Dealing with Unwanted Horses in Nebraska

This NebGuide outlines what marketing, sales, euthanasia and other choices are available for horse owners with unwanted horses due to health, serious injury, age or other issues.

Kathy P. Anderson, Extension Horse Specialist

Figure 1. More than nine million horses are classified as “unwanted” each year.
Figure 1. More than 90,000 horses are classified as “unwanted” each year.

Horses are amazing athletes and wonderful companions, but are also significant investments of time and money. In 2005, the American Horse Council estimated there were 9.2 million horses in the United States. An estimated 1 to 1.5 percent of those horses are unwanted, or roughly 92,000 to 138,000 annually. This estimation is based on how many horses previously were sent to slaughter each year, but the total number of unwanted horses is likely greater than this estimate.

Why do horses become unwanted? The dwindling economy, soaring hay, and fuel prices all help provide a larger horse market which, in turn, has decreased the cost of buying a horse. However, costs and responsibilities associated with owning a horse have not decreased, but increased. Owning a horse means being the advocate (and being responsible) for that animal’s health, safety, and training. Horses must be provided with:

Recent estimates put the cost of owning one healthy horse at just under $2,300 a year (including basic care costs associated with vaccinations, deworming, hoof care, nutrition, and shelter).

Unfortunately, horses do get sick or lame, get old, or have career-ending injuries. Owners’ lives change too, as children grow and lose interest in the horse, move away or as other changes occur. Divorce, job loss, or the crisis in mortgages and housing can limit, stagnate, or even decrease incomes just when owning a horse is getting costlier. In short, more horses are coming on the market at a time when fewer owners may be able to buy.

The goal of this publication is to educate horse owners on options for unwanted horses, and will cover humane options for living horses and legal options for carcass disposal.

Options for Horses

Market Your Horse Privately

One option is to find your horse a new owner, by marketing it to possible buyers. Be creative when advertising your horse. Consider various marketing approaches, including advertising on or with:

Actually selling (or giving away) your horse may take time, so be prepared to re-evaluate the price you are asking and remain vigilant. Selling your horse privately also gives you some short-term control over who purchases your horse, where it will reside, and in what activities it will participate.

Horse Rescues

If you are unable to sell, give away, or care for your horse, a horse rescue is an option. There is a real cost associated with the rescue facility caring for your horse, and it may not be able to accommodate your request based on physical space, the ability to feed the horse, or finances. Table I lists equine rescue facilities in Nebraska which are registered with the “Unwanted Horse Coalition” (http://www.unwantedhorsecoalition.org/). This is not an endorsement of the listed rescues by the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, but is meant to provide some options to owners of unwanted horses.

Table I. Nebraska equine rescue facilities.
Epona Horse Rescue
Minden, Neb.
Phone: (308) 293-5654
Email: eponahorserescue.com
Web site: www.eponahorserescue@msn.com
A Non-profit 501 (c) (3) Organization
Lightning Creek Ranch, Inc.
Crawford, Neb.
Phone: (308) 765-1232
Email: lorystorm@comcast.net
Phoenix Rising Horse Rescue
Atkinson, Neb.
Phone: (402) 925-5836
Email: phoenix.rising.horserescue@hotmail.com
Web site: freewebs.com/phoenixrisinghorserescue
SS Horseshoe Ranch
Holdrege, Neb.
Phone: (308) 567-2283
Email: plamor@gtmc.net
Heartland Horse Rescue
Linwood, Neb.
Phone: (402) 707-5567
Email: cpersing@heartlandhorserescue.com
Web site: www.heartlandhorserescue.com
A Non-profit 501 (c) (3) Organization
The Best Little Horse House in Hastings
Hastings, Neb.
Phone: (402) 461-6917
Email: equineconsultant@hotmail.com
Web site: www.thebestlittlehorsehouse.com
A Non-profit 501 (c) (3) Organization

Sale Barns

Sale barns are one option, but owners have little control over the buyers, where the horse will go, or the price. If a quick sale is necessary, a sale barn is a legitimate option. Sale barns usually charge a fee for selling (and advertising) your horse, can have deadlines for consignments, and may require a negative Coggins and/or a health certificate. Before consigning your horse to a sale barn, make sure you meet and understand the barn’s requirements for consignment and understand that you will have little control over the sale of your horse. Consigners may be required to leave a deposit with the sale barn to ensure the sale barn’s commission is met.


This is probably the hardest decision a horse owner will need to make, but it is a better alternative than neglect or prolonged suffering. When euthanasia is administered by a veterinarian, it is done by an approved, humane method. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), there are three approved methods for the euthanasia of horses: (1) a chemical euthanasia, with pentobarbital or a pentobarbital combination (euthanasia solution); (2) gunshot; and (3) penetrating captive bolt.

Legal Options for Carcass Disposal

Nebraska horse owners do have some options for equine carcass disposal. The State of Nebraska regulates these options and involves the Nebraska Department of Agriculture (NDA), Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality (NDEQ), and Nebraska Department of Natural Resources (NDNR). The legal options for horse carcasses in Nebraska are burial, composting, and rendering. There is a statewide, non-equine-specific statute on carcass disposal that states “within 36 hours after knowledge of the carcass, it must either be 1) buried at least 4 feet deep; 2) burned completely on the premises; or 3) disposed of to a rendering facility.”


