at individual properties, Vandergriff said.

“We’ve had quite a few horses this year, and I think it’s all economically driven,” she said.

The cost of care

Vandergriff explained that the Portage Animal Protective League has legal ownership of four rescued horses from the Never Rest Ranch. Because of this, the league is now responsible for the expenses of the animals.

“For two horses alone, the vet bill was over $500,” Vandergriff said.

Fisher said the expenses of caring for a horse, ranging from feeding and grooming to addressing medical needs, can quickly reach into the hundreds of dollars. That does not include the every day expenses that individual owners and boarding facilities incur.

Fisher said with Happy Trails Farm Animal Sanctuary at full capacity, she is feeling the economic weight.

“Hay is between $5 and $6 a bale and depending on the type of horses you have. You go through about a half a bale per day,” she said. Grain can cost up to $12 for a 50-pound bag.

Fisher said several factors contribute to the increase in grain and hay prices.

Hay growers haven’t been able to get their last crop in because of the weather, which is changing sooner than usual, she said. And the continual rise in corn prices and gas prices is directly affecting the price of grain due to production and transportation.

Larry Hannum, owner of Larry’s Stables Inc. in Kent agrees.

He said that his stable is presently at an “all-time high” with the costs incurred from hay, grain and transportation.

“It’s scary to the point where I’m going to have to increase board,” he said.

Speaking to the rise in grain prices, he added “with the corn situation, it’s because farmers are using corn to produce ethanol for fuel used in hybrid cars.”

As long as the price of gas continues to increase affecting transportation costs, it will hurt the horse industry and in turn, the horses, Hannum said.

On the auction block

Another indication of the downfall in the horse market is prevalent at auctions, Vandercliff said.

“Now you have a flood of horses going into the auction,” she said. “I heard someone say you can buy a horse for a dollar, or $25, but no one wants them because you can’t feed them because it’s $7.50 a bale.”

Hannum said that he will only take a horse to auction if it is unruly or injured and is no longer good for riding.

“Some people condemn me for taking them to auction, but I think that’s where they need to go,” he said.

Hannum said that he saw 150 horses go through an auction at a recent visit he made to Sugarcreek. Most, he assumed, were intended for slaughter.

According to an issue briefing from the American Farm Bureau Federation from March 2007, a bill banning equine processing is currently being proposed in the House and Senate. As of March 2007, there was 20 percent representation of the entire Congress sponsoring the bill.

If passed, the Horse Slaughter Prevention Act would prohibit shipping, transporting, moving, delivering, receiving, possessing, purchasing, selling or donation of horses for humane processing for human consumption.

Thurman Mullet, who works at Mt. Hope Auction, owned by his father, said that he hasn’t seen an increase in the number of horses being sold but has seen a definite decrease in their value.

He said he sells about 20 to 40 horses to people he calls “kill buyers,” speaking about buyers who buy the horses from auction and ship them to slaughter houses.

“If that bill would pass, there’s going to be some changes,” he said speaking about the Horse Slaughter Prevention Act. “I’d have 20, 30, 40 horses left in my barn that I wouldn’t be able to feed.”

Contact public affairs reporter Alyssa Sparacino at [email protected].