Many people are curious about the free-roaming horses in the Appalachian region of Eastern Kentucky. Why are they there? How many? What is KHS doing to help? We explain in this post.

Horses on coal reclamation sites


Q: Why are they there?

A: There are hundreds, if not thousands, of horses that have been turned loose on former coal excavation sites once the mining process has been completed. Pastureland is limited in this heavily forested, mountainous terrain and for years local horse owners have turned horses out to take advantage of thousands of acres of flatland that has been re-seeded as part of the reclamation process to return the area to a natural habitat.


Q: Are these wild horses, and how did they get there?

A: No, these are domestic horses, not wild ones. They have either been turned out by their owners or they were born on the mountain top. Some are collected by their owners when needed and returned, others are left year round or are permanently abandoned.


Q: Are you rounding up and removing all the horses?

A: No, our goal is to only help horses in crisis and to reduce the population when needed to the extent that the environment can support the horses without them starving.


Q: How many are there?

A: There are hundreds, and probably thousands, of horses that reside on former mine sites. Over 500 horses were identified in several counties in Kentucky in 2013, but a more current and comprehensive count is needed.


Q: Are they all skinny?

A: No, the health of these horses varies based on the amount of forage on the site as well as the number of horses residing in the area. Some areas are able to support the number of horses with the amount of forage that can be found, especially the larger sites that range in size from 20,000 to 40,000 acres. While the majority of horses on these sites fare pretty well and stay at a healthy weight, there are a few that struggle. In these cases there is typically an underlying medical condition that is causing the emaciation (worms, dental issues, age-related issues, etc.).

We have also been on sites where all the horses are thin and the ground is barren, especially in the winter months. In these situations we have observed horses chewing the bark off trees to get the nutrients they need to survive. It is on sites like this that the population of horses is too high and needs to be reduced in order for the horses to be healthy.


Q: If I see a horse on a reclamation site and call you, will you come and get it?

A: No, but we will work with local authorities and investigate. We are only able to respond to horses in one of three situations:
1) They are a public safety hazard because they are in the road
2) They are sick, injured or malnourished
3) They are at risk of being injured because they are unwanted or a nuisance

In these situations, KHS will contact local authorities and offer our help. Our help may include collecting horses and transporting them to a rescue facility, providing for their medical care, and placing them with adopters if they are not claimed by their original owners within the state-designated 15-day stray hold period.


Q: Why take them back to Louisville? Why not find places to keep them in eastern Kentucky?

A: By the time we are called in to help, a horse is typically in a very compromised physical condition and needs veterinary care if not hospitalization. We have local veterinary partners who work with us on these cases, and are also available 24/7 in case of an emergency. We have to keep them in close proximity to our staff and our vet team to provide the best possible care and oversight during rehabilitation.

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