POSTED: Thursday, November 21, 2013 - 11:41pm
UPDATED: Saturday, December 7, 2013 - 8:06pm
El Paso, TX (KTSM) — If you've been in El Paso long enough, you're probably used to seeing horses out grazing the fields of the Borderland.
But as the El Paso County Sheriff's Office tells NewsChannel 9, many of those horses end up in the desert - as the adage goes, "it's not buying the horse - it's keeping the horse."
For many in the desert, owning a horse is a way of life.
"There is this sort of romance thing about, you know, 'I'm riding the white stallion,'" said Hank Webb, a long-time horse owner and qualified expert witness.
But what happens when the fairy tale ends, and horse lovers discover they can't afford it?
Hank Webb has owned 100 to 150 horses in his lifetime.
He says many dream of owning their own horse but very few actually know what it takes to properly care for it - thousands of dollars for feed, medical care, shelter, and even life insurance - and more hours taking care of the horse than actually riding it.
"'Hey, I thought I could just keep working and only have to spend $150 a month to take care of my horse but now it's costing me $300 and I don't have it because I'm only working part time now," said Webb of inexperienced horse owners.
Webb says the expense becomes a burden on the owner and a price the horse has to pay.
"Trust me, there are plenty of malnourished horses around," said Webb.
Horse owners in El Paso admit the recent droughts have driven up the price of hay and some can't pony up the cash to feed their pets.
"Sometimes it's very expensive to take care of a horse and they don't have the means to buy any more food and resources so they abandon them," said Joseph Casarin, an animal control officer for the El Paso County Sheriff's Office. "It's very often we find a sick horse. Most of the time, you know, it's been out there for a while. There's nothing to eat so we pick up malnourished horses out in the desert."
The El Paso County Sheriff's Office picks up wandering horses every couple months. Deputies say the horses get loose and are turned over to a horse rescue for 18 days while they try and find the owner.
"We want you to come and ask us for help so we can help you have a better relationship with your horse, so you can keep your horse and like your horse and want to spend time with your horse," said Vicki Hall, the owner of "Horses Unlimited Rescue and Education Center Inc."
Hall's horse rescue works with the sheriff's office.
"During the winter months, we tend to see more people want to donate their horse to the rescue," said Hall.
Vicki's staff checks and takes care of rescued horses for $200 a month and if they aren't claimed, the rescue keeps them and uses them for birthdays or events or to give riding lessons to the public.
If you're a horse lover but aren't sure about making the investment to buy one, horse experts say there are alternatives like leasing a horse or taking lessons at a public stable.
They say it's important to gain experience with someone else's animal first, so you don't bite off more than you can chew and the horse doesn't get abandoned, left to starve, or worse.
"I know people that take them out into the desert and shoot them because that's their only alternative. and some of them, it's like shooting one of your kids," said Webb.
If you'd like more information on the El Paso "Horses Unlimited Rescue and Education Center Inc.," visit http://horsesunlimitedrescueandeducationcenter.webstarts.com/