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Question:  Is this horse good for kids?

Answer:  How well does the kid ride?  How old is the kid?  Does the kid have a trainer?  Arena or trails?  Aspirations to do gymkhana?   A kid with quiet hands and seat who is in lessons with a good trainer is a completely different thing for a horse to be good for than a kid who is a beginner whose parents think they don’t need lessons and can “learn as they go” or “teach themselves.”  (Hint:  Most quality rescues aren’t interested in adopting to group #2, so if that’s you, you probably need to just go buy a horse if your mind can’t be changed about the necessity of lessons.  But I really hope it can.  You love your kids, right?  Keep them safe by investing in quality riding instruction.)

Question:  Is this horse bomb proof?

Answer:  Most rescues don’t even use the term, because there is only one kind of horse that is bombproof.

On the plus side, he doesn't eat a lot, either!  And no vet bills!

On the plus side, he doesn’t eat a lot, either! And no vet bills!

Every horse can be spooked by something.  No matter how elderly or phlegmatic, there is something on earth that will absolutely make them lose their pea brain and fly sideways or do a roll back or do a big, splay footed startle in place.  If you’re uncomfortable with that every happening, horseback riding is not for you.  If you’re a good rider, it won’t result in eating dirt (see the afore-mentioned suggestion about taking lessons!)

Question:  Is this horse completely healthy?

Answer: I don’t know, are you?  Think about it – most of us don’t hit the doctor for a full body physical and a set of full body x-rays too often.  And neither do horses.  Rescues work on limited budgets.  We do a basic intake exam when they come in to see what the heart, lungs, eyes, teeth, etc. look like but it’s a basic exam.  And of course we are going to notice something like heaves, Cushing’s disease or neurological issues.  Or in Violet’s case, nosebleeds – which have been diagnosed and resolved.  But overall, if you want to know how healthy a horse is, you are going to have to vet-check it at your expense, whether you’re adopting or buying — and even then, you may not find every issue that is lurking.  Horses, like people, can be afflicted with things that aren’t advanced enough to be apparent (like cancer).  That’s why neither we nor any rescue or horse seller can guarantee health.  Two things that may  help you decide the most are a full blood panel (about $100) and some x-rays ($40 a plate).

Question:  How old is this horse?  I don’t want anything over 15.

Answer:  Unless it’s an OTTB with a tattoo, or it came with its papers, we are guessing. It is an educated guess, but sometimes even the vets have trouble pinning it down to an exact year.  We adopted out a horse that Alamo Pintado declared was younger than we said, but I’ve had many come in that the former owner was “off” about the age by 10  years or more.  Ask yourself why you need this exact limitation on age.  Many horses competing at the highest levels are over 15.  Are you planning to do Grand Prix jumping like Flexible?  He’s 19 years old.  If Rich Fellers doesn’t need a young horse to jump 5′ fences, why do you need a young horse for what is likely to be much less demanding work?

19 years old.  Just saying.

19 years old. Just saying.

Question:  Is this horse an easy keeper?

Answer:  That is a question that will send rescuers running for their delete button.  It says two things:  I expect to feed a horse on $100 a month (answer:  you can’t afford a horse) and I don’t know how to keep weight on horses (you need to learn more before taking on the responsibility of horse ownership).  Please don’t make us cringe by asking it.  We’re very, very, very happy to provide you with an affordable feeding program that will, for sure, keep weight on your adopted horse.  It won’t be $100 but it won’t be $200 either.  Expect to spend about $150-$175 a month, in Southern California, to properly feed a horse kept at your home.

Statement:  I don’t want an Arabian or a Thoroughbred.

Then for Heaven’s sake, why are you contacting a Thoroughbred rescue?  (We got this inquiry. We really did.)

Look, I know many of you have had a bad experience with an individual horse of one breed but it’s truly not a reason to decide they’re all looney tunes. The scariest horse I have ridden in my lifetime was a bay AQHA gelding, who would wait until you were walking him out on a loose rein at the end of the ride and then blow up bucking.  Any time he felt you let your guard down, you were airborne.  Conversely I have ridden lazy, quiet Arabians and Thoroughbreds. They do exist.  Equine behavior generally has a lot more to do with feeding plan, turnout, and consistent riding than breed.

Statement:  Would you waive the adoption fee? I’m a really good home.

