Sunday, November 30, 2008

Long Island Horse Owners Feeling Economic Pinch

LI horseowners, businesses feeling economic squeeze
10:01 PM EST, November 29, 2008
The slowing economy has pushed Amy Cirincione to the unthinkable: giving up one of her horses.

Sluggish sales and mounting debt at her chain of pet supply stores forced her to close two locations in February. She and her husband then decided to sell their Mattituck home, but just as the housing market collapsed.

The healthiest of her four horses, Chief, is the only reasonable prospect for sale. Chief would have to go.

"Getting rid of my pets, it goes against everything I believe in," said Cirincione, 35. "It's absolutely tearing me apart."

Across Long Island's horse country, many other owners are giving up their horses as they face the rising price of feed, board, veterinary care, lessons and transportation. The trend touches folks who keep pet horses in their backyards but also equestrians who compete in the elite horse show world.

It's also crimping the livelihoods of veterinarians, feed suppliers and barn owners. Times are so tough, said horse broker Debra Siegel, that more than 20 backyard horse owners have called since last spring asking her to take their animals for free.

"Usually people don't give away something they can get money for," said Siegel, owner of Grouse Ridge Farm, her private stables in Medford. "Not even in the recession in the '70s have I seen this."

Sales of moderately priced show horses - which range from $5,000 to $20,000 - have plummeted about 60 percent at the farm, Siegel said. Worse yet, the market for horses selling for $1,500 to $5,000 has shrunk. Siegel doesn't bother trying to sell those anymore.

On, a Web site that advertises local horse properties and horses, owner Sharyn Guzzi has noticed a surge in messages from owners seeking to adopt out their horses.

"You keep watching the horses, the prices go down, down, down and then they put it up for adoption," said Guzzi, who also owns Long Island Horse Properties, a Smithtown-based real estate agency.

In those cases, nonprofit equine rescue groups often adopt the horses to find them new homes. But those groups are now flooded with requests, taxing their limited resources.

One, Project Sage Horse Rescue in Valley Stream, gets up to 10 e-mails a day from owners asking for help, but the operation is already at capacity with 14 horses. "All the rescues, everyone is jam-packed," said Brittany Rostron, the group's president. "The problem is, I can't take them all."

Even as more people adopt out their horses, rescue groups are seeing a drop in donations to pay for their work. At Amaryllis Farm Equine Rescue in Sagaponack, four sponsors - three of whom worked on Wall Street - canceled their donations, said Christine Distefano.

"It's such a big expense, it's the first one to go," said Distefano, who cares for 40 horses.

Since 2005, Distefano has rescued 76 horses, mostly from auctions, where some are bought for export to slaughter in other countries. In the U.S., horse slaughter is outlawed in most states, but no federal law has banned it.

As the market has been saturated with high-quality horses, their value has fallen. At the region's biggest horse auction house, New Holland Sales Stables in Pennsylvania, the average winning bid has dropped about $500 this year, said auctioneer Chris Stoltzfus. "You hear more . . . stories [that] people had to sell because they couldn't afford their feed," he said.

Those who have been able to keep their horses are doing what they can to trim their expenses, which has sent ripples through the industry.

Will Bailey, owner of Neptune Feeds in Calverton, said he's paying 30 percent more for hay over last year, with steeper increases for the best hay. Feed, made of commodities such as soybean and rice, has gone up about 15 percent, said Josh Reale, operations manager at Agway in Hicksville.

For small business owners such as Cirincione, who sells high-quality feed for pets, farm animals and horses, that means fewer customers have been willing to pay a premium for her product. "My $1,500 a week salary has gone to nothing," she said.

In some cases, the penny pinching affects the animal's health as owners try to treat minor ailments instead of calling a vet, aggravating the problem, said Dr. Charles Greco, who has practices in Ridge and Centereach.

Over the past year, more clients have also fallen behind on their vet payments, said Dr. Judson Butler. "It is inhibiting my income," said Butler, of Manorville. "It also limits the amount of work that I'm willing to do...because the promise to pay is useless."

High-end farms like the Old Westbury Equestrian Center - a 28-acre facility on the storied grounds of a former polo estate - have seen clients cut back on lessons. Others have downsized from several horses to one, said facilities manager Christine Nagin-Vasquez. With fewer horses, the center laid off a groom.

Then, after absorbing cost increases in hay, feed, wood shavings and heating oil for nearly a year, it raised rates in September for the first time since opening in 2002. Board at the stables now costs $2,454 a month.

"Most of the people that keep horses with us can still afford to do this," Nagin-Vasquez said. "But they are cutting back and it's affecting our business."

Eileen Castro is struggling to keep the only horse she has. Though she loves her rescued Arabian gelding, Sir Gamo, she's weighing the cost of his upkeep against her family expenses.

"We basically live like the average American family. We live paycheck to paycheck," said Castro, 37, of West Babylon, a medical assistant. "I'm spending over $5,000 a year on a horse . . . Can I justify this with the way the economy is doing, having three kids, and the house, [and] the groceries?"



Anonymous said...

I totally agree with this news. It's not suprising how many need to give up their horse. I have my own horse to take care of and I wouldn't survive the amount of time to sell him and watch him go. I think people should try to prevent this. Try your hardest to keep your horses. If you can, definantly give them to a shelter, where they can at least be under proper care. Good luck to everyone and lets try to get through this crisis.

Anonymous said...

I have been fortunate enough to still have my horse, RB Sir gamal, his name was spelled wrong in the article Sir Gamo. I was able to keep my promise to him to never letting him go bu finding people who would want to love and ride him like I do and they pay a aportion of the board. I have been very lucky to date, and I am so grateful to still have my beloved horse.

Eileen Castro