The economic crisis in Spain is sending almost 5,000 horses a month to the slaughterhouse and has increased the number of animals abandoned because their owners can no longer afford to keep them.

The number of horses slaughtered increased by 31 percent in the first four months of 2012 compared with the same period in 2011, to a total of 19,793, according to official figures.

Pounds also have a waiting list of several months to be able to handle about 165 animals a day, the immense majority of which are horses.

The secretary general of the Professional Association of Slaughterhouses and Meat-packing Companies, Manuel Gonzalez, said that since "there is no market" for selling, renting or breaking-in horses at the moment, some breeders find themselves unable to afford the high cost of feeding the animals, estimated at an average of 300 euros ($369) each per month.

The trend started two years ago, Gonzalez said, adding that he was talking about young steeds, "not old or worn-out nags."

He recalled that in Spain there is scarcely any demand for horse meat, so that it is either used for pet food or is exported to France, Italy, Belgium or Greece.

The president of the National Association of Breeders of Spanish Thoroughbred Horses, Javier Conde, said that intensive breeding farms are hit hardest, because sales "are difficult," the prices they can get for their horses are low while their costs are through the roof, which has led any number of stockbreeders to eliminate part of their animals.

Veterinarian Carlos Carreira of the agricultural organization Asaja-Malaga said he knows a number of breeders who "are sending all their stock to the slaughter" and that the first to go are the mares.

He said that an owner cannot get more than 150 euros ($185) for a mare, which "in bonanza years" could sell in the range of 6,000-50,000 euros ($7,382-$61,521), since many are registered thoroughbreds.

At the CYD Santa Maria Horse Rescue Center in Alhaurin el Grande, Virginia Solera said that the abandonment of horses increased by 80 percent over the past 18 months, and that the center's capacity for helping the animals has been "overwhelmed." EFE