Burial can be the most cost-effective way of disposing of a carcass (if you own equipment to prepare the site), but may not be an available option in all areas of the state. The NDEQ states that the carcass must have 5 feet of separation from the bottom of the burial pit to groundwater; 4 feet (approximately) of compact cover soil, and be 300 feet from streams, creeks, ponds, and lakes.

These regulations are in place to prevent contamination of groundwater. Burial should include a soil cover of sufficient depth to prevent exposure of the carcass by burrowing, digging, or scavenging animals (and other vectors of disease) and erosion.

Burial of an equine carcass is best done by use of a backhoe. However it can be costly as operators may change up to $400 for their services. Additionally, during the winter months (when the ground is frozen), breaking the ground for burial may be difficult. It may not even be an option until spring. Furthermore, individuals must check city and county burial regulations as they may vary considerably.


Composting can be an environmentally friendly option when dealing with an equine carcass. Compost does need to be managed (adding water, nutrients, and rotating the pile when needed), and is considered labor-intensive by many. In Nebraska, only carcasses less than 600 lb may be composted.

Equine carcass-composting research conducted at West Texas A&M University determined that a mix of 50/50 cattle manure and hay waste or a 50/50 mix of stall waste (horse manure and bedding) worked better as compost compared to 100 percent stall waste when composting equine carcasses.

To compost a single carcass, researchers placed it on a bed of chopped straw before adding other materials. To jump-start the process, add pre-composted materials (because they already contain the needed bacteria) before adding the carcass.

The key to any compost pile is its moisture and nutrient content. A compost pile should be about 50 percent moisture. Excessive moisture can cause compost to leach harmful chemicals into the soil, and it can displace oxygen within the pile, which creates an anaerobic condition that produces an unpleasant odor and is phytotoxic (toxic to plants).

The temperature of the compost pile can be a good indicator to determine if the process is working properly. Temperatures in the pile can reach 131°F to 155°F within 24 hours and should remain there for several weeks to a month. These sustained high temperatures will also destroy most pathogens and weed seeds.

Turn the pile every three months. After three months, only a few large bones should remain. At six months, no identifiable pieces should remain. The entire process from start to finish will take about seven to nine months.

Choosing the location for the compost pile is very important for odor control. Additionally, it’s essential to have equipment to turn the compost pile, such as a front-end loader tractor or bobcat.

Cremation (Incineration)

Cremation allows horse owners to retain a physical part of their horse, but it can be expensive. A burn pile is not an option: it cannot attain a complete incineration, and is not a legal carcass disposal option. Generally, incineration is completed by a state-licensed facility under strict emissions and temperature guidelines.

The air curtain incineration process requires an excavation typically 10 to 12 feet deep and as long as the manifold on the incinerator. This process directs high-velocity air across and downward into a pit creating a turbulent curtain of air that reaches a temperature of approximately 1,832°F. Please contact the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality at (402) 471-2186 if this method of carcass disposal is to be used.


Rendering is an option for carcass disposal and the cost ranges from $25 to $175 per pickup. A partial list of rendering or “dead stock” removal companies in Nebraska (Table II) that take equine and/or large animal carcasses is included here.

This list is not a University of Nebraska–Lincoln endorsement of the listed rendering services, but is meant to provide horse owners with legal carcass disposal options. Contact your local veterinarian for additional carcass removal options in your area.

Decisions on how to deal with unwanted horses is a concern for most horse owners as at some time horses must be sold or put down. Educated and humane decisions must be made to avoid unnecessary neglect and abuse of horses. More information on dealing with unwanted horses and responsible horse care can be found at the “Unwanted Horse Coalition” Web site at: http://www.unwantedhorsecoalition.org/.

Table II. Nebraska rendering or “dead stock” removal companies.
Bergman DSR, Inc.
Clearwater, Neb.
(402) 485-2772
(877) 485-2772
Nebraska By-Products, Inc.
Lexington, Neb.
(308) 324-5563
(800) 652-9334
Tri-State By-Products
Palisade, Neb.
(308) 285-3888
(800) 652-9320
Bill’s Rendering LLC
O’Neill, Neb.
(402) 482-5273
Platte River By-Products
Grand Island, Neb.
(308) 382-6401
(800) 652-9381
Wisner Rendering LLC
Wisner, Neb.
(402) 529-2223
(402) 528-3222
Bob’s Farm Service
Wahoo, Neb.
(800) 424-6739
Platte Valley Pet Food
Scottsbluff, Neb.
(308) 632-6143
Darling National LLC – Bellevue
Omaha, Neb.
(402) 291-8800
(800) 228-9085
S&S By-Products
Hastings, Neb.
(402) 672-7421 (cell)
(800) 919-8360



Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality, Environmental Guidance Document, April, 2007.

This publication has been peer reviewed.


Reference to commercial products or trade names is made with the understanding that no discrimination is intended of those not mentioned and no endorsement by University of Nebraska–Lincoln Extension is implied for those mentioned.


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Index: Horse
Issued August 2009