Hot Topics in the Horse Industry Today

How much do you know about the most pressing issues facing the horse industry today? Take the EQUUS 10-question quiz and find out. By Christine Barakat for EQUUS magazine.
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How much do you know about the most pressing issues facing the horse industry today? Take the EQUUS 10-question quiz and find out. By Christine Barakat for EQUUS magazine.

1. True or False? By 2018, most veterinarians will be women.
True. Last year, when the 2007 veterinary school graduates entered the workforce, the veterinary profession reached a tipping point: For the first time in history, more women than men were practicing veterinarians, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).

What's more, other statistics indicate that this milestone is the start of a trend. About 78 percent of students in veterinary school from 2007 through 2010 will be female, according to the American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges. Over the same period, more than 95 percent of retiring veterinarians will be men.

The proportion of female veterinarians specializing in equine medicine is also growing. Just four years ago, the membership of the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) was 65 percent male. By 2007, that number had dropped to 59 percent. Currently, 81 percent of the 2,025 AAEP student members are female.

This gender shift may not be perceptible to individual horse owners--many of us already have a female veterinarian caring for our horses--but industry leaders will be watching for any broader implications it may have on the veterinary profession at large.

For more information, go to

2. True or False? A shortage of large-animal veterinarians is likely to develop over the next 10 years.
True. A 2006 AVMA study showed that demand for food-animal veterinarians--those who specialize in cattle, swine and other livestock--will increase by 12 to 13 percent by 2016. However, the same study predicted that the number of veterinarians trained to treat large animals will grow by only 7 or 8 percent, leaving a potential shortfall of at least 4 percent. In other words, only 96 veterinarians will be available to fill every 100 large-animal practice positions.

Horses are not food animals, but some worry that the same forces steering veterinarians away from farm and ranch medicine--for example, far fewer students today come from rural backgrounds--will lead to a similar shortage in equine veterinarians. To address this potential problem, the AAEP helps sponsor an annual Opportunities in Equine Practice Seminar for third-year veterinary students with talks designed to promote equine practice as a career option.

For more information, go to

3. True or False? In a state with an equine liability law, horse owners, barn owners and event organizers cannot be sued over accidents related to their animals or property.
False. Equine liability laws do not prevent people from going to court; instead they are designed to reduce the number of frivolous lawsuits and discourage excessive damage awards.

Provisions vary from state to state, but many equine liability statutes require the posting of signs and/or the signing of waivers which state that equestrian activities have inherent dangers and participants assume some risk of injury. However, owners and managers who are negligent or display a disregard for the safety of others are not protected under equine liability statutes. Currently, 45 states have equine liability laws.

For more information about the legal framework in your jurisdiction, check with your state horse council or go to

4. True or False? You can ensure that equestrians have access to your land even after you sell it.
True. A conservation easement--a legal document that governs a property's future uses--can keep land open for equestrian use into perpetuity. An agreement between a landowner and a land trust or government agency, an easement is recorded at the county or town records office, which ensures that future owners and lenders are bound by the restrictions and terms placed on the property.

Because conservation easements are considered charitable donations, they can confer significant tax benefits.

The growing popularity of conservation easements reflects concern over the pace of development in recent decades. According to the Equestrian Land Conservation Resource, approximately 197 acres of land have been lost to development every hour for the past 20 years.

For more information, go to

5. True or False? At compounding pharmacies you can get cheaper versions of popular drugs.
False. Compounding pharmacies should produce only FDA-approved drugs in forms that are not commercially available. For instance, mint flavoring can be added to bute, or a drug sold commercially in tablets can be made into liquid. Medications marketed for people or small animals and used off-label in equine medicine can be compounded in a dosage or form suitable for horses.

But these facilities cannot legally make cheaper versions of existing drugs. In other words, it is legal to compound pergolide for horses with Cushing's because no equine formulation of that drug is available, but it is illegal to compound the ulcer product omeprazole because that medication is available for horses.

