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Edited to add our thoughts in BOLD as of 8/7/14.

 

Every rescuer has a ton of stories of horses that were completely unintentionally neglected or abused. By that, I mean that the owner simply didn’t have the foggiest clue that what they were doing was wrong, that their horse needed vet care, or that what Uncle Jim said to do was a bad idea. So here’s a little quiz you can pass around to test if you are truly ready to own a horse of your own.

How many of these questions do you know the answer to?

1. You come home and your horse is lying down in the sun. His breathing looks normal. He might even be snoring a little. Is he sick?   Most likely he is just sunbathing and is just fine.  🙂

2. You come home and your horse is rolling. He gets up but doesn’t shake himself off. He turns around and looks at his rib cage. Is your horse sick?  Early signs of colic. Call the vet – 100% of the time.  The faster you catch it, the more likely it will be a $300 and not a $10,000 bill.

3. You throw dinner and your horse doesn’t go immediately to eat. Is your horse sick?  High likelihood that your horse either is starting to colic or is getting sick (like a respiratory infection).   Take the temp, observe, call the vet for his/her input.  Healthy horses dive into their food.  If a horse shows poor appetite long-term, look at the possibility of ulcers.

4. You notice that every time you tighten the girth, your horse pins his ears and snaps at you. Is he being a butthead or does something hurt?  Something hurts or something used to hurt.  He is not just being a butthead.  Look at a combination of chiropractic, massage and investigating whether your saddle(s) fit properly to identify any possible source of pain.  Horses with ulcers will often be girthy (is horse also cranky about brushing?)  The problem can be totally resolved and the crabbiness just a learned behavior, but definitely check it.

5. When you try to catch your horse in the field, he spins and kicks at you. Is he being a butthead or does something hurt?  Aggressive/spoiled.  If you’re not very experienced, you’ll need the help of a professional trainer to resolve this.  Your horse is showing lack of respect and treating you like the “pasture wimp” who can be easily scared away.  (Yes, ulcers can be a factor, pain can be a factor – but bottom line is that every horse who shows aggression to a human being needs firm, consistent training or he’ll wind up hurting someone). 

6. You have three horses in a field. They are all friends. Can you throw their hay in one pile or should you distribute it into more than three piles spaced pretty far apart in the field?  DISTRIBUTE!  I don’t care how friendly they are, adding many options for a “feeding place” will vastly reduce the odds of bites, kicks and other drama.

7. Horses don’t care if their water is clean, true or false?  FALSE. Many horses won’t drink water that smells. Dump, scrub and refill frequently.

8. Horses can get water by eating snow in the winter. True or false?  FALSE.  This has killed more horses!  Melt down a pail of snow and you will see what a tiny amount of water it provides.  Horses need a clean, fresh, UNFROZEN source of water 24/7 in all weather.

9. Horses who have trees in their field don’t need a barn or run in shelter. True or false?  This one depends somewhat on your climate.  If you live in a dry, hot climate and the trees provide solid shade at all times of the day, you’re set.  If you live where it rains and snows – nope, you’ll want some kind of solid shelter (and it may be required by law!)

10. Your horse’s feed falls out of his mouth when he eats. What does he probably need?  Most likely needs his teeth floated.

11. Old horses tend to be skinny because they are old, and there isn’t much you can do about it. True or false?  This is absolutely, completely and totally false.  The usual reason is improper/inadequate feeding and/or inability to chew – easily resolved with soaked feed.  1% of the time there is a health problem which can usually be treated by a vet (like a thyroid issue). 

12. It’s a good idea to buy a foal that your kids can grow up with. True or false?  FALSE unless you enjoy visiting the emergency room.  Foals need the sort of consistent, firm handling that a child is unlikely to be able to provide.  Foals ARE children.  It would be like leaving your 5 year old home alone in charge of your 2 year old. How would that end?  Foals have sharp little feet and can do a lot of damage to someone when they kick or strike.  They are not a plush toy.