Answer:  Great, I’m happy you’re a really good home, but that doesn’t affect the adoption fee.  Craigslist is full of free horses. We will never waive an adoption fee and nor will most rescues.  If you can’t come up with typically less than $1000 for a horse, we fear you won’t be able to cover even a basic colic vet bill ($300-$400) or a cut requiring stitches or pretty much anything out of the ordinary.  We also fear you’re a kill buyer’s accomplice who is a really good liar.  Adopting from us, or any other quality rescue, you get a horse who has already had a tooth float ($150-$250), hoof trim ($50), basic vet exam ($100-$150), and usually some riding or training ($200+, usually much more).  Getting a free horse, you’re unlikely to get any of that.  So we’re not sure why it’s so important to you to save money that you’re just going to end up spending anyway if you’re the good home that you say you are (that would pay for all of those things for a new horse that needed them)?

Question:  I can adopt if you can deliver the horse to me (three states away)

Answer:  Let me solve your problem for you:  here’s a referral to a rescue near your home.  There is truly no reason whatsoever to ship rescue horses all over the country. There is no shortage of rescue horses anywhere in the U.S.  Shipping them all over is not necessary unless they’re special needs of some sort and an appropriate home truly is rare and hard to find.  We are happy to adopt out of state to a person who can afford to pay 100% of the cost of transport. This makes us feel confident about your ability to afford another equine mouth to feed!  Also, you are going to have to come here and ride the horse first. We aren’t sending a horse a thousand miles to a person who has not ridden it, and knows they feel comfortable on it.  Plane tickets are a lot cheaper than shipping a horse back!

Question:  Is the horse okay around emus?

Answer:  Rescues do their best to test out horses in a variety of situations, but you may have an unusual situation that we cannot replicate at home.  Some examples are properties with an arena adjacent the freeway, or your 4-H show grounds is next to a motocross track, or you have to ride past a farm with exotic animals to get to the trails.  In a case like this, you’re just going to have to take the horse and try it.  We take returns cheerfully as does every reputable rescue.  Make sure you can return the horse if it isn’t going to work.  Returning a horse if you have made a good faith effort and he just isn’t settling down in your situation is not a bad thing – just be honest with the rescue that the horse needs to tolerate whatever the situation is, so that they know the adoption may not stick.

Question:  Can she run fast? (And that’s the entire email)

No. Just no.

No. Just no.

Believe it or not, any good rescue really DOES want you to be super happy with the horse you adopt, if you adopt.  So here’s the kind of inquiry that helps us do that and makes us think you’re likely to be a responsible horse owner:

Hi, I’m looking to adopt a horse for trail riding and team sorting.  The horse would be ridden by me – I’m a confident rider who has competed in cutting and reining and started a few horses when I was younger, but don’t want a bronc at this point in my life.  I’d also like it to be quiet enough for my 8 year old to ride in her lessons.  We ride with Jim Smith at Smith Ranch in Smithville.  The horse would be kept at Jim’s ranch and have a box stall with an attached 12 x 24 run.   

(attaches pictures of Mom and Kid riding)

This is our dream inquiry e-mail. It’s not a novel but it tells us:

– About how well the people ride  (pics help, video helps even more if you have a link!)

– Where and how the horse will live

– What discipline you want to pursue (we try all of our horses on cattle, for example, so this is something we can give you a clear answer on)

– Who the trainer is (so we can establish it isn’t the Rate My Horse Pro horse-beater or horse-starver of the month)

Bear in mind most of us take this exactly as seriously as if we were adopting out human babies.  We would feel horrible beyond belief if one of our horses met a bad end or was abused or neglected in any way.  We understand you may feel like you are being interrogated by the CIA with all of the application questions, but we don’t know you.  We’re strangers at this point and we hope we’re going to adopt a horse to you and make a lifelong friend as well, but just as with meeting people online to date, you have to be a little careful.  Please don’t be offended by the caution rescues show.  We really do want the best for all involved – including you and your family!


Behold, the perfect horse.

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2014-03-30 14.42.06

We own the horse that everyone who posts on the “in search of” horse groups seems to be looking for. She is:

  • Child safe
  • Pretty
  • Goes hunt seat or western, jumps, runs barrels and poles
  • Perfect snaffle mouth; great bitless
  • No buck/rear/spook/bolt
  • Loads like a dream; hauls the best
  • Falls asleep at horse shows; nothing bothers her
  • Ties to the trailer all day without incident
  • Gets along great with other horses; no bite or kick
  • Easy keeper with no special needs other than plain front shoes

But if I were to write a completely honest sale ad for this priceless horse that we will never, ever sell, it would go something like this:

Senior mare, grey, 15 hands, retired polo pony, no papers, great on barrels and poles.  Cribs so badly she has no front teeth, so we have no idea how old she is. Could be thirty.  Cinchy as heck, will shoot backwards like a rocket ship if you don’t cinch her up slowly.  Cranky in her stall; will make ugly faces at you but don’t worry, the worst she can do is gum you!  Has an old broken coffin bone so one front hoof grows funky; fine if you keep front shoes on her. 

