RACHEL MARTIN, host:
OK, here's a consequence of the current economic downturn we never thought of. Rising food and fuel costs are forcing people all over the country to make tough decisions about what they spend their money on. With people struggling to afford food for their own tables, they're finding it harder to meet the needs of their animals. Horse owners, in particular, are having a difficult time keeping up with the rising cost of feed and hay, not to mention transportation for those large animals. Unable to meet the demands of their horses, some owners are simply turning them loose. Joining me now is Brent Glover. He runs a horse rescue center and sanctuary in Idaho called Orphan Acres. Hey, Brent. Thanks for coming on.
Mr. BRENT GLOVER (Founder, Orphan Acres): Hey, Rachel. Good morning.
MARTIN: Good morning. So I'm hearing that you're getting a lot of phone calls about this. Lots of people contacting you about finding homes for their horses because they just can't afford to keep them. How big is this problem? How many calls do you get?
Mr. GLOVER: This is a pretty major growing problem, to the point that a lot of people are just taking their animals and turning them loose or dumping them. And they're even - BLM and forest service is even finding animals that have just been hauled out to their lands and shot.
MARTIN: BLM, the Bureau of Land Management. So federal officials are even getting in on this.
Mr. GLOVER: Oh, yeah. Federal and state.
MARTIN: How many horses do you have right now at your farm?
Mr. GLOVER: We've got 67 right here now.
MARTIN: Where'd they come from?
Mr. GLOVER: They come from all different places. Court orders, sheriff's offices, humane societies, people that realize that they're in trouble and care about their animals, and this is a place that they can hopefully send them. So that we can take care of them.
MARTIN: I imagine, Brent, this is an emotional decision for a lot of people, who have, I mean, for many people, horses aren't just part of the functioning of a farm or a ranch, but they're members of the family even, sometimes.
Mr. GLOVER: Right. We also get a lot of older folks that are no longer able to maintain the animals, and they're moving to town. And their concern is this is the animal that raised their kids, their grandkids, and they don't just want to send it off or have the horse mistreated someplace.
Mr. GLOVER: So, you know, to answer that question for you, yes, this is a very emotional situation for a lot of folks.
MARTIN: So let's talk about some of the costs involved. I mean, these people are handing their horses over to you or setting them free because of rising costs of feed or transportation. How much is that, then, affecting your organization? Because you're the one taking all these horses in!
Mr. GLOVER: Well, last year, we were paying 80, 85 dollars a ton for hay. The hay that I just had to purchase here about a month ago was clear up to 225 dollars a ton. So with 67 horses, we're feeding over a ton of hay a day.
MARTIN: And that's a lot.
Mr. GLOVER: So that's taken it from 85 dollars a day to 225 dollars a day, just for the hay. That's not including any of the other expenses. There's horseshoeing. There's medical. There's worming. There's everything else that goes along with owning a horse.
MARTIN: And caring for it. So let's talk about some of the other factors besides the rising costs that are contributing to folks letting their horses - just let them go in the wild or handing them off to an organization like yours. What are some of the other factors?
Mr. GLOVER: There is no other place to dispose of animals right now. I'm not saying that slaughter is the answer, but it was where a lot of these animals used to go. But that's no longer a viable solution. I mean, there are still animals that they haul all the way to Mexico and up into Canada, that still go to those markets, but not to the point that it used to.
MARTIN: And that's because there was a big movement to get those things shut down, right? Slaughter houses for horses.
Mr. GLOVER: Right. There was a big movement to close the slaughter facilities in this country, and there's still a large movement to try and close exportation of these animals to Mexico and Canada. And even though a lot of people say it hasn't made a difference because the animals that were going to these facilities weren't the old, sick, neglected animals, the old sick, neglected animals were still going there. They may not have been used as food animals for human consumption, but they still went on to rendering facilities or dog and cat food or whatever else that they could, you know, sell these animals for besides human consumption. It was still a way of disposing of these animals.
MIKE PESCA, host:
You know, right now, there's a big debate about if the horseracing industry promotes the health and welfare of horses, or if it's so hard on the horses that, you know, you see high-profile cases of horses breaking down. Do you have any thoughts on that, the number of horses that come into, maybe, if any horses come into your care who are thoroughbreds who didn't make it and the horseracing industry's impact on the number of horses who need rescuing?
Mr. GLOVER: The thoroughbred industry has always had a problem with horseracing and horses breaking down on tracks because of the early age that they're started at. I have a couple here right now that have come in for those reasons. I will hand it to the thoroughbred association, they actually do help support us. They're the only breed association that has any form of charity that they give back to people that are trying to take care of these animals. Through the Thoroughbred Charities of America, they actually help people that are trying to help the horses.
PESCA: From where you stand, would you say the thoroughbred industry is a net positive or net negative if we're talking about the welfare of horses?
Mr. GLOVER: In that sense, that they're concerned about the horses and actually have a fund to help take care of these horses, I would say that they're helping. But at the same time, we have the situation that's always been there of taking these horses and running them at too early of an age. They break down. Unfortunately, if they don't make it on the track and can't bring money in, they're discarded. But this is true any of the industries.
You can take the quarter horse industry that raises cutting reigning horses. If they don't make it as cutting reigning horses, they'll end up in the same situation. And cutting and reigning is very hard on legs, also. You've got the dressage industry. If the dressage horse can't make it as a dressage horse, it's discarded, and they get something new. The same for hunter-jumpers. So the entire horse industry has the same problem. It's not just the thoroughbred.
MARTIN: Brent, we don't have a whole lot of time left, and I want to get one more question in. What's so bad about releasing horses? We have this romantic notion that, oh, set horses and have them roam free in the wild if you can't afford them. What's wrong with that thesis?
Mr. GLOVER: Well, the main thing is, these animals have been raised domestically. They have no way of knowing where to find water. They don't know what they can eat. Every coyote out there is the dog that they grew up with on the farm. The wild mustangs, anybody that's watched nature programs know that animals defend their territory. Wild mustangs will kill them and stomple (ph) them into the ground protecting their territory. So it's not just a matter of romantic turning the horse back out. The horse has no idea. He's been a domestic horse. He doesn't know how to fend for himself.
MARTIN: So even while the argument goes, oh, don't slaughter the horses if you can't afford them, sometimes, perhaps that might even be more humane than letting them starve to death, or...
Mr. GLOVER: This is true, and I mean, we've actually found horses people released that still have the halters on, thinking that, oh, somebody can easily catch it, they won't know who it belongs to, so they'll have to take care of it. That horse can go out and get that halter hooked on branches, fence posts, and then it's tied to it. It sits there and starves to death.
MARTIN: Brent Glover, thank you for sharing some of your work. Good luck with everything. Brent runs a horse rescue center and sanctuary in Idaho called Orphan Acres. Thanks so much, Brent.
Mr. GLOVER: All right, Rachel, and thank you.
MARTIN: You take care.
PESCA: And next on the show, New York's Road Runners Club turns 50 years old today. It's one of the biggest running clubs in the world. A history of the club and how it influenced the sport throughout the years. This is the Bryant Park Project from NPR News.