With drought damaged pastures and farm land, wide spread water shortages, the continued threat of wildfire and the high cost of buying and transporting out-of-state hay, the Texas horse industry is the latest to fall into crisis as more and more horses are being dropped at rescue facilities and many more are being abandoned as the sluggish economy leaves horse and donkey owners few options for dealing with a spiraling problem.

“Many people fail to realize the Texas horse industry is a $5.3 billion business, about equal to the state’s cotton industry, and the industry is in a serious crisis right now as horse owners struggle to feed and water the state’s estimated one million horses. Forage and even water are in short supply,” says Dr. Dennis Sigler, Texas AgriLife horse specialist.

Sigler says the cost of maintaining horses has increased drastically and points to drought-ravaged pastures and water restrictions in Texas as growing concerns that dampen the prospect of immediate relief.

“Water tanks are drying up and in some cases water suppliers have been limiting water resources to livestock use. With the prospect of a continuing drought over the winter months and into the spring season, the problem could get even worse,” Sigler adds.

And that’s saying a lot. Popular horse auctions in places like Fort Worth and Granbury are seeing record numbers of horses filter through their arenas, and for now, it’s strictly a buyer’s market—if there is anyone buying.

“We have trucks and trailers lined up on horse auction days just about as far as you can see. These horses—you can’t feed them, the pastures are brown and the winter hay is all used up. If you can’t feed them and water them, what else can you do but sell them?” asks Clayton O’Brien with Hockley Livestock Auctions in Waller. “But a good many of the horses we are seeing are in poor condition. I have seen some go for $50 to $200, and I’ve heard some talk about dead animals in the field and others just walking the back roads.”