From The Bend Bulletin (Mark Holm):
While precise figures are hard to come by, rough estimates from the Unwanted Horse Coalition, an alliance of equine organizations based in Washington, puts the number of unwanted horses — those given up on by their owners for whatever reasons — at 170,000 to 180,000 nationwide, said Ericka Caslin, the group’s director.
Many more could be out there, though. The Navajos, for instance, have no tally on the number of feral horses on their land; a $2 million effort to count and round them up was vetoed by the tribe’s president because of the cost.
Here, in this speck of a city in northern New Mexico, just outside Navajo territory, Debbie Coburn has been scrambling to enlist volunteers and raise money to feed, clean and care for three times as many abandoned horses as she had in her rescue farm, Four Corners Equine Rescue, through all of last year.
She gets up almost every day to find messages in her computer from people whose horses are in desperate need of help. One recent morning, a woman writing on behalf of her elderly parents who live just east of Albuquerque said, “They have scraped by every week to purchase a bale of hay for their horse, but they just can’t do it anymore.”
At $8 to $12 for a bale of roughly 60 pounds, enough to feed a riding horse for maybe three days, hay costs five times what it did 10 years ago, Coburn said. This summer’s anemic harvest has spurred competition for a limited supply among ranchers big and small, from nearby cities and also from out of state. And as a rule, the price of hay goes up in the cold months; it doubled last winter, when the drought’s devastating effects first began to sprout.
“This winter, to be quite blunt, scares the hell out of me,” Coburn said as she walked across the corrals where the horses are kept, some of them in improvised pens enclosed not by steel barriers, but by electric fence. (The horses have arrived faster than she has been able to make room for them.)
“At this point,” she added, “it’s just too late for rain alone to solve our problems.”