“A horse! a horse! my kingdom for a horse!” said the lead character in Shakespeare's King Richard III. My how things have changed.

Today’s economy, coupled with the closing of all U.S. processing plants, has put many horse owners in a spot, says University of Nebraska–Lincoln horse specialist Kathy Anderson.        

The nationwide recession has contributed to a situation in which owners can’t feed or care for horses they could afford a year or even a few months ago, Anderson says. At the same time, the option of selling or moving these horses is shrinking because some of the places that would take an adopted or donated horse are getting flooded with horses.

Anderson lists several options for disposing of unaffordable or unwanted horses. 

“First,” Anderson said, “if you have a horse that doesn’t work for you any more, he might work for someone else. So maybe you can sell him, take him to a sale barn or sell him to a neighbor.”

A few rescue, retirement facilities might take a horse, Anderson says, but many of them are filling.  Therapeutic riding programs take donated horses, but many of those facilities are getting more horses than they can maintain, as well.

The last option is euthanizing the horse.

“We are seeing a slight increase of horses that are being put down just because the owner has no other option,” Anderson says. “It’s really important, when you get to that point, that you research what you’re going to do with the horse before you put him down. Sometimes trailering the horse to a facility might be a better option.”

Veterinarians are the best resource for people who have to take that option. They are a good resource to help dispose of the large carcass resulting from euthanizing a horse. 

They have three methods for putting a horse down, Anderson says. The methods include chemical injection, gunshot and the use of a penetrating captive bolt that’s done in processing plants. 

In most states, when a vet puts the horse down, he’s responsible for making sure that the carcass is disposed of correctly. Sometimes when they use chemical injection, there are residues in the carcass that other animals could feed on, causing them to die. Possible methods of disposal include burying, burning, removal by a rendering or dead stock company, or even cremation. Occasionally a land fill might take them, and composting also is an option. 

The horse owner will incur costs in disposing of a horse. A veterinarian might charge between $100 and $200. A rendering plant might charge as little as $25 or as high as $175 or even $200. The other option is to bury them, but owners must check with local authorities about zoning restrictions. They need to be a certain distance from water sources. Then there’s the cost of digging the hole, depending on the equipment available to the owner.