A study by a horse advocacy group has found that levels of neglect rise with the price of hay.
The Equine Welfare Alliance today released a statistical study on the rates of equine abuse and neglect across the United States since 2000.
The research examined equine abuse statistics from Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Maine and Oregon.
Historical records of the number of cases of equine abuse and neglect from these states were correlated with three potential causes: the rate of equine slaughter, unemployment and the cost of hay.
Surprisingly, the researchers found that the rate of abuse has been in decline in four of the six states since 2008. Five of the six states had shown a spike in abuse and neglect around 2008 and two showed a significant increase in the past two years.
The dominant factor the analysis produced in every state was the price of hay.
“My assumption was always that unemployment was the dominant factor,” admitted alliance president John Holland.
“In fact, the analysis showed that the rate of unemployment in the state was the least important predictor of the level of abuse and neglect.”
The analysis showed the second most important correlation was the rate of slaughter, but the analysis found more slaughter consistently correlated with more abuse and neglect.
“Correlation is not proof of causation,” said Holland, “but it certainly contradicts the theory that slaughter decreases neglect by culling ‘unwanted horses’.”
The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) have long urged Congress not to ban horse slaughter on the basis that to do so would increase abandonment, abuse and neglect.
The alliance study follows on the heels of a peer-reviewed paper in the Kentucky Journal of Equine, Agricultural, and Natural Resources Law by Holland and Laura Allen, of the Animal Law Coalition.
That paper documented enormous increases in the cost of horse ownership between 2000 and 2011.
The paper demonstrates, among other pressures, that a shift of land use from hay to corn for ethanol has reduced the hay available to horse owners, cattlemen and dairy farmers.
Severe drought in some states has made an already insufficient supply of hay all but collapse.
In 2011, Congress ended the long-standing subsidy for ethanol in gasoline and removed tariffs on sugar cane. The alliance hopes this will put a downward pressure on hay prices in coming years.