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When horse lovers learn how many great horses are being slaughtered or starved, their first question is typically “What can I do to help?”    I’m going to answer that question.  Here is what most rescuers will agree we need the most:

1)   Have your own farm?  Have space and budget for one more?  Please, please, please consider adopting a horse that is “light use” or “companion only.”  These horses have a very hard time finding a home.  Let’s face it, almost no one is going to pay $400+ board every month to board a horse that can’t be ridden or can only be used to lead kids around.  So if you have your own place and your only cost is the actual cost of feed, vet, farrier, etc., please consider adopting one of the more hard to place horses.

2)  Are you a trainer?  Or an amateur who is a solid rider and experienced with green horses?  Donate your services training a rescue horse.  Many rescues will happily pay the board & expenses if the training is free (I know I will!).  If you or your students can get the horse out to some shows, even better.   Quality training, if it’s a talent you possess, is easily the most valuable, most effective thing you can donate.  It can exponentially change a horse’s value and therefore change his entire future.

3)  Report abuse.  Don’t e-mail a rescue to tell them that there is a starving horse on the corner.  You need to go to your local animal control agency, or sheriff if you live where there is no animal control agency, and file a report.  You are the one who saw the starving horse (and I hope you took pictures – never trespass to get them but you can stand on the street and zoom in) so you need to file the report.  The rescue will be happy to step in if and when the horse is seized, but it is everybody’s job to report abuse if they see it. Multiple reports up the odds that law enforcement will take action.  Most horses are only seized after complaints come in for long periods of time, so please, please, please help that ball start rolling!

4)  Make a will and include your horses.  Is there a good friend or family member that you can truly trust to take them if something happens to you?  This is not just for 70 year olds.  Unfortunately, not all of us will live to see 30.  Accidents and sudden illnesses happen, and one of the primary causes of horses winding up in a terrible situation is the owner dying or becoming disabled and the family dumping the horses to anyone who will take them.

5) Are you a good writer or a web site whiz?  Most rescues need help with grant writing and web site design.  It’s hard to get grant applications written when you are in the barn all day, as many rescuers are.

6) Photography!  Now, being a great photographer doesn’t make you a great horse photographer. If you know that you ARE indeed a great horse photographer, donating your services is extremely helpful.  Many good rescuers can’t take a good picture to save their lives, and marketing rescue horses is like marketing anything else – great pictures and video are extremely important!

7) Educate your fellow horsepeople. Anyone can do this, it’s free!  You can do this if you’re 10 years old. You can do this if you’re 100 years old.  You can do it online, you can do it in person – whichever you prefer.  (If you can do it in Spanish, OMG, that’d be awesome because those of us who aren’t bilingual run up against the language barrier all the time in our efforts to educate).  Some suggested topics:

  • Most equine misbehavior is pain – call the vet, chiropractor, get a truly high quality farrier out.
  • Your horse is much more likely to find a kill buyer than a good home if you sell him at auction or give him away to a stranger.
  • Even when giving a horse away to someone you know, use a contract!
  • As the Facebook meme goes, most people do not need a $35k horse – they need a $1k horse and $34k of lessons.  Encourage others to take lessons with their horse from a quality trainer with a good reputation rather than discarding the horse and getting something else (this is very true in polo, where people want to take POLO lessons but do not particularly want to take RIDING lessons.  Your polo is only as good as your riding, and even the best horse will melt down sooner or later if you are up there bouncing and flopping around like a sack of potatoes that is having a seizure.)
  • Less grain, more hay/good pasture will cure damn near anything in terms of weight or behavior with one exception…
  • Old horses with no grinding surface left on their teeth absolutely must eat soaked hay pellets or cubes. That means you absolutely have to catch that horse every single day and soak him a couple scoops of pellets or a bucket of cubes at least twice a day, in all wind and weather, no matter what.  It is a myth that old horses are just skinny.  A total myth.  It is right alongside that the earth is flat.
"Skinny because he's old" - Utter nonsense. This horse regained his normal weight in a month on soaked pellets.

“Skinny because he’s old” – Utter nonsense. This horse regained his normal weight in a month on soaked pellets.

  • If you can’t afford to take care of your old horse and keep him fat and happy, the right thing to do really is put him to sleep.
  • Don’t breed anything unless you have plenty of disposable income and an intimate knowledge of bloodlines, conformation, genetic diseases, pregnant mare care, foaling out and nutrition/training for every stage of life. In short, most of us should never breed anything.  Leave it to the experts, please!

8)  Network horses!  Have 500 Facebook friends?  1000?  Share your favorite rescues’ pictures and updates to them. Free and anyone can do it.  Twitter is great, too.

9)  Not so techie?  Take up a collection in any group you’re a part of to make a donation to your favorite rescue.  Have a bake sale, car wash, or just pass the hat.  Ask for donations in lieu of gifts for your birthday, wedding or graduation.

