UNDATED -- Even before statehood, Oklahoma has had a long history with horses. But, our horses are in trouble. The American horse market has hit rock bottom. Horses that used to be coveted symbols of the American west are being abandoned and turned out in fields to starve to death.
They are iconic symbols of the American way of life, horses running free on the range. But for many horses in America, the life they are living now is not what it once was.
"She should have a nice sloped, round back. You know, obviously when a horse that's emaciated like this, when they're sunken in like that, I mean that's too far gone," said Natalee Cross of Blaze's Tribute Equine Rescue.
One 20-year-old mare, Blondie, is lucky. Starved and weighing about half of what she should, Blondie was rescued by Blaze's Tribute Equine Rescue in Jones, Oklahoma.
"The best care that they can get so that they can be fully rehabilitated and have no issues and can go on to a loving home," said Cross.
Because Blondie has been starved, she has several serious health problems that, had they gone untreated, would have killed her within a month.
At Blaze's they keep 40 to 50 horses on their property at all times. Each one of the horses comes in looking a lot like Blondie, sometimes even worse.
"Down here we have horses that come from Seminole that were being starved and neglected," said Cross.
And the number of horses needing rescue is rising at a disturbing pace.
"We've seen a definite increase in the last two years," said Cross.
The biggest culprit is the skyrocketing cost to keep a horse.
At stores across the country prices of horse feed and tack have almost doubled in the past two years.
The owner of Thompson's General Store in Owasso hears a lot of complaints and a lot of sad stories.
"So I do have customers who actually come in and buy feed and feed other people's horses just because they know they're starving," said Stevie Thompson.
Feed prices are rising because of the rising costs of transportation and the demand for corn-based ethanol.
"And you're going to see more and more of this where people are just leaving them out in fields and they'll hide them in the back because they can't afford to feed them," said Thompson.
At Oklahoma's largest horse auction in Bristow, the devastated horse market is as plain as the number on the horses' backs.
Sellers blame overpopulation, too many people breeding horses that have no place to go and no one to feed them.
They say the market's never been worse.
"When you got a horse that's a good riding horse you can't sell them because the prices are down so much you know they're really not bringing what they're worth," said Jim Crafton.
So what do you do with them?
"Either take the kick on them and take the less price or you feed them," said Crafton.
These days riding horses are the minority. The Mid America Livestock Auction sees more and more horses that haven't been taken care of, and have to be sold by the pound for slaughter.
Many of the horses that are sold are sick or malnourished. One sold for two cents a pound for a total of $14.62.
"This just happened in the last year or two since the market got so cheap," said Jerry Varner of Mid America Livestock Auction.
The owners of the auction blame the cheap market on animal rights organizations who forced all U.S. slaughterhouses to close in 2007. Now the horses sell for pennies a pound to be shipped to Canada and Mexico for slaughter and then eaten by Europeans.
And people at the auction fear the worst is yet to come with a bill that will be heard by congress next session. It would make it illegal to transport horses on U.S. highways with the purpose of being slaughtered anywhere.
"Well it looks to us like it's the wrong thing to do. And we'll have a lot of people that don't agree with us. But they really don't see a lot of what's happening and what has happened to the horse market," said Varner.
One of the people who disagree is the woman who rescued Blondie.
"These horses, everybody says that they're unwanted. I don't believe that they are unwanted. I believe that the person who obviously took them to the slaughterhouse did not want them. But there's plenty of people out there who want to give a horse a loving home," said Cross.
Overpopulation and the cost of caring for horses is forcing our federal government to consider euthanizing thousands of our country's wild horses.
The News On 6 visited a wild mustang holding facility to look at that issue. We'll have that story Tuesday night at 9 on the CW12/19.
Other Horse Rescues:
Angel Horse Rescue P.O. Box 1058 Inola, OK 918-607-5983
Second Chance Equine Rescue Mannford, OK 918-865-2434
Greener Pastures Equine Rescue Stonewall, OK 580-577-4774
Lone Star Equine Rescue 580-259-6441
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