COLUMBIA – When unwanted horses in Minnesota multiplied over the last couple of years, equine organizations banded together to open free sterilization clinics.
The Gelding Project – a gelding is a castrated stallion – seeks to reduce the horse population through educating horse owners in horse health management classes and through free sterilizations clinics conducted by veterinary students in different parts of the state. Forty-two horses have been castrated through the program with about 20 more slotted for the project’s third clinic Sept. 11.
“Humane agents had seen a 400 percent increase in humane calls and seizures over the last couple of years as the economic situation deteriorated. We wanted to help the rescues by offering free castrations, and we found people who due to finances could not afford to get their horses castrated,” veterinarian Tracy Turner, one of the founders of the project, said.
The Gelding Project inspired the MU College of Veterinary Medicine, which is offering a low- or no-cost, day-long horse sterilization clinic on Oct. 2 to people who can’t afford the procedurethat costs around $125. Students will work with clinicians to perform the sterilizations.
“There’s definitely a need for this,” said MU veterinarian Alison LaCarrubba. “The purpose is two-fold: we’re going to be doing a public service, and at the same time, students will get hands-on experience castrating and performing field anesthesia.”
Leaders of both The Gelding Project and the new MU clinic cite a problem with unwanted horses and financial need among horse owners as reasons for having the clinics.
“Vets are seeing unwanted horses that people can’t afford to keep or have no desire to keep, and we’re just trying to decrease those numbers through this clinic,” LaCarrubba said.
According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, data from an agricultural census taken in 2007 puts the horse population on Missouri farms at just less than 150,000 horses, the fifth largest in the U.S.
A nationwide survey by the Unwanted Horse Coalition put estimates of the number of unwanted horses in the U.S. at around 170,000 horses in 2007. An exacerbating factor since then has been the closing of slaughterhouses in the U.S. that same year. The same survey said there were over 58,000 horses slaughtered in the country in 2007.
Besides an overpopulation of horses, addressing financial need among horse owners is also an aim of the clinic. Regular hoof-trimming, deworming, vaccinations, dental work, and of course, providing food and shelter are all part of keeping a horse. And that can cost thousands each year.
Veterinarian Michelle Schmidt of Animal Medical Services in Hallsville, hasn’t referred any clients to the program yet, but thinks there is a need. She said she commonly sees overgrazed pastures, skinny horses and owners who can’t feed them enough. When horses get older, some owners can’t afford to euthanize the animal.
“Every good stallion makes an excellent gelding,” Schmidt said. “If you’re going to keep a stallion and use it as a breeding animal, I think there ought to be a reason. It should be a superior individual, and should have earned a reason to be a stallion.”
She said people who really need the service might not have access to the clinic, since people with financial difficulties only use veterinary services in emergencies. Beneficiaries of the clinic must be referred by a veterinarian.
“That might be the biggest drawback,” Schmidt said.
John Coats, who boards 16 horses at his stables, the Coats High Ridge Stables, agreed that there was a need for the free clinic.
“There’s some people who just can’t afford it, and if they can’t afford the castration, they can’t afford the horse, and they just don’t know that. There’s a lot of people that have horses who really shouldn’t have them,” Coats said.
More free clinics like the ones in Columbia and Minnesota could soon spring up around the country.
The Unwanted Horse Coalition in Washington, D.C. is offering seed money to any organization that would like to start up a free castration clinic for horses.
“The inception of more castration clinics will help prevent breeding more horses that have no home,” Ericka Caslin, director of the Unwanted Horse Coalition said.
The project is launching this fall with a $10,000 to $15,000 budget, and pays $50 per horse and up to a $1,000 per organization.
LaCarrubba estimated the cost of MU’s clinic to be $500 to $1,000.