University provides care for homeless horses

The Equine Center takes in abandoned horses whose owners can no longer afford to care for them.

Betsy Graca

Shadowbox, a healthy-looking 10-year-old show horse, has a loving owner and trainer who made sure the Danish Warmblood had a successful recovery from leg splints at the University Equine Center.

But not every horse is fortunate enough to have a committed owner.

Luckily for some abandoned and malnourished horses, the University’s Veterinary Medical Center’s Large Animal Hospital takes in horses that require veterinary care because their owners could no longer afford it.

Drew Fitzpatrick, state humane agent and director of the Minnesota Hooved Animal Rescue Foundation, said she has seen a steady increase in the number of abandoned horses over the past several years because of the mortgage crisis, droughts and increased ethanol use, which caused higher costs for hay and grain.

“People who really care about horses don’t care about the prices of hay or grain,” she said. “People who only dabble in horses and realize they can’t afford them bail.”

The Large Animal Hospital works with the Minnesota Hooved Animal Rescue Foundation to deal with homeless horses.

If the horses require veterinary care and a heated facility – or if the rescue foundation is full – the horses are sent to the University.

Stephanie Valberg, director of the University Equine Center, said veterinarians generally feel there is a problem with horses being abandoned or not fed enough.

“People have nowhere to turn when they can’t take care of their horses,” she said.

Elzabeth Lampert, Shadowbox’s trainer and owner of horse training and rehabilitation facility Arbor Hill Farm, said there are many expenses – board, veterinary care and training, for example – that not every owner realizes when committing to a horse.

“In this day and age, there are plenty of people saying money is tight,” Lampert said. “And the first thing you cut is the hobby.”

As a business owner, she said the rising prices of hay, grain, propane and fuel make it difficult for all parties involved.

Lampert said she hasn’t raised her rates in four years because she’s sympathetic to her customers and the rising costs they have to face.

The Large Animal Hospital, which handles the more critical cases compared to the Equine Center, has seen roughly eight or nine horses out of a large number who were too thin turned over to the county since last fall.

Animals are seized under warrant for 10 days if the owners don’t comply with animal cruelty regulations, Fitzpatrick said.

Rehabilitation takes about two to three months depending on the severity of the situation, she said. Mentally, it can take much longer for a horse to recover.

Once the horses are stable, they are put up for adoption.

Valberg said the recently developed Equine Center is in the process of moving all horse patients, with the exception of those with infectious diseases, from the main Large Animal Hospital to the Equine Center.