13. It doesn’t matter how tall a horse is in terms of being a safe kid’s horse. True or false?  TRUE.  Look for behavior, not a particular size.  Safe for kids = slow and lazy!  You want a horse who thinks galloping off would be torture.  A horse who responds to loud noises and scary things by saying “so what?”  These qualities will usually, but not always, be found in an older horse with a lot of experience – shows, parades, gymkhanas.  Ponies tend to be pretty difficult!  There are exceptions, but don’t think small = safe.

14. Horses have to get fit just like people if they’re going to do more than very easy walk-trot rides. They have to be ridden 5 or more days a week consistently if you’re going to expect them to do things like jump, trail ride in the hills, or barrel race and stay sound. True or false?  TRUE.  If you don’t abide by this, you absolutely will end up with a lame horse, sooner or later.  Muscles work the same in humans and horses.  Unfit muscles are prone to injury.

15. If a horse is limping because he’s foot sore, it’s okay to keep riding him like that as he will toughen up eventually. True or false?  FALSE.  If you’re trying to transition to barefoot, you need to invest in a pair of quality trail riding boots for him so he doesn’t suffer in the meantime, like Cavallo’s.  Making a horse gimp around and suffer is cruel. 

16. What are some ways to tell if your saddle fits your horse correctly?

What’s wrong with this pic?  Should this horse be ridden like this?  Image by Lori Pennell from her article Saddle Fit For Standardbreds at http://sphomaine.net/news-events/saddle-fitting-for-standardbreds/

When mounted, put your hand between the pommel and the horse’s withers. You should have no problem putting multiple fingers in the space. If you can’t, the saddle doesn’t fit. You can also look at the sweat patterns on the horse’s back after he is ridden.  If you see dry spots, instead of a consistent sweaty area, it’s probably a sign that the saddle doesn’t fit.  Does your western saddle stick up at the back and flop up and down when you longe instead of sitting solidly on the horse?  It doesn’t fit.  For best results, consult a professional saddle fitter.

17. How many pounds of quality hay does a 1,000 lb. horse need every day to maintain his condition?  Typically 10-12 pounds.  If you don’t have a hay scale, just step onto a regular scale with or without the hay in your arms.  You will start to be able to “feel” what that much hay feels like.  This is assuming your horse does not have access to pasture.

18. You’ve just mowed the lawn and have a bag full of grass clippings. Safe or not to feed to your horse?  The safe answer is NO.  Clippings ferment quickly.  If you want your horse to mow the lawn, fence the lawn.  🙂

19. Is barbed wire fence okay for horses?  You will always find horse owners who say it is. These people see nothing unusual about their horses having gaping wounds requiring stitches or having one baby out of the foal crop get crippled or killed every year.  You know horses run into things, right?  Why would you put a horse out on something with sharp little prongs on it?  Don’t do it – it’s not worth it.

20. Would you still be okay with paying all of the costs of maintaining your horse if he got injured and the vet said he needed 6 months off?  You’d better know the answer before you have to know the answer. If the answer is “no,” I recommend renting a horse when you want to ride, rather than owning.

I’ll do a follow up blog with some answers but if you want to post your comments or some other good questions that need to be asked of every prospective horse owner, feel free to add on!

I just saw a comment online complaining about “four or five page” rescue contracts and how that was just too much to expect anyone to agree to.  So I’ve decided I’m going to write a brief series on Mondays about why certain provisions are in those contracts. I suspect if anyone reads through the series, they’ll understand why all of this language is actually pretty reasonable and sensible!

What the contract says

“Except as otherwise provided in Paragraph I.C. above, the Horse should be fed 3-4 flakes of high quality, mold and weed free alfalfa, timothy or orchard grass hay daily, unless sufficient pasture is provided instead. “Sufficient pasture” is defined as pasture lush enough that a horse will ignore hay when offered and, on which, no horse present is at less than a body condition score of 4.

