CHINA GROVE, N.C. — Of the estimated 700,000 horses bred each year in the United States, which is home to roughly 10 million horses, 400,000 are not registered.
And because of overbreeding, an estimated 100,000 to 150,000 horses are shipped to Canada or Mexico each year to be slaughtered.
Joanie Benson is trying to turn that tide.
A lifelong horse lover, Benson is founder and executive director of the Horse Protection Society of North Carolina, a nonprofit she founded in 1999 to nurse abused or neglected horses back to good health and find loving homes for them.
And now, the group is launching a new service that will provide free gelding for any stallion in the United States that has been used for breeding.
“Right now there are way too many horses, and we need to reduce the population,” Benson says. “And one of the best ways to reduce the population and stop breeding is to get the stallions gelded.”
A typical stallion can breed 15 to 45 mares in a season, she says.
Located on an eight-acre farm it owns in China Grove and another 25 acres it leases, the Horse Protection Society is akin to a hospital and rehab center.
The group operates with an annual budget of $200,000, all of it donated, and counts on a core of three-dozen families that work as volunteers, feeding the horses morning and night, and grooming and exercising them.
The nonprofit spends about $30,000 a year on veterinarian bills, including chiropractic services, acupuncture and massage therapy.
In a typical day, Benson says, the nonprofit gets half-a-dozen calls from people who want to give away their horses.
“Whenever we get a call of a horse in trouble, our goal is not to take the horse away from them but to educate them, and we work hard at that,” Benson says.
Many people acquire horses because they are in plentiful supply and inexpensive to acquire, Benson says, but the owners often are not prepared to maintain the horses.
The typical cost of keeping a young horse at home can range from $2,500 to $3,000 or more a year, she says, while the cost of boarding a horse can range from $275 to $500 or more a month.
“People get horses and they really don’t know how to take care of them and they have no ideas how they’re supposed to be fed or be provided with medical care,” Benson says. “If they don’t take care of them correctly, it doesn’t take long for a horse to start losing weight and become effectively a skeleton with skin on it.”
When it finds new families for the horses, the Horse Protection Society works to educate them about proper care and feeding.
And with $25,000 in grants, the group is launching its free Stallion to Gelding Support, including a website that will promote the program throughout the United States.
“We want to be pro-active,” Benson says, “in helping to reduce the overpopulation of horse.”