The Disposable Horse

The Disposable Horse

 There may be many people within our thriving horse industry that will be offended when reading this piece but this is a subject that needs to be addressed because all over this country in various back yards and unattended corrals sit horses that are ill cared for and often neglected because they have been passed around until no one is sure of who they are or what they've existed as.

Other horses are lucky although still within the backyard environment they have found a loving home with default owners that are knowledgeable in caring for such a high maintenance pet but it seems the majority are more like the first talked about whose caretakers are people of indifference with poor understanding and skills in equine health and well being. Little thought or consideration is afforded these unfortunate horses because they are no longer what was once an animal that was new and exciting to have. Now they have become something greatly misunderstood, expensive to keep and perhaps even something to fear.

The above mentioned is often the scenario for what has become the; "disposable" horse often tossed out with about as much thought and consideration as one would give a sandwich bag after lunch. Such a horse usually starts out in life well bred with impressive heritage, excellent confirmation and plenty of talent. They gradually move up through the ranks as their training becomes more specialized and their accomplishments add up but at almost any point in this horse's career they can be sold and moved elsewhere.

As the years move on the horse continues to be bought and sold perhaps at first moving up in his life's experience but over time and after age and injuries set in he gradually starts the spiral down to what end no one can be sure. Often these horse's lives are relegated to a brief pat on the head (if they're lucky) and the chucking of a flake of hay thrown over a fence, some without any shelter and left to stand in the pouring rain or the blistering sun at the mercy of biting insects with little or no routine veterinarian or farrier care and all because someone in their life experience decided to "move on" for an entire list of reasons that range anywhere from needing a more athletic horse for competitions to wanting something more befitting the standard of the discipline to not wanting to put the work of training into the horse to make him more suitable for the show ring or just because they were made an offer they couldn't refuse.

How did the disposal of a horse become such an accepted practice and mindset? Granted there are some very acceptable reasons for parting with a horse. One cannot delude themselves that as a beginner they can stay with the same horse all the way to reach their final goals (although there are exceptions) and then there are the children that eventually out grow their ponies and one would never want to undermine the value of the child having something more suitable to their size and then there's the rider who has professional aspirations and needs to part with a horse to move up through the ranks. Other reasons for having to sell a horse could be lack of funds, or a rider outgrowing their mount competitively or age and illness either by the horse or rider but all of those aside the biggest reason horses are bought and sold is because of the trainers in this business.

Being brutally honest I must tell you there are few incentives whatsoever for your trainer to encourage you to keep your horse because it is an industry standard for a trainer to charge a 10% to 20% fee every time a horse is bought or sold within their barn. Why should a trainer want to find for you a horse you could keep for many years when there's little or no money in it for him? Or for that matter why should your trainer look to find you a more reasonable horse or negotiate to obtain you a better deal on the purchase of your horse when they would be making less money off of the deal?
Personally I find there's a huge conflict of interest when a trainer charges their clients for the buying or selling of a horse and often the trainer works with the seller cutting a deal behind the buyers back so he's not aware of the payoff! As if that wasn't bad enough there are even trainers that work it from both ends charging both seller and buyer for his considerations and approval causing to price of a horse to sky rocket after all the commissions are doled out. Put that together with the fact that if your trainer finds you a horse that he knows will not be suitable it's a "win, win" for him because six months down the road he can convince you of that fact and you'll have to turn around and do it all over again while he pockets his 20%+ of the proceeds for each transaction.

What ends up happening within the equestrian community because of this is a constant flow of horses being marketed and it's not exclusive to the bigger show circuits. This common practice has for generations been seen throughout the entire equestrian industry in every discipline from A shows all the way down to the local level when the minute a horse is no longer perfect for whatever the criteria may be he is quickly listed for sale because there's money to be made primarily for the trainer.

Even when a horse is winning trainers convince their clients that this is the time to sell because the horse's value is at a premium and they can always take their profit from the sale to "re-invest" in a green horse and do it all over again. Would you do this with your beloved family dog? Why is your horse any different?

Since when did it become acceptable to mindlessly disregard such a noble creature and willing partner? In a society where no one can imagine buying a dog or cat with the intention of sending him down the road almost instantly when he no longer looks like what is fashionable or may require training for a certain issue or simply because he's no longer the newest thing yet we think nothing of doing such things with our horses.

So what is the solution to this aspect of our present day "throw away" society? Before we address that question I'd like for you to keep in mind one thing... once you let go of your horse no matter how convinced you are of his future treatment, you give up your ability to have control over where your horse goes in his future.

There's nothing more excruciating to a former owner to have to stand by and watch their beloved friend be neglected, misunderstood or in the extreme situation even abused. I now the anguish of sleepless nights because of the worry that in the pouring rain your pet could be hungry, out in the cold or in pain when you've tried everything to convince the current owner to sell him back to you only to have them be more determined than ever to own something you desperately want.

I had a client from Australia who was so determined to never suffer through such a torment that she bought a farm up in Oregon just for the intention of keeping all of the horses that would no longer serve her. She settled them in peace and comfort cared for by someone that she knew she could trust complete with her own home on the ranch so she could go up and visit with her old friends whenever she could. Of course most of us don't have the financial security to afford such a luxury but I so admire her because she did give up the money she could have spent on other things to do what her integrity dictated and she never once regretted it. I still get glowing reports from her of the ponies approaching their thirties that I had worked with for her and it causes my heart to soar to know someone has done it right!

Other ways to at least get closer to safeguard what happens to our horses when sold is to have a "first right to refusal" agreement. Take your time to draft this document and have it stipulate that if the horse is to once more be sold you get the first shot at it. Of course this does nothing to insure the current owner or their trainer is treating him right but it does bring you some comfort.

 I also am a firm believer in trials. Call it a lease, fill out paperwork, require deposits, make the prospective buyer obtain vet insurance or do whatever it takes to create a comfort level for you but if you really care about where your horse is going you'll want to know he's not only happy in his new surroundings but is a good match to his new owner so he doesn't continue to be passed along. Some sellers will agree to a one week trial and I suggest only after a pre-purchase exam from their vet but to really be sure of a horse working out I feel a good solid month complete with your right to "opt out" at any time during the trial and your freedom to come and go at any time to check on your horse while at the new owners. If you truly believe in your horse and want him to have the best you'll consider this option just be sure to be careful and get everything in writing and ask for whatever you need to feel good about it all.

More than anything you need to follow your heart when it comes to parting with your horse. Ask yourself what you're in this for, what's the price to be paid and who's going to benefit the most? Don't hesitate to "call out" your trainer if something doesn't seem right or fair or logical and above all... do what makes you happy! Do what you know is right not just for you but for your horse! If you don't know who's buying or where he's going or whether or not he'll be happy then don't do it! There are ways to be sure of such things. Take the time necessary to know without a doubt that the people you're selling to will not only appreciate your horse as much as you but perhaps even love your horse more than you are capable of!

Wouldn't that be a wonderful thing?

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