6. True or False? All horses will have to be micro-chipped by the end of 2008 for the National Animal Identification System.
False. The NAIS is controversial and widely misunderstood within the horse industry, but one thing is certain: There is currently no federal law requiring that horses be micro-chipped or otherwise registered.

NAIS is a voluntary federal plan to register agricultural premises as well as individual animals to establish a national system for tracking animals in the event of a disease outbreak. As of the end of last October nearly 423,000 premises had been registered, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The Equine Species Working Group, a task force that examined the issue for the USDA, has recommended that the plan not be applied to the horse industry until 2010.

Opponents challenge the constitutionality of the NAIS program and claim that, even if voluntary at the federal level, it opens the door for mandatory participation in state programs. For example, they say, the Illinois Department of Agriculture recently announced that all livestock exhibitors at the 2008 state fair must have an NAIS premises identification number.

In addition, there are concerns that the program will put financial strain on small farmers and require onerous oversight of even routine movement of horses, such as travel to local shows or afternoon trail rides.

For more information, go to

7. True or False? Federal law specifies that only a veterinarian can float a horse's teeth.
False. Equine dentistry is regulated at the state level, and laws vary greatly among different jurisdictions. In some states, only a qualified veterinarian can legally work on a horse's teeth; in others, trained dental technicians may perform certain procedures. Some states specify that equine dentists must work under the direct supervision of a veterinarian, but the definition of "direct supervision" varies, too.

These laws typically fall under the scope of each state's Veterinary Practice Act or similar legislation. Ask your veterinarian if you have questions about the law in your state.

For more information, go to

8. True or False? Under the law, horses are classified as "companion animals."
False. The wording may vary in different legal contexts, but horses are generally considered "livestock," animals raised on a farm or ranch setting for a commercial purpose.

During the early 1990s, there was talk of changing the legal status of horses to "companion animals" as part of the movement to ban the slaughter of horses for human consumption. In response, the American Horse Council and the AAEP issued statements identifying potential negative effects of this change. These included the possibility that horses would lose the protections of anti-cruelty laws covering livestock and that commercial breeders as well as others who buy and sell horses might lose tax benefits geared toward livestock producers.

To read more, go to

9. True or False? Horses are currently being slaughtered for human consumption in the United States.
False. At press time, the slaughter of horses for human consumption had been halted in this country. Two slaughter plants in Texas were forced to stop processing horses last spring after losing a series of lawsuits and appeals.

The only other American slaughter facility that processed horses, located in DeKalb, Ill., was forced to close in September of 2007. The plant owners had 90 days to petition the U.S. Supreme Court to hear their case.

Horses can still be slaughtered for other uses, such as to produce feed for zoo animals.

10. True or False? A growing number of U.S. horses are now exported to other countries to be slaughtered.
True. Slaughter plants that process horses for human consumption continue to operate in Canada and Mexico, and data from several sources suggest that more horses are now being transported across the borders since the three U.S. slaughter facilities were closed.

However, specific numbers regarding the export of horses for slaughter are incomplete and sometimes contradictory. The USDA Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) recorded 17,976 live horses exported to Canada between January and August of 2007, compared to 13,977 exported during the same period in 2006. The USDA FAS data also indicated that live horse exports to Mexico during the same months increased from 7,823 in 2006 to 12,743 in 2007 (see

Different statistics, from the USDA Market News Service, count horses that crossed the border into Mexico, categorize them by gender and type and note whether they were destined for slaughter. This source shows that 36,190 horses were trucked from the United States to Mexican slaughter plants between January and October 27, 2007, significantly more than the 7,597 reported to follow that route during the same period in 2006 (see

The American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act (H.R. 503 and S. 311), which would ban the export of horses for slaughter, is now pending in Congress.

For more information, see /071004_unwanted_horses.asp.

This article originally appeared in the January 2008 issue of EQUUS magazine.