Grain is not generally required and is at the discretion of Adopter and Adopter’s veterinarian. ADOPTER AGREES TO INTRODUCE ANY GRAIN GRADUALLY, NO MORE THAN A HALF POUND DAILY TO START. __________________ (initial here)

Why that needs to be in there

1.  It’s often unclear to owners how much hay a horse actually needs.  And while it’s more precise to say a horse needs X pounds of hay per day, I can’t think of a single barn I’ve ever boarded at that had a scale.  So just saying 3-4 flakes will generally assure that the horse will not be starving. I might edit this, for example, if we adopt out the Galootasaurus, as he requires 5 flakes a day to stay round and happy, but for most of our normal-sized polo ponies, 3-4 works.

2.  Types of hay are specified because you will not keep a Thoroughbred looking good on any kind of local grass hay, or bermuda.  Again, I might edit this portion if we adopt out Coda, as he’s an Arabian and they generally do well on bermuda.  When you just say “hay,” someone who isn’t super experienced might think local grass hay for $5 a bale will do the same job as alfalfa for $18 a bale. It won’t.

3.  Sufficient pasture!  How many times have you been to someone’s pasture and seen that some horses are fat, some horses are just right and some horses are thin?   Or seen a horse who is thin because “he just came back from pasture.”  It’s not okay for horses to become thin at pasture; it means there isn’t enough pasture and supplemental hay should have been provided.  Or that particular horse needed more than just hay (or needed his teeth done, deworming, etc.).  So, I put in a definition of sufficient pasture that should not confuse anyone.  Throw out hay – if they sniff it and walk away, congratulations, you have enough grass for them to live on.  If they attack it like they haven’t seen food in a week, your pasture is probably getting eaten down and they are hungry, even if they haven’t obviously lost weight yet.

4.  Introducing grain too fast can, of course, lead to both founder and colic.

And crazy teleporting horses.

Much like sugar when you have toddlers – proceed slowly, in minimal amounts and with caution.  🙂

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

World's biggest ex polo pony at his first show.  Check out McCoy Boy in our adoptable horses!

World’s biggest ex polo pony at his first show. Check out McCoy Boy in our adoptable horses!

 

 

 

 

Works well, doesn't it?

Works well, doesn’t it?

We read a lot of discussion on Facebook and message boards about what people feel a horse rescue should or shouldn’t do. Frequently this is accompanied by accusations that horse rescuers are mean, unhelpful, and have no people skills. Today, I’d like to write a little bit on this topic that might help you understand why horse rescuers say things that you think might be mean, unsympathetic, unhelpful or rude.

Call from the public: I have a 27 year old warmblood who used to be my show jumper. He is the best horse ever but now he is blind in an eye and has ringbone so he can only be a pet. I LOVE HIM SO MUCH and I want him to have a great retirement home but I got a new 5 year old horse from Holland and I need something I can show.

Response caller anticipates from rescuer: Wow, he sounds great! When can I pick him up?

Actual rescuer’s response: I can give you some suggestions for good retirement boarding farms. If that’s not an option, I suggest putting him to sleep.

Translation: Clearly you do have the money for retirement board (typically $300 month or even less) if you are buying warmbloods from Europe. Also, if you are showing, you are an able bodied person who could acquire a second job, if needed, to afford a few years of retirement care for your old partner. If you truly love your horse, pay for retirement board. If you don’t, at least euthanize him so that nothing bad will happen to him. You may think there are a lot of great homes for pet horses out there, but they are, in fact, almost as rare as unicorns. If you don’t love him enough to provide for him after he won you a room full of ribbons, why do you think a stranger will? We have all dragged someone’s high level show horse out of a kill pen, a livestock auction, a barbed wire pen behind someone’s mobile home in the high desert, or the county shelter. We fatten them up and get them sound and hop on them and are stunned at the level of training they possess. It happens all the time. We know that you don’t want your horse to suffer like this. That’s why we gave you the options that we did.

Call from the public: I am looking for a horse to adopt. It needs to be no older then 7, safe for beginner riders, and jump a 3′ course. Can’t be a mare and has to vet check.

