Monday, January 26, 2009

All the UNWANTED Horses

I'm sure I'm not the only one who's living in a region where the neighborhood landscape is slowly taking on the aspects of a boomtown gone bust. The further I ride Wally up the hills, around the more expensive homes that overlook the golf course, the more I encounter foreclosure signs. Many of these "luxury" view homes sit empty, with forlorn front yards and opportunistic weeds creeping up through cracks in the barren patios. Some of these homes were once beautifully landscaped, but now everything stuck in the ground is some shade of brown or rust.

But just as the economy has decimated the housing market, it has also affected the horse market. One of my longtime friends is a USEF hunter judge who has a training barn at the posh Del Mar Horse Park near San Diego. She said she's suffering through the lowest number of clients she's ever had. Another well known hunter trainer, with a longstanding reputation for producing successful young riders, is reportedly down 25 clients. That's a huge loss of income: 25 horses, which were once in full training, have left her care. All of you aspiring horse trainers take note: Being a horse trainer is not high on the list of profitable occupations. That makes sense. Who can afford a horse-- especially a show horse-- when you can barely afford your mortgage? And if you've been laid-off from your job, the last bill you're going to pay is your board bill.

Trying to unload that unwanted show horse isn't working out so well, either. A good friend of mine ended up with a lovely roan mare (complete with four flashy white stockings) that jumps beautifully, does her flying lead changes and suits both adults and kids... for, well, just about nothing. I'm serious. She paid almost nothing for the mare. The previous owners were at their wits' end. They kept dropping the mare's price while still incurring a hefty board bill, until it became more cost effective to just hand the mare over to a good home with someone they knew and trusted.

I know. I'm sounding awfully doom and gloom, but the bad news hits me from everywhere. Nearly every day I receive emails about free horses. I'm not sure how I end up on these mass email lists, but somehow my name is included and you ought to see the fliers and photos that come attached. Each one is worded more frantically. Each one gets more plaintive, more dire. The worst one had pictures of a half-dozen Thoroughbred mares, all in poor condition, that had been whisked away from a local horse rescue site that had become overwhelmed with unwanted horses. The saddest part? The nice person who took these mares in was now faced with feeding them. They had begun to realize that no one in particular wanted teenaged Thoroughbred mares with mediocre bloodlines, especially when they were in-foal to a mediocre stallion.

Another email directed me to a listing on Craigslist. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Craigslist, it's an online site for classified ads selling everything from futons to lawn mowers and designer clothing. Now, apparently, it's also a site for unwanted horses. This ad, accompanied by several photos of a cute greenbroke Paint filly read something like: "FREE HORSE: I love her, but I no longer have the time or the money to care for her. Please come take her."

Yesterday in the feed store, my sister pointed out a poster that featured a photo of a small bay gelding standing in a corral. In ink pen the handwritten message said, "Bring your trailer and $300 and take him away."

Are you getting the idea that there are a lot of unwanted horses?

If you need more examples, click on this link, which goes back to a recent batch of news on Horse Channel: You Know there are a Lot of Unwanted Horses When... If at some point the link doesn't connect you to the newswire stories anymore, I'll sum them up for you:

1. An adoption of BLM mustangs, held in Utah, featured a herd of rare and highly admired Spanish mustangs, descendants from the horses brought to North America by conquistadors. Of the 362 horses available, only 8 were adopted, for a whopping total of $725. According to the BLM representative, it was the smallest turnout she'd ever seen.

2. Officials in North Dakota and Montana are considering re-visiting that whole ugly anti-slaughter thing. Why? Because there are so many unwanted horses in those two states that horses are being abandoned or neglected. Plus, the states' constituents are now being forced to consider paying the cost of euthanizing their unwanted horses. Oh, the horrors! What? You mean if you take on the responsibility to own a horse you should consider ahead of time that you might one day have to pay to have the horse euthanized? (Oops. Sorry. I'm off topic. This rant will have to go on another blog).

Hopefully, you've grasped my point: Things are tough for horses these days. The unwanted horse is a by-product of our broken economy.

I don't have any answers, although I have some wishes. I wish that horse breeders would opt out of producing a huge crop of foals for the next couple of years, even if it means pensioning out older broodmares. I wish that more sellers would cut their losses and seek out the best homes for their horses, like some deserving kid who might not have a fortune to spend, but they'll love the horse to death and give it a wonderful home. And I wish that more mustangs could outrun the wranglers the next time the round-up heads their way, because life on the open range somehow has to be better than becoming yet another passed over, unwanted horse.


Yeah, I know. I rambled a lot today. But if you feel like rambling, too, just click on "comments" below.


Anonymous said...

You know things are bad when meat men are turning down free horses.

You know things are bad when the same meat man calls a rescue to pick up the horses he likes.

You know there's still hope when horse people are doing everything they can to help out the unfortunate equine victims of our economy.

Nancy said...

Oh, this subject just breaks my heart. I used to be totally against slaughter. Now I am rethinking that. There's sooooo many abandoned and neglected horses. There's worse things than being euthanized, and it's happening everyday in our towns and cities across the country.

We need to rethink humane euthanasia.

It's hard to raise awareness and funds for neglected horses, when there are people in the same situations - living without shelter and food and care.

Just horrible

Anonymous said...

It's very sad. I too used to be against slaughter but when you see the many abandoned and starving horses it makes you start to think.

As a horse owner, it is part of my budget to make sure that I take care of my mare, i.e. food, shelter, shots, worming, etc. So we won't be traveling as much to go to shows or trail riding. We will just stay home and ride on the trails around the farm. I consider her part of my family, like my cats, and I make sure that she is taken care of. It's my job to take care of her and I pray that the economic situation will pass soon.
We must speak for those that cannot.

Anonymous said...

I agree with everything people have already said. Our horses deserve better than to be neglected, their owners unable to feed or care for them. They deserve better than to be forced into overcrowded pens where they wait for a person to take them home. But for most of those hopeful horses, their person never comes.

I hope we reconsider the horse overpopulation problem, because its only getting worse. Horses can't lobby for themselves. We must speak up on their behalf. Why? Because they deserve so much better than what they are getting.

Anonymous said...

Wow Cindy. Thanks for this post. I commented one other time and metioned that I live in Saskatchewan, Canada. Even though some eastern parts of the country are struggling, most of us are getting through by just cutting back a little. I knew things were bad south of the border, but I didn't think about the horse area. After I read your blog I went to craigslist Saskatchewan- no horses. Then I looked at California- piles of them! I wish I could drive down there and take them home with me! Responsible breeding always has been important, but now even more so.

Cindy Hale said...

Thanks for all of the insightful comments. I've also received some personal emails about this very topic. I think it's a topic that we'll have to re-visit again soon, especially based on some of the stories I've heard. It's so very true that we have many people being forced out of their homes, so of course horses are going to lose their homes as well.

Anonymous said...

We live by Sacramento California. We have a saddle shop just had a customer in that told us of a horse euthinizaiton clinic in Jackson CA (one of a few they said) where people bring over their horses to have them put down, as they cannot afford them or get rid of them. A few freids had horses dumped in their pastures as well. Pretty grim and sad.