The Managed and Abandoned Herds of Horses of West Virginia and Kentucky

In West Virginia and surrounding states, many thousands of horses are turned out onto former and active mine sites or just into the mountains.

These areas are remote, difficult to access and are made up on tens of thousands of mountainous acres, usually.

Through the winter, many will die or come near death. Some weather through. Some are born feral, but many are friendly, previous trail, show or companion horses managed by horse traders or simply abandoned. All are denied basic feeding, farrier care or vetting and used to often fill the overseas meat market when locals round them up to take to auctions like Sugar Creek.

This is not a problem only found in West Virginia. It is found in VA, Ky and Ohio, as well.

Heart of Phoenix Equine Rescue has been raising awareness and trying hard to find a long term solution to solve this problem most people nationwide has no idea exists since late 2010 / early 2011.

There are vast numbers of horses across counties like Mingo, Wyoming, Clay, Mcdowell and Boone in West Virginia and in Eastern Kentucky, too.

Sometimes, they are turned out by those who cannot afford them, but generally, they are being purchased cheaply locally or at auction and put on these mine sites because the horse traders lack space to hold them.

They are generally kept in herds of 9-15 mares with a stallion. The mares breed yearly, usually keeping very poor condition in the state of West Virginia

(Those in the lusher lands of Kentucky sometimes look relatively good in the spring and summer months) through pregnancy, birth and lactation.

The breeding is indiscriminate with the exception that these traders will shoot or otherwise kill/remove/auction/sell the colts or stallions they do not wish in the herds.

Often, it isn’t safe or legal to remove herd from these lands for various reasons.

While this problem continues to grow, other rescues like Kentucky Equine Humane and Kentucky Humane are working with the ASPCA these days to tackle the issue as best as resources and the current laws allow. Education is expanding the options these horses have, and we hope continued efforts will focus on further legislative changes, especially in West Virginia, as well as more gelding clinics and more awareness.

Sadly, the citizens in communities with large feral horse populations regard the horses highly, despite the fact some of the horses are in poor shape and starve through winter, they resent most efforts to remove the horses. Some claim ownership but often have no way to give needed care, some just enjoy riding ATVs out to see the herd, though the conditions are usually poor, the local communities do not seem to always realize this.

Horses are killed and injured via gun shots and on the roadways. They starve through the winter and they continue to breed and inbreed year after year, all while allowing unethical traders / dealers to purchase at auction, turn out and manage horses they feed into the auction pipeline (and undoubtedly the slaughter pipeline, by default).

Collectively, we must pushing legal changes to levy heavy fines on those found dumping, claiming or managing horses on these lands at the state level. For horses abandoned on these sites, we would like to see a gelding program where colts and stallion are re-released in the short term, while mares and foals are rescued, as groups are able.

The numbers are too great to control in just a few years’ time, but this is a problem we can and must solve, as the suffering and potential long term harm to the equines is too great to ignore.

Now, What can you do?

  • Try to raise awareness and contact your WV and Ohio legislative representatives to request more humane action for these horses in terms of funding to help rescues geld or rescue them and ask for changes to reduce the stray hold times, as well as large penalties for those dumping or claiming these horses.


  • You can also support rescues working to help the horses by donating, if you’re able.
    If you want to offer a home to a former abandoned mine horse, email and give us your information. When round ups do occur, as long as your references and facility are suitable (send this information), we will contact you to make you aware of the need for homes right away. You will always need to provide transport on your own.


West Virginia and Surrounding Areas Abandoned Mine Land Horses: An FAQ


Many Thousands of horses are living on reclaimed and active mine sites in West Virginia and beyond


  • Q. How do the horses end up on these locations?

1. They are turned out by horse traders and other local residents. The traders can keep a large amount horses at no cost to them by turning them out on the mine sites. They breed more, round them up and feed low end auctions and sometimes Sugar Creek with the horses and offspring.
2. They are turned out when owners can no longer feed or sell them.
3. Some are truly Feral Horses having been born on the mines from either of the other two types of horses are parents or grandparents (or further back)


  • Q. What are the dangers of the horses remaining on the sites or remaining free?

1. Food sources are very limited, especially in winter. The greenery is mostly brush and weeds, the soil is rocky, and the grass isn’t particularly nutritious.
2. Breeding and continual abandonment creates a population that is unsustainable. The local ecosystem is damaged; destruction of trees when the horses start to starve in winter, serious erosion on previous mine sites that are in various stages of the reclaiming process, and eating the flora that local wildlife needs to survive.
3. The horses themselves pose serious dangers to each other as well as humans on the mine sites and roadways because they frequently wander onto the roadways and congregate.


  • Q. Why not just move the horses off?

1. Horses are considered livestock and the legal process of proving the horses are abandoned is lengthy. The counties must take that action and it must be done for each and every horse which would be time prohibitive and nearly impossible due to the number of horses covering many thousands of acres.
2. Many local people manage these herds, though conditions are negligent and abusive, and because locals claim these horses, they have hostile reactions to outsiders coming in trying to move the horses. Their intend is often to breed and round up some to sell at auction or in the local areas.
3. The county governments are sympathetic to the public’s desire to leave the horses on the mine sites and have, in the past, let us know they would not support mass removal of the horses.
4. The land is private property. The land companies (usually) will not claim ownership of the abandoned horses and do not want groups of people, thus a liability, trespassing on their land.
5. The horses are in areas that are hard to access, especially with a horse trailer. Local people are often on these old roads with ATVS and trucks and they would know if strangers were attempting to remove horses.


  • Q. What are the sensible steps to solve this issue?

1. We need legislative changes that provide cooperation with/from the land and mine owners (with much of the typical red tape for abandoned livestock waived). We need a process that gives the state the authority to allow 501(c)3 rescues that have properly trained personnel to remove any and all horses found on mine sites.
2. Rescues will need to be given legal protection to remove these horses
3. We need laws set in place to levy heavy fines on those dropping horses on reclaimed or active mine sites or claiming ownership of Horses already located on these lands.
4. Safely rounding up the non-feral adoptable mares and foals, as well as gelding of colts and stallions through a group of voluntary veterinarians.
5. Organizations must work only with trained teams that are able to handle, sort, and load horses to accomplish safe removal.
6. Euthanasia of the severely injured or dangerous feral horses
7. The general public should not be allowed to remove the horses. The horses should only be allowed to be taken to established non-profit 501(c)3 organizations or private homes that have been pre-screened and approved. Those willing to step forward and prove ownership should be restitution for the land damage and for allowing their equine(s) to run at large to discourage future turn out.
8. Create a list of rescues nationwide willing to assist over the long term.


  • Q. How long will this process take and how will the process be funded

1. The legal changes/bill introduction should begin immediately as well as the removal of the highly adoptable horses.
2. We need to establish whether any emergency legislative action can be given to address horses that are in danger right now due to very poor body condition.
3. We need to seek out all land and mine companies willing to lobby and work with rescues to see this issue humanely addressed
4. We need to establish teams that are given permission to be on sites to document the herds.
5. We need to gain funding from the land and mine companies as well as through grant programs to finance the 501(c)3 organizations willing to remove the abandoned horses.

We need legislative changes. We need groups, in cooperation with the land owners, to work on establishing the location of the large herds. Funding sources need to be identified and criteria established for adoption and rescue. Teams need to be organized for handling, sorting, gelding, and loading the horses. We need to adhere to an organized goal to address the WHOLE problem which includes alerting/ informing the public that illegal removal will harm our ability to meet a true resolution.


Blogs on the issue: Reventant’s Story / Rudy’s Story / The 2016 Round UP / Boone County case

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