Monday, March 9, 2015

Prophet's Thumb Farm: On Horse Rescue...

   In recent years, there has been a push to discourage folks from buying pets from breeders and dealers.  With millions of stray or discarded dogs and cats being put to death in pounds every year, it seems wrong to encourage breeders to produce more rather than giving homes to the ones already here and in dire need.

   Some people try to extend that line of thought to horses.  Why breed more horses when there are so many already being abandoned, going to slaughter, etc.?

   But horses aren't dogs or cats...

   Give a typical dog the run of a suburban back yard, a spot at the foot of the bed, a collar, leash, tennis ball, the odd bowl of kibble, and he's a happy camper.  The cat is cool with an apartment, sand box, and some Friskies.

   They keep us company.  Entertain us a bit.  Alert us to anything out of the ordinary.  Assist with our diets by eating a share of our cookies for us.  Maybe dispatch the occasional rodent.

   Most of us have no need for a specific breed/type of dog or cat.  When I needed a new farm dog, I had a general idea of what we wanted... Age, size, gender, personality.  Went to the pound and found what I was looking for.


   So I agree...  Outside of folks who need specially-bred dogs for specific work or hunting uses, it makes little sense to breed dogs or cats when the pounds are full of perfectly suitable candidates.

    Horses are so much more demanding...  They require acres of turn-out with miles of fences to maintain.  Stables that have to be cleaned.  Tons of oats and truckloads of hay.  Expensive tack.  Competent training and daily care.  Farrier service.  Worming.  Etc., etc., etc...

   In return, we justifiably expect more from them...  We ride them.  We drive them.  Miles and miles down country roads, mountain trails, and sandy beaches.  Maybe we use them in show or athletic competitions.  It can become a way of life.  An awesome way of life!

   But, contrary to what you may have seen in Hollywood movies over the years, you can't just grab any horse out of the kill pens at the dark end of the sale barn and make it into a Wonder Horse with a little TLC.  Sad fact is, most of them are there for a reason.

   The old, sick, lame, untrained, poorly bred rescue horse is going to require more investment of time, treasure, and resources than a healthy, sound, broke horse in his prime...  And is still likely to be a pasture ornament, companion, or limited use mount at best.  It's hard to maintain enthusiasm for pouring ever-increasing investment into an animal for ever-decreasing return, year after year after year.  Especially in the face of the various hardships and tough changes that may be encountered in the rescuer's life along the way.  Rescued horses often wind up needing to be rescued again.

   Overall, the horse world is better-off if people select the horses they need, rather than the horses that need them.  Horses that encourage their owners to actively use and enjoy them,  inviting owners to get more involved in the equestrian world.  To share them with friends and family.  Creating more horse people and more homes for horses in the process!

   Another way horses differ from dogs is lifespan.  Horses live twice as long as dogs.  While the typical dog owner's requirements are fairly constant over the years, active equestrians have evolving needs when it comes to horses.  So the whole "Furever Home" thing isn't really applicable to horses.

   The perfect horse for an eleven year-old beginner will be holding her back when she's a teenager with countless lessons and hours in the saddle to her credit.  She really ought to pass him down to a new beginner while she moves-up to a horse she can ride to the next level...  That way the beginner's horse gets a new home, the new girl gets a perfect beginner's horse, and teenager stays in the game, and the advanced horse gets a home too!  Developing riders are supposed to "outgrow" their beginner horses and move up. This is NOT a bad thing!

   So someone does need to be producing next-level horses above and beyond what can be salvaged from the dark end of the sale barn.

   Am I saying that no one should rescue horses from the kill pens?  Certainly not!  But we have to face the fact that we can't rescue them all.  There are only so many homes for horses to go to.  Only so many people to take them on.  And burning those people out with high-upkeep, low-use animals does nothing to promote horse ownership and create more homes for horses tomorrow.

   I think we need to think more in terms of Rehab than Rescue...  While the emotional inclination is to save the most hopeless and pathetic horses, the greater good would be achieved by saving the ones who have the best chance of becoming fully useful mounts, especially for new horseowners.

   This used to be the stock-and-trade of horsetraders.  Outbid the killers on horses that were a few months' TLC away from being sold for decent money.  One thing they used to say was "Never buy a horse based on sympathy."  There are things you can't reasonably expect to fix.

   Old age...  A healthy twenty year-old might have a lot of use and life left in him.  But a poor horse over sixteen is likely to require a lot more time and care to get back into flesh than a younger animal.  He's also likely to need more dental care.  And, if he's not already well-trained, it's pretty late in the game to be green.

   Crippled...  I've known a lot of supposedly crippled "navicular" cases that came sound with proper shoeing and nutrition.  But horses with limb deformities, chronic laminitis, popped knees, and assorted other maladies may only be kept tolerably sound with drugs and perpetual therapeutic farriery.

   Size...  Nope. That 13-2 three year-old is NOT going to make 16+ hands.  I don't care if your cousin's room-mate's sister-in-law says her horse grew a foot after four, it ain't happening!

   Breeding...  Poor conformation, half-gaits, and other congenital weaknesses.

   Yes, you may be able to salvage a geriatric, unbroke, lame pony with a crooked spine and inclination to pace...  Expending time and resources that could have made three or four better candidates home-worthy in the process!

   But you don't have room for three or four more horses?  That's the great thing.  Good candidates, after rehabilitation, may be great entry-level horses, ready to go to new homes!  The horse world needs more good beginners' horses, and the kill pens are a good source for them...  But rehabilitating  rescue horses really isn't a good job for a newbie.  With the horsetraders of old in short supply, we need more established equestrians to create a return path from the kill pens to the beginners.

Some of these horses may have the potential to fill an essential role in the horse world.
We just have to figure out which ones, and give them the chance.


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