Response caller anticipates from rescuer: Sure, no problem, I have three here to choose from and the adoption fee on each is $500.

Actual rescuer’s response: If you’re looking for a horse safe for beginner riders, I have a selection of great horses in their twenties that you will be able to trust. Since they’re beginners, they won’t be jumping 3′ for a long time, so why not adopt an appropriate horse now and save up for that future show hunter when they are ready for him, years from now? Sure, you may have to do some maintenance to keep them sound, but they are great teachers!

Translation: There are few, if any, beginner safe horses under 7 years old. There are even fewer that can jump a 3′ course. The ones that do exist can be found at your local hunter-jumper barn with a price tag of $10,000 or more attached. What you are trying to do, and it is not very subtle, is get something for nothing. Young, sound show horses are not a demographic that end up in rescue often, if at all. Rescue is a great place to find a hunter-jumper prospect IF you are an advanced rider who can train one from the ground up or IF you are willing to spend thousands having the horse professionally trained. If you are, by all means, come on out and we’ll hook you up!

Call from the public: I’m from out of town and going to be in your area in 15 minutes and my kids want to stop by to pet the horses.

Response caller anticipates from rescuer: Sure, come on out! We’re here all the time!

Actual rescuer’s response: Sorry, that won’t work out. We can schedule another time for a visit, if you’d like.

Translation: We might be at work (yes, most of us have outside jobs). We might be at our child’s school. We might be at the doctor’s. We might be on a date. We might be grocery shopping. We might be at the feed store. We might be nose deep in a grant application that has to go out in today’s mail. Whatever the reason, none of us are available 24/7 to supervise visitors. That’s why the gate is locked. Please don’t climb the fence (true story, heard it from another rescuer). That’s called trespassing and yes, we really will call the police if you do it. None of this means that we don’t appreciate and like our supporters – it just means that we all have lives, too, and stuff to do, and can’t hang out at our rescue 24/7.

Call from the public: My neighbor’s horses are starving. Please do something. I can’t do anything because he’s in a gang and I’m scared of him. I’m in Dirtbag City, I think we’re about 560 miles from you.

Response caller anticipates from rescuer: No problem, I’ll be right over with a SWAT team to arrest your neighbor.

Actual rescuer’s response: You will need to take photographs and document the neglect, then go to your local animal control or police station and file a report. We cannot do anything since we aren’t a witness to the neglect – you are.

Translation: The law is the law. We really can’t do anything. We don’t have the time or money to travel around documenting abuse, and that isn’t our job as rescuers. You are going to need to cowboy/girl up and report the abuse yourself – file an actual police report. If the police blow you off, go to the media – news reports tend to light a fire under slow-moving law enforcement entities. If the horses are seized, we’ll be happy to help at that time, resources permitting.

Call from the public: My neighbor has to get rid of his 29 horses. He’s willing to give them up. Otherwise he’s taking them to auction! I don’t know what they are. I think some are stallions. Can you come get them?

Response caller anticipates from rescuer: Give me the address and I’ll send our air ride semi over right away!

Actual rescuer’s response: Can you get details such as age, sex, height, papers if any, training if any and good photographs? I’ll network them around.

Translation: Almost none of us have the resources to take in 29 horses at once. If you don’t know why, ask yourself how much you have personally donated to a rescue in the last year. We are under the same constraints as private individuals with regard to stall/pasture space, stallion appropriate housing, money for hay, money for vet, money for farrier, etc. Sure, sometimes we can get a grant to help with a large seizure, but if the horses don’t adopt quickly once rehabbed, no more money will be forthcoming and now we have 29 more mouths to feed. We are not being mean or unhelpful by requesting details – we are trying to figure out if these are horses we can place if we rehab them, and/or identify breeds to contact breed specific rescues that might help us shoulder this burden. If you are as upset as you sound about the neighbor’s horses, you should want to help us out by going over there and getting details and pictures.

