Some operations face bankruptcy; breeders hope for strong economic growth
By MATTHEW WEAVER
The weak economy and the closure of U.S. horse slaughter facilities have resulted in an overpopulation of unwanted horses and hurt the horse breeding industry, breeders say.
Jim Averill, president of the Foundation Horse Registry and American Half Quarter Horse Registry and a rancher in Apache Junction, Ariz., said the industry has been hurt by the down economy and the closure of horse slaughter facilities.
Opponents of horse slaughter are well-meaning, he said, "but they don't understand the economics of the horse business."
Many breeders have stopped breeding their horses because fewer people are buying.
Joyce Powers of Meridian, Idaho, is president of the Idaho Quarter Horse Association. She stopped breeding her horses three years ago due to the lack of a market.
"A lot of the large breeding operations have gone into bankruptcy," Powers said. "It's kind of unsettling."
The slaughter industry used to help dispose of animals in a humane way, she said. "Now people have been known to turn them out."
Saddle horse breeder LeRoy Wetz, president of the Sugar Bars Legacy Sale in Vale, S.D., said the lack of kill facilities impacts the industry across the board. No one has any way to get rid of old or crippled horses, or those not of any use, he said.
"There's nowhere to take them," he said. "About your only choice is to destroy them. It's so expensive to get rid of horses that people don't want to have them."
There's still a strong market for quality, trained horses, but not for breeding stock, Powers said.
Stud fees depend on the type of horse. Top race horses probably remain high, Averill said, but small breeders probably receive about half of what they were getting five years ago.
Creation of regulations by animal rights activists cast a further pall on the industry, Averill said. He pointed to legislation in Arizona working to classify horses as pets instead of livestock, which would work against the industry, he said.
Powers foresees an eventual comeback of the market, although likely in the distant future.
"Hopefully we've reached the bottom of this and we can turn it around," Powers said.
Powers believes supply and demand will drive the comeback. With fewer horses being bred, the market will tighten, or breeding fees will continue to come down, she said. Those that survive the downturn will have a strong market, she said.
"People are only going to be breeding the really top-end horses," she said.
Wetz plans to stay in business breeding saddle horses for as long as possible. He also called for the return of a kill facility.
"Anytime anyone tries to start a facility, they need support from the agriculture business, totally," he said.
The return of several slaughter facilities would be a positive sign, Averill said.
"Get the slaughter houses going again and get the economy going again," he said. "They're both equally destructive to the horse industry."
American Half Quarter Horse Registry: www.halfquarterhorseregistry.com
American Horse Council: www.horsecouncil.org
Idaho Quarter Horse Association: www.idqha.com