COVID-19 has impacted all facets of our lives, including the economy, with an estimated 10 million unemployment claims filed in March.

Among them are horse owners, many of which now find themselves facing financial hardship and a difficult road ahead.

“We’ve been saying in emergency management, you should have six months of your salary saved back for an emergency fund—and how many people have done that? A lot of it comes down to preparation that should’ve started months, years ago and not waiting until something like this happened, because we all know it could happen. But I know that sounds asinine to the poor owner who’s sitting there going, ‘But I don’t want to lose my horse because now I’ve lost my job and have no income,’” said Dr. Rebecca Gimenez Husted, from the Technical Large Animal Emergency Rescue (TLAER) .

“So, what resources can we actually use? Who else can you reach out to for help feeding your horse? Can you get a second or third job to pull in enough money to pay for this? And, honestly, if you can’t do that, when do you make the decision to get rid of your horse?

“Do you wait until you’re not able to provide everything he needs, euthanize him, or sell him while he’s still valuable? Who are you going to sell him to, considering we can’t sell anything since you’re supposed to be staying home, not going out and looking at horses to purchase? How do you get a veterinarian there if you decide to euthanize your horse?”

These tough questions are complicated by the fact that horses are widely considered a luxury item, continued Dr. Husted.

“Horses are a luxury; people are supposed to take priority over animals. If there are large scale issues with feeding and care, obviously local animal welfare or animal control will get involved. But if it’s [very] large scale, what happens is, that becomes a disaster within a disaster.”

It’s a sobering view of coming months—but it’s not one without hope. Organizations like National Equine Disaster Relief (NEDR) are working to help keep horses in their homes as owners get laid off or find themselves out of work. Taking proactive steps and being realistic of the challenges ahead are key to protecting equine welfare.

Stock up what you can

“Stocking up on feed and hay is the most important,” said Billie Douglas of Colorado Horse Education & Equine Rescue (C.H.E.E.R) and the National Equine Disaster Relief group (NEDR) .

“Keep essentials like pain meds, colic meds and wound supplies [on hand]—a lot of these supplies can be ordered online. Make arrangements with hay dealers or the local feed store to call in orders and pick them up.”

Source hay and feed banks in your area

Local rescues, agriculture departments, veterinarian’s offices and organizations like NEDR may have hay and feed banks to help fill short-term shortages.

“We’ve already helped owners with feed and hay,” said Douglas.

“If we can provide even a months’ worth of feed so owners can keep their animals, it sure helps.”

A list of hay and feed assistance programs by state is available on the United Horse Council COVID-19 Resource Page and is updated regularly.

Contact your state’s Emergency Operations Center

Each state has an Emergency Operations Center (EOC) that’s been activated and may provide resources to horse owners in need, said Dr. Husted.

“It may vary from state to state, but ESF 11 is normally the emergency support function that most states use for animals and it’s supposed to cover things like animal sheltering, providing feed, etc.,” she explained.

“Obviously, the intention for [ESF 11] is catastrophic disaster, literally natural disasters, hurricanes, wildfires, those kinds of things—it was not intended for taking care of people’s horses. But I’m sure that, as this continues, if it continues for months, we’re going to start seeing that.”

Reach out to local rescues and retirement facilities

Currently, there are nearly 1,000 active rescues and sanctuaries identified in the United States, said Ashley Harkins, director of the United Horse Coalition (UHC) . These can also be found on the UHC database.

“As part of our auditing procedures, we have a master contact list which is continuously audited to ensure each rescue listed on our site has an active 501c3 status and a current form 990,” she said.

Harkins emphasized that horse owners should do their own research before surrendering or re-homing their horse and ensure that the facility is in good standing.

Many rescues are struggling to secure donations as people try to feed their families and pay bills.

“[C.H.E.E.R.] has been inundated with [owners calling] to surrender, but we’re full and [have fewer] donations due to COVID-19,” cautioned Douglas.

The UHC provides a list of questions for owners to ask before surrendering or re-homing their horse.

Consider compassionate euthanasia

No owner wants to think about euthanizing their horse. In desperate cases, however, it’s a kinder alternative, emphasized Dr. Husted.

“There are organizations funding [euthanasia clinics] and setting them up, paying veterinarians to come help you euthanize your horse so you don’t keep it for the next three months and not feed it,” she said. But, Dr. Husted added, “make that decision early.”

“Do you put down your old horse first because you can’t afford his medication? Those are the kind of decisions people need to start making now. This may go on for three, six or 12 months.”

Ask for help

Horses are expensive—even the lowest maintenance among them. Don’t be afraid to seek assistance as you navigate these challenging times. Help is available—if you ask for it.