Thursday, January 21, 2016

What's a girl to do? (Part 1)

(I ended up splitting the post because I'm a bit wordy and as usual, my words are scattered and jumbled so bear with me.) I think I have a unique position as a horse person. Why? I work at a breeding farm and I own an "unwanted" horse. Ok, dafuq? Don't shit talk Digby! I know. Settle down and let me explain.

I've worked in the horse industry for a long time. I started working off lessons almost as soon as I started taking them. I remember being a young kidlette, dropped off at a barn for a days work of whatever my trainer wanted to throw at me that day. I mostly did it for the extra riding. I forever am grateful and I wrote a post about my time spent in the barn as a child here. I ended up going to college for an equine degree. I worked as a barn manager for a woman who was legitimately undiagnosed bipolar. It was eventful. I ended up at a breeding farm that I had worked a few sales for when I was in college. I left for a couple of years to try the whole "office job" thing out. I came back.

One of the foals from last year
Regardless of where my life has lead me, I now have an interesting position of being a long time worker at a breeding farm. I do a little bit of everything here, from staining wood, to fixing steps with cement, to seal coating and asphalt patching, to weed whacking, to unloading hay and, oh yeah, actual work with horses. I find this interesting because of how I stand on several issues. Specifically, the issue of the "unwanted" horse. The farm I work at used to have over 200 horses when I started. We stood 3 stallions, all of whom produced several winners. One stallion still has an average earnings out of all his foals combined of over $100,000. Not bad. One of the others who we no longer have had produced several big, big winners, some of whom went on to be stood at stud themselves, and is still consistently sought out as a breeding stallion. Not too shabby either. We had quality broodmares, several making over a million dollars at the track. Several producers of foals who made over six figures or over a million at the track. This is not a shabby operation we have here. The man who owns it is getting older (he's in his late 80s) and is slowly getting out of the business. We've downsized over the years and this year, I believe, the horse count is at 39. Total. Including our tease stud, our now 2 stallions, our 2 tease mares, then the youngsters and the broodmares. Of course, it's foaling season so that number will go up some over the past few months. At least until we sell the yearlings in November. We sold one of the properties, we no longer lease the fields we used to, two of the other properties are for sale. Such is life. The employees often talk about what they'll do when it closes. No one is 100% sure and we're mostly just riding it out until the end. Many people have been let go already so it's just the 7 of us left. It sounds like a lot for 39(ish) horses but we still have about 300 acres so it's actually pretty busy during breeding season and during the summer. Not so much during the winter months but we do a lot of cleaning and do our best to stay busy until foaling starts.

I've seen many foals born. I've raised youngsters and prepped them for sales. I've followed them as racehorses, or desperately tried to find out information on them when I don't see them racing. Are they doing ok? Where are they? Who owns them? Most of the time, to be totally honest, once they leave that sale as a yearling or as a racehorse, I don't know what happens to them. I stalk some rescues of off the track horses and always see if it's anything we've bred. Not because the owner of the farm would ever help but because I'd like to help if I could. If nothing else, I could give background info on the horse that could possibly get them placed into a home. I've never found any of ours in a rescue, although I've seen a few from our stallions that we didn't breed. I do occasionally contact trainers who I know have horses I raised. Sometimes they email me back, sometimes they don't. I check sales to see if any yearlings, racehorses or mares we've sold are in the sale. Regardless, I do care about the horses we breed. I want them to be good racehorses and have good homes when they're done. Does it always work that way? No. I'm not naive. That doesn't mean I don't wish it would.

One of our yearlings, from several years ago.
The point of this is, there are a lot of horses in the world. There are horses with near perfect conformation who still flunk as a racehorse. There are horses with not so perfect conformation who excel as a racehorse. There are horses with not so perfect conformation who do not excel as a racehorse. What happens when they're done racing? They could stand as a stallion or be a broodmare. What happens to the geldings? What happens to the ones who aren't good enough to stand stud or be a broodmare? Hell, what happens when a broodmare is older and can't get pregnant any more? Or when she produces several foals and the foals flunk as racehorses? Horses get shuffled around. Big time farms sell those less than stellar broodmares. Maybe they go to farms who aren't looking to produce as high a quality racehorse and are happy with average? Maybe they go somewhere else. Hard to guess.

We have a yearling in the barn currently. She is never going to be a racehorse. We have her full sister in training as a two year old this year. The yearling has a hoof injury that kept her in her stall every day of her life (minus one!) up until yesterday. She got turned out yesterday for a few minutes, with the help of some sedatives, for the first time since she was a very small foal by her mothers side. She is not 100% sound. She never has been. Will she be broodmare sound? Yeah, probably. Will she race? Hell no. We, as a farm, spent thousand of dollars trying to make her serviceable as a performance horse. It is not going to happen. We know that by this point, given her x-rays and her being basically unsound for the whole 8 months of her life so far. I hate to see any horses put down, I really do. My inner animal lover just hates it. I've seen it, as unfortunately with 200 some horses, it's bound to happen. Colic happens. Foals with get kicked and break a limb. It happens, though thankfully not often. While I'm glad she's alive, I have given much thought to the fact that we, as a business, will likely not be around in a few years at the most. This yearling has siblings. Many siblings, actually, though most of them aren't full siblings. We still have her mother. We had her mothers mother up until a few years ago when we had to put her down due to thyroid cancer. (I know, what horse gets thyroid cancer? Weird, right?) We have had several of her mothers half or full siblings over the years, who have also produced foals for us. Her mother will hopefully produce another lovely foal this year. She is well bred, with half/full brothers and sisters and other close relatives who have done well on the track, and aside from her hoof issue, she is a nice looking filly. Does she have potential as a broodmare? Yeah, probably. So, assuming the turnout goes well and she maintains her level of soundness, is it the RIGHT thing to do? To keep this filly who will likely NEVER be sound, aside from pasture sound, alive, when we know fully that as an operation we will not be able to keep her for close to her entire life? It's a complex issue.

Another yearling, from several years ago.