We’re all struggling to make ends meet in the current economy. Inflation, rising interest rates, soaring fuel costs … add in other factors such as climate change affecting crops and water tables and it’s a recipe for disaster for many.

Horse owners aren’t immune, and neither are the various non-profit organizations who work to help rescue equines in distress. A recent story from CBC news highlights the issue facing owners that has caused an increase in horse surrenders from people who can no longer afford the feed and care for them.

Whispering Hearts Horse Rescue Centre (WHHRC) in Hagersville, Ontario, currently cares for over 80 horses and are a critical care facility that takes owner surrenders and also seized animals through the Provincial Animal Welfare Service. Brenda Thompson, founder and president of WHHRC (and Horse Canada’s 2020 Heroes of the Horse award winner), agrees that rising costs are impacting owners everywhere, including her farm. “Our fuel costs just to run the equipment has doubled. Feed prices are increasing every week, along with shavings for bedding going up forty per cent,” she says. “We have fencing repairs we need to do; however, with the cost of lumber going up two hundred per cent, we will be limited on what we repair.”

Brenda Thompson.

All of this makes Thompson extremely concerned for people who were just barely holding on before the economic downturn, “and now won’t have the means to care for their animals. I expect a huge influx of horses in the fall once grass is no longer an option,” she says.

Many farmers across the country are watching hay prices, with an increase expected as fuel increases. “I just hope and pray we get a good hay crop in Ontario this year; if not, the disaster will be horrific for animals in need,” Thompson says.

As we saw during the pandemic, animal adoptions skyrocketed, and that included horses, but now with people back at work, coupled with rising costs, many horses, dogs, cats and everything else will be surrendered to rescues. “Whispering Hearts has made it through many hurdles over the years and I see a big one heading our way this fall and winter. I am very worried,” Thompson adds.

Across the country in British Columbia, Kris Latham owns and operates Second Chance Cheekye Ranch (SCCR) north of Squamish. SCCR currently cares for 100 rescue horses; of those, 56 are looking for forever homes.

Latham says she first noticed the impact the economy and weather events were having on horse owners after the forest fires ripped through her province and Alberta last summer. “Thousands upon thousands of acres of hay were destroyed, leaving not only horse owners but cattle and sheep farmers scrambling for alternative sources within the western provinces and outside the provinces for supply,” she explains. “To make matters worse, the devastating flooding that occurred in November 2021 showed no mercy. Remaining hay supplies not consumed by water damage or already spoken for were in high demand for emergency supplies for displaced animals throughout the province.”

Latham says she’s definitely getting more requests from owners to surrender their horses due to the increased cost of hay as well as soaring gas prices. This in turn has made Latham more cautious about potential adopters. “I wouldn’t say it’s more difficult [finding forever homes], it’s that we are being a little more diligent in making sure that potential adopters are aware of the increased financial costs and that they are capable of supporting a horse.”

Despite all the difficulties, Second Chance Cheekye Ranch is still taking in horses. “If there is a will there is always a way!” Latham says. She also offers this advice for horse owners currently struggling to pay for care for their horses. “SCCR is here to help and with networking throughout the provinces we can generally find a way to help, either with hay supplies or raising funds or finding an alternative home for the horse.”

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