10) Try to avoid the temptation to donate to a “crisis” situation like a horse that will be shipped to kill in two days or a horse that needs an expensive surgery.  Instead, consider making a monthly donation to help the horses that are already in a rescue’s care, the horses that many donors totally ignore.   When rescues say every little bit helps, they aren’t kidding.  You may think what you can afford is small, but if there are 20 people thinking the same thing who send in that extra $10, now we have fed one horse for a whole month.   A responsible rescue must keep its horses until they are fully rehabbed and up to date on everything, and that isn’t cheap or fast — so encourage responsible rescues (or sanctuaries that provide a home for horses whose owners have abandoned them) by directing your donation their way.

As I’ve noted before, Polo Pony Rescue is not asking for donations until we have our paperwork in order (c’mon State of California, hurry up!), and we are currently waiting on that, so in the meantime, here are some rescues we recommend  (not all, but some – I am sure I am forgetting some excellent ones!)

 The Golden Carrot – sanctuary for elderly or lame horses.  Has several ex-polo ponies!

Second Chance Ranch –  Thoroughbred rescue

Save A Forgotten Equine – All breed rescue, puts on a great benefit show in the Seattle area every summer!

Southern California Thoroughbred Rescue – Thoroughbred rescue

Strawberry Mountain Mustangs – All breeds, heavily involved in getting abusers prosecuted & changing abuse laws

Angel Acres Horse Haven Rescue – Mostly Thoroughbred rescue, huge focus on educating the public

Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred Rescue – Lots of beautiful prospects here

Florida Thoroughbred Retirement – Very polo friendly rescue (not all of them are!)

Shiloh Horse Rescue – All breeds, near Vegas – when you win big, shoot them a percentage, it’s good karma!

 

Once there was an old polo pony.  She wasn’t all that sound but she was a good girl.  Her owner couldn’t play her anymore, but they genuinely wanted for her to have a good home.  So they put her on Craigslist for free, and a nice family came out, fell in love with her and took her home.

Her old owner walked away secure in the knowledge that they had done the right thing and they didn’t have to think about it anymore.

24 hours later, the mare was on a double-decker heading for Mexico with 40 other slaughter-bound horses.

If you aren’t going to get a written contract signed by an adult whose ID you have checked and copied, if you aren’t going to do a site check BEFORE the horse goes home and then do follow up visits from time to time, then do the right thing and put your horse to sleep. I am not kidding. It is the right thing to do.  Putting a horse to sleep is not cruelty.  Giving a horse to any Tom, Dick, or Mary off the street, without knowing if they are a hoarder or a kill buyer or have enough money to even basically feed the horse, is about the crappiest thing you can do to your old polo pony who has served you well.  Even giving them to someone seemingly nice can go bad if you don’t follow up. What happens when the little kid needs a faster/sounder horse?  What will become of your horse then?  If you don’t have a contract, you have no control over the outcome.

Why are careless decisions made?  They are made so that the owner can (a) spend no more money on the horse but (b) still feel good about themselves by believing a “fairy tale” that may have no basis in reality that the horse is fine and being well cared for.   And sometimes they are made because the owner just can’t believe the person they are giving the horse to would ever send a horse to kill.  The mare below was the lone survivor out of five mares given to another polo player (!) for breeding.  A couple years later, they wound up in a kill pen several states away.  This mare was too thin at the time and the kill buyer didn’t want her, so she was saved by a rescue.  When she shed out, her picture was posted on Facebook and I recognized her brand.  We found out her entire history.

Hope, the only survivor out of 5 – alive today because of Rolling Bay Rescue

So think about it. Your horse’s life depends upon you making a little effort when it comes to finding them a post-polo home.   You are the only hope they have of staying safe.  Retirement board is always the best choice but if that truly is not an option, good homes can be found with careful screening – if you need some tips on how to do that, I am always happy to help!

Vet Day!

Every once in a while, I persuade Dr. Fitzgerald – aka the Best Vet Ever! – to trek up from Orange County on her day off and work on my rescue horses.  While there are plenty of vets closer to me, not only does she have very reasonable prices, but as a vet who works at the racetrack, she has seen it all and is great at handling challenging horses without losing her temper or getting scared.   I know that I can get a lot done for a very reasonable price, which both makes sense now (while it’s all coming out of our pockets) and later (when your donations will be helping). I feel very strongly that rescues have a responsibility to provide excellent care without wasting money, which means you’ll never find us using the pricier vets, taking a horse to the hospital if the condition can be treated at home, or calling the vet for shots, deworming and other routine care that we can handle ourselves.

At the same time, it’s indisputable that the first responsibility of a rescue when it takes in a new horse is to get everything up to date.  We want to ensure that within the first few weeks after intake, the feet are done, the teeth are done, and the horse is dewormed.  If a horse is truly emaciated, we will wait to float the teeth until he is strong enough to sedate, and feed a mush diet in the meantime.  However, with the typical horse that is a little thin (100-200 lbs underweight at most), getting the teeth done is one of the most important steps in ensuring that the horse regains his lost weight quickly and returns to looking his best within 2-3 months.

