Free-Roaming Horses in Eastern Kentucky
There is a population of free-roaming horses in the Appalachian region of Kentucky that is unknown to most horse lovers. The land is heavily forested and mountainous, so pasture land for horses is very limited. Coal reclamation sites (land that is re-seeded after mining is completed) provide ideal pasture land and have become an unofficial grazing area for local horses.
These are domestic horses, not wild ones, that have been turned out to survive on their own. Many are approachable, friendly horses that are easy to handle; some are owned and collected periodically for riding purposes; others have been abandoned by owners who have no intention of reclaiming them. Still others have been born free, have never been handled by humans, and ownership is questionable.
The winter months pose the most difficulty for these horses trying to survive on their own. Many herds descend from the mountain tops when grass is scarce and reside along the road where foraging is better and they can lick the salt from the roads. The horses pose a public safety risk for drivers as well as themselves. Horses have been reported chewing siding off of homes, licking salt off cars and causing traffic accidents.
Tough Economic Times Make Problem Worse
Certain areas of Appalachia have always struggled with poverty, and recent economic challenges have made the problem worse. In addition, word of these unofficial grazing sites spread beyond local residents, and people started coming from farther away to dump horses in eastern Kentucky. More and more people were indiscriminate and released stallions, along with mares and geldings, and the population began to grow at a rate that was not sustainable for the amount of forage available.
Many of the herds now contain stallions, and breeding has become prolific. Left unchecked, the horse population continues to grow, making a bad problem worse. In addition, these offspring do not receive the benefit of human contact and the herds are shifting from friendly to feral – making care, rescue or rehabilitation an increasingly difficult task.
Due to the growing population and lack of infrastructure to care for these herds, many of these horses are underweight and become emaciated during the winter months. A growing number of them are experiencing medical issues related to the lack of veterinary, farrier and dental care. Unattended, these problems can be life threatening.
Our Proactive Approaches to Helping Free-Roaming Horses
Inventorying Free-Roaming Horses
Since 2014 our KHS Equine C.A.R.E. (connect, assist, rescue, educate) Team has participated in annual inventory projects in five counties in southeast Kentucky. During each inventory, we have counted over 500 horses that had been turned out on the reclamation sites, and the majority of the mares were pregnant or had foals by their side nursing. These five counties are our current areas of focus.
Gelding & Wellness Clinics
At the Kentucky Humane Society, we take population control very seriously. In 2007 we opened our S.N.I.P. Clinic - a high quality, high-volume facility dedicated entirely to providing low-cost spay/neuter surgeries for cats and dogs. What we have leaned from altering more than 85,000 felines and canines is that population control saves thousands of animals from being euthanized simply because there are not enough homes for them all.
At our free Gelding and Wellness Clinics, we provide free castration, vaccination and dental services for horses that are owned, regardless if they are currently residing at homes or have been turned out on the strip mines. Our partners in these clinics are the ASPCA, the Kentucky Equine Humane Center, and the Kentucky Horse Council.
Hay and Salt Feeding
The winters can be harsh all over Kentucky, especially for those horses living in free-roaming herds where grass is scare. The Kentucky Humane Society’s Diversionary Feeding Program provides hay and salt drops on these sites in an effort to keep the horses off the roads and from casing public safety issues. If you would like to donate to the hay fund please go to Donate.