Friday, January 22, 2016

What's a girl to do? (Part 2)

(Before you read this post: if you haven't read the first installment, if not read it here.)

The Reader's Digest version of the previous post is this. I work at a breeding farm. The horses here are not pets, they are here as part of a business to make money. If they cannot make us money or benefit us in some other way, we get rid of them by selling them or donating them. We are not mean people, we care about the horses we raise, but that is the truth of the matter. It is a business at the end of the day. Do I necessarily agree with my boss and the farm owner on this matter? No, but I'm not the boss. This is reality for us, as a business, specifically in the racing industry. I left off by explaining that most of the property is for sale. We've downsized over several years from over 200 horses to 39. The farm owner is getting older and wants to retire from the business in the near future. So I was discussing the matter of the "unwanted" horse, specifically regarding a yearling filly we have in the barn right now.

We have this filly who we've spent thousands of dollars on trying to make racehorse sound. She isn't. Looking at her x-rays, she will likely never be sound enough to race. She just started getting turnout again, after being inside the barn for her entire life to date, so perhaps she won't even stay pasture sound. Foals that grow up inside a stall tend to be different out of necessity. She will likely be very small (running around with friends help foals grow into bigger, stronger horses) with limited social skills (she's never met another horse other than her mother) and potentially, although not definitely, some serious sass from being so used to being poked and prodded by humans. Time will tell. I've got my fingers crossed for the little girl. The truth is that we have relatives of hers though. We still own, and breed, her mother. We have her full sister in training as a two year old. We have her half brother in training as a three year old. We have had other foals from this mare previously. We had/have foals out of her mothers sisters. She is well bred, no doubt, but it is not a bloodline that we lack.

Not the filly in question, just a darn cute one we raised!
So let's move on from that filly for a little bit. As you know, I own Digby. I have for 6 years in February. I knew him for a few years before I bought him and he was sound up until about 6 months after I bought him. We've had on and off lameness issues for years (with all kinds of saddle fitting, chiro/massage work, saddler fitters, different opinions from several farriers, and vet bills) but it's been mostly resolved with the lack of jumping. Corrective shoeing, supplements and Adequan help. He CAN be one of the coolest horses I have ever flatted and has a ton of buttons. I CAN finish a ride and think "I can't wait to ride tomorrow." He CAN go w/t/c on the buckle. He CAN be basically bombproof. Does he 100% of the time? Nope. When he is bad, he is BAD. He is not a horse who is subtle about his feelings. This is great because I know if he's uncomfortable or unhappy. This is not so great when you realize that you're spending a ton of money on corrective shoeing, supplements, Adequan, board at a very specific type of barn because god forbid it doesn't meet Digby's requirements, other vet bills (hi Lyme disease and multiple occurrences of ulcers, what up!) on a horse who only wants to play riding pony part of the time. This is my life and has been for 6 years.

After much, much thought and looking at my personal, non-horse life, I decided, "ok, this isn't fair to me, financially or emotionally." He just turned 17, he's absolutely stellar in a barn and with other horses. Let's try to find him a new home. I'm sure someone out in the world wants an adorable, well behaved companion who can go barefoot, isn't ancient, requires no maintenance, and is an easy(ish) keeper. Turns out, not so much. I will keep looking and have faith that the right person and situation will turn up eventually.

My point is, I've wondered over the years how not a single owner managed to know about his congenital bipartite navicular? Technically, if it had broke when he was a foal for example, it should of healed differently than what it looks on an x-ray. But what if, just for kicks, someone knew there was something wrong with his hoof as a foal? Maybe he came up lame as a foal or he broke it and was lame instead of being born with it. Let's say, they kept him in the barn for most of his young life for it to heal or to give him the best shot as an adult horse at a performance career. He had a good life so far. I'm his longest owner, but he's been taken care of. But I now have a small horse who hates being in a stall with a passion, has lameness issues from time to time, and is basically unwanted. I love him, I really do. If you've met me in real life or read the blog long enough, hopefully this is clear to you. But, I mean, in all reality, he just spends my money and I've gotten little use out of him. It's not like I rode him for years as a child and he's my heart horse. He's just a little horse who I'm attached to. I probably got 1 full year of riding out of him with minimal attitude or lameness issues. Not a whole lot out of 6.

The infamous Digby himself.
If you go on Facebook, COTH Forums, or other social media, you'll see people who preach that if your horse is not useable or rideable, you need to keep them forever or put them down because no one else will want them. (Spoiler alert: if you're trying to get rid of your own horse, don't read those because you'll feel like a total ass.) I see their point. I have accepted that I may very well own Digby until he dies. If I cannot find him a good home, he will stay with me. If I cannot afford him and still can't find a home, I will put him down. I've heard too many horror stories about horses going to "good homes" who end up selling the horse who ends up in a slaughter house or some other tragedy. No horse deserves that. I do think you need to be careful in the horse world. I would HATE to do that to Digby. I can't imagine putting him down because I couldn't afford him but I am realistic. I am young, not married, in a career that will likely not be my life time career. Things change financially. I can't say never, as much as I would love to. That said, I got unlikely I suppose by having a horse who has lameness and behavioral issues. Is it fair to me to have to keep him because I essentially got unlucky? It wouldn't have made sense to take x-rays of his hoof in a PPE. His previous owners didn't know. Luck of the draw essentially that now, according to the internet, I should pay board, farrier bills, vet bills for without looking for a new home until he dies. He's 17. It could (and hopefully will!) be a while. As for putting him down, that's wildly hard to even think about because it is NOT. His. Fault. He is healthy otherwise. He isn't a bad horse, just a little unlucky and quirky.

My point is, had his breeder known about his hoof issue, like we know about that little filly's, would I want them to have done what we're doing? I'm not sure. He's had a good life and will continue to have a good life, but there are horses out there in the world who are nicer, sounder, more athletic, better bred, etc. Emotions aside, as a realist, from the outside looking in, was it the right thing to do? As a responsible breeder, should we keep semi lame horses alive knowing that we will not be there to keep them safe, fed and taken care of until they die? I don't think so. But Becky, this means potentially your own horse would of been put down?! Yes. It does. Remember I said I had an interesting stand on this topic, right?

My coworkers often say "well, at least she's alive" in response to her being stuck in a stall. I cringe every time. What happens if she's 10 years old, dead lame (because trust me, her x-rays are worse than Digby's), hasn't produced any good foals as a broodmare, and doesn't have an owner who loves her? What of her fate then? She's not alone either. This isn't racehorse exclusive. We can't guarantee someone will make sure a horse goes to a good home.

So, readers, I ask of you: does buying a horse mean you promise to take care of a horse forever? Do breeder's have a responsibility to "take back" horses they've bred? Any personal stories of your own to share?


  1. Because I've owned Henry and Mystic since they were baby peanuts, even if they sell I would always take them back...regardless. But I think that's a lot to ask of a breeder. There are so many sound happy horses that need homes, it does seem unfair to ask you to continue to pay for a horse with questionable soundness/bit of attitude. I feel for you!

  2. ugh that is not an easy question to answer at all, and actually not really knowing how i feel about it has kept me from even really seriously considering buying a horse of my own. the rational side of my brain knows there is nothing wrong - at all - with rehoming a horse that isn't right for me, for *whatever* reason. i know this is true and i have zero judgement for anyone who follows that route. simultaneously tho i'm a bleeding heart who has a hard time letting go... so hard, i don't envy your position at all.


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