By: Stacey Oke
When observing a moment of silence at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, don’t forget to think about the contribution horses and other equids made during all the major wars since humans domesticated them.
During those wars, horses were used for riding, transporting equipment, pulling ambulances, reconnaissance, delivering arms and ammunition, and, of course, serving on the front lines until the use of automatic weapons rendered them obsolete in that capacity.
In total, more than 1 million horses and mules served for Britain alone in World War I, with only a fraction surviving (a mere 67,000). Equine deaths were attributed to disease, exhaustion, injury and artillery fire, poisonous gas, and starvation.
Considering the enormity of their sacrifice, how can we measure and acknowledge their commitment? One way is by visiting one or more of the monuments dedicated to war horses, such as the recently unveiled statue of Staff Sergeant Reckless, a famed Korean War horse, at the Marine Corps museum in Virginia.
Another way is to reflect on how much the horse has given us in battle and start a new war: the war on so-called unwanted horses.
“Unwanted horses represent a group of horses within the domestic equine population that are no longer needed or useful, or their owners are no longer interested in or capable of providing financial or physical care,” said Ann Dwyer, DVM, President of the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP).
The Unwanted Horse Coalition’s 2009 Unwanted Horse Survey estimates that there are approximately 170,000 unwanted horses in the United States each year.
“In recent years the horse industry has really come together to help these horses,” Dwyer said. “Following a 2005 summit on the unwanted horse organized by the AAEP, over 35 different equine breed, media, and professional associations came together to form the Unwanted Horse Coalition (UHC). The UHC operates under the auspices of the American Horse Council and serves to educate the public about responsible horse ownership and facilitate the exchange of information on adoption, care, and alternative careers for these animals.”
The coalition provides books, brochures, and speakers to educate horse owners about proper care and help rescue facilities create good foster homes.
Dwyer adds, “Many groups sponsor ‘makeover competitions’ or fund incentive awards that recognize the accomplishments of horses who have been rehomed, and a program called Operation Gelding hosts castration clinics to reduce unplanned breedings.”
Additionally, UHC member organizations share tips on initiatives that have worked best to help unwanted horses. As a result, the most successful programs are repeated through the industry.
“The UHC is a truly efficient agency working hard to help as many horses in the U.S. as possible,” relays Dwyer.
This Veteran’s Day, consider honoring the horses that sacrificed it all for us by sacrificing a little time, money, and energy to help horses in need.