Sweetie was only a little thin upon intake, but her dental revealed that she is around 25 years old, older than we thought, and that she really would do best on a mush diet at this point due to having very little grinding surface left to her teeth.  When I say mush diet, I mean substituting well-soaked hay pellets for hay.  This is an easy thing to do, and actually winds up being cheaper than feeding hay in most cases, but it does require a commitment on the part of her eventual adopter.

Sweetie having her teeth floated.

Sweetie having her teeth floated.

We also had Dr. Fitzgerald do a basic lameness exam. Like many horses her age, Sweetie comes out stiff and is a little bit off on her left ankle.  While the soreness was mild to see upon trotting her out, flex tests made it much worse and the vet found some ringbone in that ankle.  This doesn’t mean that she can’t be ridden; in fact, the vet noted it is better for her to continue to do light work and will keep her sounder longer.  However, it does mean that her polo days or days of hard work like gaming have passed her by.  We gave her a Polyglycan injection to see if that helped her out.   Polyglycan is a drug that is similar to Adequan or Legend but also adds glucosamine, so it is a general purpose “joint helper” that may help Sweetie stay more comfortable.  She also receives, as do all of our older horses, daily BL Pellets which is an herbal bute alternative that I’ve had wonderful results with.

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Sweetie’s lameness exam.

Next, we moved on to one of my personal horses, a twenty year old mare named Bombay. Bombay was a bit thin when I got her, and lame from an undiagnosed abscess, but once she got up to date on everything, she blossomed. Or, um, exploded might be a better word…

Moo.  Fat tranquilized mare!

That mare actually gets worked 3-4 days a week. I swear. 🙂  I am mentioning her here because, even if a horse looks awesome, it doesn’t mean they don’t need their teeth done.  When we went into Bombay’s mouth, we found a nasty surprise toward the back – a tiny little sharp tooth that was digging painfully into her tongue.

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Ouch!

So keep in mind – if your horse is throwing his head, resisting the bit, etc. it may be he needs his teeth done, even if he’s fat as a hog. Definitely something to check out!

Next, we moved on to Juesa, who I knew was going to be a challenge. I love Juesa, but she never fails to remind me that she is an Argentine High Goal Princess and we are all merely  her food-bringing slaves.  I warned Dr. Fitzgerald to tranq her, but good.  We started out with palpating her to ensure she wasn’t a “two-fer.”  I had learned that the hoarder who starved her also had an uncut colt running with the mares so I was a bit nervous, given Juesa’s belly, that we had a surprise on the way.  Palpation revealed that we were about 95% sure that wasn’t the case – but may need to recheck down the road.  She just has a big old broodmare belly.

She was good for the palpation and then we tried to move on to teeth. Well, that was another matter.  We ended up having to give the princess three doses of tranquilizer and twitch her to get her teeth done.  She was not amused, but she has nice teeth now and I’m hoping that will help her pack on the last bit of weight!

I HATE YOU ALL.  What are you doing to me?

I HATE YOU ALL. What are you doing to me?

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You just wait until you try to ride me. You just wait.

Now that I know we aren’t hiding a baby in there, little miss Juesa can go back to work! Looking forward to going for a test ride next weekend if the weather stays good.

After Juesa, it was relaxing to move on to Aston, who wasn’t thrilled but didn’t put up a big fight. One dose of tranquilizer was enough to put him into a mostly cooperative frame of mind.

I don't love this, but I'm pretty happy after that shot!

I don’t love this, but I’m pretty happy after that shot!

Our awesome farrier, Jorge Ordonez, showed up around the same time to fix Aston’s hideous feet. We elected to shoe him so that we could start correcting the pastern angle and protect his heels while they re-grew.

Back on track to good feet & staying sound!

Back on track to good feet & staying sound!

Jorge also found a large old abscess on the front left that must have been very painful, and notched the hoof to prevent the spread of a crack caused by neglect. I know everybody dreads writing the farrier check but, truly, having your horse done regularly (every six to eight weeks) is integral to keeping your horse sound. There are a few things you can do to greatly reduce the chance of your useful horse turning into a useless horse – one is regular hoof care, another is fresh, clean water at all times, another is safe fencing/stall at all times (barbed wire isn’t okay, even for one night) and the fourth for those of us in the sandy climates is a psyllium supplement one week out of the month. You can make other mistakes while you’re learning, but those are four relatively easy ways to vastly reduce your risk of a dead/permanently unsound horse. (For those of you who didn’t read my previous blog on Aston, this horse was priced at $10,000 two years ago and a giveaway last month – so that’s an example of what poor care and poor decision making can cost you!) Fortunately, it doesn’t seem like any of the damage on Aston is permanent – we will return him to work at the beginning of March, five months post injury, but he’s trotting perfectly sound and the future looks bright!

Notched the hoof to stop a crack from traveling further and causing problems.

Notched the hoof to stop a crack from traveling further and causing problems.