Call from the public: I rescued this horse from the Fallon feedlot, but he’s not what they said he was. He’s 15 years older, not very sound and he bucks when we try to ride him. I can’t afford a vet or a trainer. Can you take him?

Response caller anticipates from rescuer: Of course! Wow, you are such a wonderful person for rescuing him!

Actual rescuer’s response: Have you considered putting him to sleep?

Translation: First of all, you had no business “rescuing” anything you couldn’t afford vet or training for. If you get read the riot act – you deserve it. Secondly, you know how you don’t want a lame 25 year old that bucks? Guess what, neither do our adopters. If we take in that horse, we may be able to make him sounder and we may be able to fix the bucking, but he is unlikely to ever find a home. Quite frankly, we cannot remain in operation unless the vast majority of the horses we help are horses that are likely to find new homes. The amount of permanent retiree space any of us have is limited, if it is there at all. Euthanasia is not cruel. You may feel sad about it but the horse doesn’t. He gets a shot and goes to la-la land very quickly. If you choose this option, you have done the right thing – the horse did not go to kill, and did not suffer, and probably enjoyed his time in your care. Now, please consider waiting to acquire another equine until you can afford veterinarians and trainers.

Call from the public: I want to adopt a horse, I’m a really great home. I used to have a horse but my husband took it to the auction when he was drunk and mad at me. I would never have done that! I love horses and I’m totally anti-slaughter!

Response caller anticipates from rescuer: Oh, you poor thing. Come on over and we’ll set you up with a new horse.

Actual rescuer’s response: There are many horses available on Craigslist and you can also check your county shelters. Good luck in your search.

Translation: You might be the best home ever, but your taste in men has disqualified you from adoption. We go through a lot of effort to rehab our horses and place them in the safest home possible. If we find out something about what happened to your previous animals that leads us to believe a horse won’t be safe with you – even if you’re not the family member who was the problem – we’re not going to give you a horse. Fortunately for you, horses are easy to come by and we’ve provided you with other options.

Call from the public: I have to get rid of my horse because I’m pregnant/going to college/getting a divorce/losing my farm.

Response caller anticipates from rescuer: Oh, you poor thing. I know how hard those things are! We’ll be happy to pick up your horse.

Actual rescuer’s response: I can recommend a great place to pasture board your horse affordably until you’re ready to ride again. I can hook you up with a barn near your college, and an affordable hauler. I can refer you to a terrific divorce attorney. I can find you a great boarding barn near your job and new apartment so you don’t have to give up your horse. I might even send you a month’s worth of hay while you start your new job, if you’re been unemployed and you can document that.

Translation: I will help you any way I can but please don’t dump your horse into the rescue system or worse because of temporary life complications…the rescue system is filled to the brim and we just can’t help them all. Please help your horse yourself by taking the actions YOU can take to keep him safe and in a good home. Believe me, MANY of us have been in the boat you’re in…we made it work and kept our horses safe and fed. You can do it too!

As another rescuer once said, and I wish I could remember who, horse rescues exist to help horses. Horses in true need – those at auctions, in kill pens, and in animal shelters. Not personal horses that have become lame or developed a behavioral issue. (Bear in mind that many of us do welcome the legitimate situation where an owner donates a horse with a substantial donation for care so that an experienced rescue can find it a good home, without the rescue being financially burdened by the process.) When you have truly put forth a good faith effort to help an animal and solve the problem yourself, you will find that rescuers become a lot nicer. The person who provides us with pictures and details on the 29 homeless horses next door gets a lot better response than the person who calls us and rages that we ought to do something, while being unwilling to do anything themselves. Remember that your local horse rescuer is most likely working a schedule that would kill an ox and in a constant state of frustration over the seemingly endless amount of human irresponsibility when it comes to animals. Donate or lend a hand, be courteous about visits and phone calls (if it’s 5 AM, send an email – come on, folks, common sense!), describe what you have tried to do to solve the problem, listen to and actually take our advice, and you’ll find the horses win every time!