Drought tragedy as horses face the end of the line
Hundreds of horses - the majority from drought-affected parts of NSW and Victoria - will be put up for auction on Friday as owners struggle to afford soaring feed bills.
Andrew Wilson runs an auction every second Friday in the Victorian town of Echuca, across the Murray River from the NSW border town of Moama, and is expecting about 300 horses today (Friday).
"The yards are really full now - there's trucks bringing them in and it's just a sign of the drought," said Mr Wilson, who runs Andrew Wilson & Co auctioneers.
"They can't go home and if they're unsaleable unfortunately they're going to have to be euthanised."
"Last sale some horses only made $10 - people just can't afford to keep them and the abattoirs are full."
Mr Wilson said the cost of a hay bale has tripled since the drought hit - it used to fetch about $8 but now costs approximately $24.
At least two thoroughbred racing horses from NSW - Valdavi and Grand Embrace - will go under the hammer today.
But the animals could be saved by Racing NSW, which places bids on local thoroughbred horses to stop them from going to knackeries.
"If need be we will purchase these horses directly from Echuca and transport them to our properties to be retrained and rehomed," said Racing NSW chief operating officer Graeme Hinton.
Jess Plane makes the so-called "safety bids" on behalf of Racing NSW and said the organisation has saved about 10 thoroughbred horses over the past year.
But she said there are simply not enough homes for the amount of horses that come through the auction yards.
The majority of animals that are purchased for meat purposes are standardbred or harness horses, which are harder to retrain than thoroughbreds because they usually have not carried a rider before.
"Times are changing where everything is getting more expensive and people's jobs aren't allowing them to take the time that's needed with horses anymore," said Ms Plane, who runs thoroughbred rescue charity Redemption Road.
"Because of the drought we are seeing lots of horses come through that are in bad condition - they might not have had their feet tended to or they might have some sort of injury."
"Some people unfortunately see it as, why pay to put your horse down when you can send it to a sale and get paid to put it there or for it to sell for meat."
The drought is also biting at the Heavy Horse Heaven animal shelter in NSW Southern Tablelands town of Yass.
The charity's owner Karen Hood received two calls yesterday from people wanting to surrender horses.
She said it's getting harder to accept animals with the shelter standing on "bare dirt".
"We're finding with the warm-blooded-type horses and thoroughbreds it's been really difficult to keep their weight on," Ms Hood said.
"Quite a few people with thoroughbreds have come to surrender them - they require more high-energy feed and feed is very expensive at the moment."