Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Tough economy forces more owners to give up their horses

BROOKSVILLE — For Kathi Ruebeling, the dismal economy has taken a heavy professional and personal toll.

A real estate agent, she has seen her income drop, leading her to move from a 10-acre farm near Dade City to a smaller parcel outside of Brooksville.

What's breaking her heart, however, is having to give away some four-legged family members whom she can no longer afford to keep. In recent weeks, she has had to find new homes for three miniature horses, a pony and a goat.

"Except for putting down a horse, it is one of the hardest things I've ever done," she said.

Ruebeling, 54, is part of a growing number of horse owners in the Tampa Bay area who are being forced by financial pressures to give up their steeds.

"If you have trouble feeding yourself, feeding a horse is not on your priority list," said Truman Prevatt, president of Florida Back Country Horsemen, based in Brooksville.

A horse can cost at least $1,500 a year to keep, depending on where it is boarded, and services such as veterinarian and breaking and training.

For some owners, Prevatt said, the answer has been to simply let their horses run away into places such as the Cross Florida Greenway, not far from the major horse-breeding areas of Marion County.

Morgan Silver, who heads the Horse Protection Association of Florida based in Micanopy, Alachua County, said her organization has heard similar rumors of horses being turned loose in the Ocala National Forest.

While she said she had not confirmed such stories, she knows that her group gets calls almost every day from owners who must give up their horses.

At the Hernando County Animal Services, the story is much the same.

"We've had e-mails (from owners) looking for homes for their horses," said manager Liana Teague, recalling a report of two horses that someone just abandoned in an area pasture.

Animal Services does not accept horses, but directs calls to other resources.

"It's bad, it's very bad," said Debra McPherson, owner of Casey's Place Animal Sanctuary Inc., a 20-acre horse rescue farm near Brooksville that serves Hernando and Pasco counties. "The calls are just escalating,'' she said. "We are overwhelmed. We're getting maybe five horses a week."

"Fortunately, we've been able to take every horse,'' McPherson said, noting that Casey's Place can handle 10 horses at a time. "We've been able to keep our head above water."

But at the Horse Protection Association, which can lodge up to 70 horses, Silver said, "We cannot take them all. We will network with (owners) to get (their horses) homes."

The association recently took in 35 malnourished horses from a breeder who could no longer afford to feed them. That boosted to 125 the number of horses under the association's care, meaning some had to be farmed out to other properties for foster care, Silver said.

And it is tough financially on the rescue groups. Silver's association assesses an adoption fee of $75 to help cover the cost of feeding and animal maintenance, while Casey's Place asks for donations. Both groups rely on unpaid volunteers for labor.

The rescue organizations say they take pains to place their charges in good homes. McPherson and her volunteers interview prospective adopters, inspect their facilities and require references.

"A lot of people would take a horse and then flip them for $50 at an auction," she said. "Now, we have a contract."

Silver questions the knowledge, abilities and experiences of those who want to adopt. The thoroughbreds that come to the association are mostly untrained, sometimes not even broken to ride. "They're like wild animals," she said.

In Hillsborough County, which has Florida's second-largest horse population, a special unit in the Sheriff's Office handles abandoned and malnourished large animals at an 11-acre farm with pole sheds, pens and pastures at the department's training facility.

"We've had a couple of horses abandoned, turned loose, in the last few months,'' Cpl. Bruce Harrell said. "We've never had that before, so I guess you could say it's an increase."

He added, "We have a lot of people who will call us, and we refer them," primarily to the Horse Protection Association of Florida. "But most of the rescue organizations are full," he said.

Relinquished steeds have been donated to the Florida Sheriffs Boys and Girls Ranches at Live Oak and Bartow. When an unclaimed horse can't be placed, staffers care for the animal until it is healthy and passes veterinary tests. It is then offered for sale at J&M Horse Auction in Polk County.

"We've maybe taken five to auction," Harrell said.

Ruebeling, the Hernando real estate agent, is trying to hang onto the rest of her livestock. Two large horses and one miniature horse, as many as she believes the smaller acreage will support, are moving with her to the 3-acre parcel near Brooksville.

Like many owners looking for new homes for her critters, Ruebeling pressed those who responded to her offer to determine their level of knowledge about the animals.

In the end, the miniature horses went as companions for older, full-sized horses in Zephyr­hills, Dade City and Brooksville.

The pony and goat are so bonded, Ruebeling wanted to keep them together if possible. They are now with a family in Lakeland.

Beth Gray can be contacted at [email protected]

Susan Lopez, 43, of Weeki Wachee takes a bucket of feed to Tess at Casey’s Place Animal Sanctuary north of Brooksville.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times photos

Susan Lopez, 43, of Weeki Wachee takes a bucket of feed to Tess at Casey’s Place Animal Sanctuary north of Brooksville.

Horse census

A 2007 agricultural census shows Tampa Bay counties' rank among Florida's 67 counties in numbers of horses:

Marion31,128No. 1

Hillsborough6,029No. 2

Pasco2,322No. 11

Hernando2,100No. 16

Pinellas411No. 54

Source: Florida Department of Agriculture

Fast facts

Help a horse

For more information on horse adoption, making donations or volunteering, contact the Horse Protection Association of Florida at (466) 436-6352 or Casey's Place Animal Sanctuary at (727) 289-5351.

On the Web

To learn more about rescue camps such as Casey's Place, go to and search for horses.

Tough economy forces more owners to give up their horses 04/10/10 [Last modified: Monday, April 12, 2010 2:18pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Georgia man drowned at SeaWorld Aquatica water park

    Public Safety

    ORLANDO — The water was only about 3 feet deep where Michael Stone, wearing a life vest, drowned in a water park ride at Aquatica this summer after apparently passing out face down, Orange County Sheriff's Office reports show.

  2. Bicyclist killed in hit-and-run crash on I-4 exit ramp in Tampa


    TAMPA — The Florida Highway Patrol is investigating after a bicyclist was killed in a hit-and-run crash on an Interstate 4 exit ramp early Wednesday.

  3. Cookbook review: ‘Cherry Bombe: The Cookbook' is like a friend who always has a good recipe up her sleeve


    Cherry Bombe is a biannual indie magazine, weekly radio show/podcast and annual conference that celebrates women and food. And this month's release is a cookbook, a compilation of tried-and-true recipes from women who are famous both in the food world and other industries. Think model and cookbook author …

    By Kerry Diamond 
and Claudia Wu Clarkson Potter, 256 pages, $35
  4. Beautiful Hong Kong is pulsating with life and culture



    “Ah money, money, money!" the cabdriver exclaimed with no small sense of sarcasm in his Cantonese-accented English as he waved in the direction of the spectacular skyline of Hong Kong, a city that revels in its reputation as an international financial capital.

    The Hong Kong skyline, seen here from Victoria Peak, the highest point in the city at 1,800 feet, is a sight to behold.
  5. How to pick the perfect fall six-pack of beer

    Bars & Spirits

    With each fall comes another opportunity to assemble the perfect seasonal six-pack. Of course, this is often a six-pack in name only, as many of the latest seasonal brews come in large- format bottles (with a price tag to match). That just means that you'll need to assemble some friends and family to share with, and who …

     Abita Pecan Harvest Ale: As the name suggests, this toasty amber ale is brewed with roasted Louisiana pecans. The base beer is fairly neutral, allowing the sweet and nutty pecan character to stand front and center. It drinks not unlike a liquid pecan pie — though it’s a bit less sweet, thankfully.