My horse vet had called to say he’d be late. There was an old horse that couldn’t get up, and he needed to go put it down. When he arrived at our barn, he said a curious thing: ‘That old horse was 38! I don’t want my horses to live to be 38!” I looked down at the medical report I’d dug up on my mare and glanced at her age: 28. I started doing a mental census of our 27 horses’ ages—but quickly stopped before depression set in. Yes, aging horses can be tough, and they certainly are living longer these days. Just last year, out of frustration at always guesstimating our herd’s ages, I made a definitive list of everyone’s age. It was shocking. How could Moe and Sunny be 28? That little pony that we got for my daughter when she was about 7! He’s nearly 30?? (Of course, my daughter’s almost 22, so I suppose that’s right.)
There are the people who go through a horse period, when their child is taking lessons. Maybe they even buy a horse. But as soon as the child loses interest or the horse becomes unusable, they’re done with it. That horse may get passed along to the next brief enthusiast and the next, then maybe to a riding stable, but eventually there’s no real use for it—other than just being a horse. What happens then? More than likely, the horse ends up in a bad situation, gets put down or goes to the slaughter house.
One of our horses came with a long line of impressive show wins, and with a little notoriety from his time at a local barn, so, after having him for about 10 years, I called the previous owners to let them know how he was doing. I could tell from their response that they thought I was nuts. Like a lot of other people, they had no interest in finding out what had happened to their horse after they were finished with it.
I’m fortunate in that we have a farm, so we have never had to board our horses. Of course, that is a double-edged sword—because if we had had to board them, we’d have never ended up with so many horses. Some we got as sad-story rescues, such as the horse show jumper who wasn’t ever supposed to jump again who was being used as a jumping lesson horse, or the retired thoroughbred with the bent leg, or the little Arab, “Rosie”, we found on the side of the road. (When I was little, my parents accused me of yelling “pick me up!” every time we passed some unfortunate creature on the side of the road. I guess they never imagined I’d find a horse that way.)
Rosie was a mess. She was loose that day, grazing beside the road, but she normally lived in a muddy garage with a piece of barbed wire across it, right next to a busy road. She’d gotten out in an ice storm and fallen. There were wounds all over her. When I found the owners, I offered to pay them $200 for her or to call Animal Control. We brought her home that day. Local men that came to help us pick up hay that season knew her. They said she was always in a local parade. One day I put a saddle on her. It felt unnatural. I wasn’t used to her high-head Arab carriage. It was unnatural for her, too: she associated riding with fear, noise, and stress. I never road her again, and that was ok. To see her put on weight and just be a horse in the pasture was payment enough. She has arthritis now, and one leg is bending at an odd angle. When it gets cold outside, I blanket her, but every morning she’s there with her ears perked up, waiting for her food. I doubt she’d be alive if we hadn’t brought her here.
When people adopt dogs they are forewarned to be prepared for a lifetime commitment, but horses aren’t viewed that way. Just because we don’t eat them, are they as disposable as pigs or cows? Anybody can buy a horse with no questions, such as are they properly able to care for them? Fenced yard? (please no barbed wire) Enough yard? (2 acre minimum per horse) Intent to breed? (ever check Craig’s List to see how many are looking for homes??) Will they be able to handle yearly worming, hoof trimming, vaccinations and feed, for goodness sake, all essentials for a healthy happy horse?
Nobody polices potential horse owners to see if they “get” what all is involved. In this day and age, when Bob Barker is pleading to our lawmakers for protection for circus animals, there ought to be some kind of minimum requirement for horse ownership—and not just the last resort intervention of animal control when the horror story makes its way to the local news.
People watch “The Horse Whisperer”, “Secretariat” and soon “War Horse” and marvel at these magnificent creatures and all they sacrifice for us. It shouldn’t be a one-way street.
Years ago, when I would get a new puppy, I’d calculate what my age would be when the dog reached the end of its life—and would figure that, by that time, I’d be able to handle it better. Somehow that never worked out. When my husband surprised me with a weanling about six years ago, did he calculate how old I’d be when it reached 30? I just hope that, at 86, I can remember to go outside and feed it!