How many of you would rush out to see this horse?

Sale ads, like Internet dating ads, rarely mention negative qualities.  The reason is obvious – most will not come to see the horse/date you if you are brutally honest.  However, this leads to a lot of frustrated buyers, who go out to see horses and find a horse that they feel is not as described.  While dashing for the door is the proper response when you’re looking at a so-called beginner horse that bucks off his owner right in front of you (true story, happened to a friend of mine recently!), veto’ing a horse based upon a few negative qualities is the equine equivalent of meeting up with a handsome, funny, successful guy and turning up your nose because he’s wearing goofy shoes.

Nobody’s perfect and this has never been more true than in the horse world.  When I look back at every absolutely fabulous, beloved horse I have ever known, they all had a glitch.  Maybe they didn’t cross-tie.  Maybe they lost their marbles if you tried to trail ride them alone.  Maybe arenas with mirrors sent them into a tailspin.  I had a horse who was scared of men in hats.  I had an old rescue mare who was scared silly of the pretend cow the cutters had set up at one side of the arena. Repeat after me:  Flighty Prey Animal. If you are uncomfortable with handling a Flighty Prey Animal, even if that side only makes an appearance once every 5 years, horses are not for you.  The only horses you can trust to never, ever lose their minds and act like a Flighty Prey Animal are on rockers or merry-go-rounds.  A friend of mine’s solid 25 year old police horse flipped over backwards when someone inflated a helium balloon from a tank – because that is the sort of thing Flighty Prey Animals do.  (No one was hurt, thankfully)

Some of the most solid citizens under saddle have a serious ground glitch that is not going away. One that people talk about with an amazing level of venom is cribbing.  Cribbing can be a real pain in the butt if you have wood fences.  If you have pipe corrals, it’s kind of a non-issue.  Does it destroy their teeth?  Sure.  Does it keep them from gaining weight?  Nope, look at mine.  Can it sometimes be cured or greatly lessened?  Yes – try ulcer meds.  Will they teach everybody else in the barn to crib?  Nope.  (Hint:  When you see a whole bunch of cribbers in the same barn, it is because stressful conditions that create ulcers and gastric distress and cause cribbing, which relieves stomach discomfort, exist there.)  So why does it bother you so much?  Because they make a noise?  Because it looks funny?  Especially when I am looking for a beginner horse, I have a problem with bucking, bolting, rearing or spooking – I do not have a problem with a stall behavior that makes a noise and looks funny.  (Remember the old phrase “pick your battles” when horse shopping.  It is useful.)

So how do you stop nitpicking good horses out of the running and winding up empty-handed?  Make a list of which qualities are the MOST important for you to find, based upon who is going to ride the horse and the horse’s intended use.  My list, when I found this mare, would have gone something like this:

1. Quiet and predictable – especially at shows!  Kid is nervous enough without dealing with nervous horse.

2. Good in a crowded arena. No kick or reactive behavior.  Show warm up rings are scary!

3.  Willing over fences. Kid is not experienced enough to deal with a stopper.  She needs point-and-shoot.

4.  Calm in the line-up in flat classes. Previous horse was antsy and that scared her.

Then ask yourself – what are some flaws I can probably live with?  In my case:

1. Cinchy. No big deal, I can tack up the horse, or her trainer can, until she is old enough to learn how to deal with a cinchy horse.  We don’t allow her to ride unsupervised anyway, so it is a non-issue.  Also, I believe in massage and chiro and saddle fit – many owners do not, so this mare may not have had anything done to resolve the issue.

2.  Cribbing – If it doesn’t affect how she rides, who cares? I have pipe corrals, and metal on all of my wood edges.

3.  I could personally deal with a not-great loader.  We’re all good at loading and the kid isn’t old enough to load and go anywhere herself yet, so again…non issue.  And we could probably fix a horse who had loading issues.

4. We didn’t need a great trail horse.  Kid is mostly interested in riding in the arena and showing.  This mare doesn’t love going out alone.  She isn’t terrible but she is definitely a far more alert and spunky ride if you try to go out alone.  For some this would be a big problem; for us, it doesn’t matter.  If kid trail rides, it’ll be with a group. Mare is great with friends. She’s even fine if you pony off of her.  She’s just not a loner.

A beginner safe trail mare owned by a friend - who looked past the old cosmetic injury to the left hind.  How many buyers would have walked away?  9 years later this formerly slaughterbound rescue mare is still in a wonderful home.

A beginner safe trail mare owned by a friend – who looked past the old cosmetic injury to the left hind. How many buyers would have walked away? Nine years later this formerly slaughter-bound rescue mare is still in a wonderful home, and still the go-to horse when a grandkid wants to ride. 

Half the battle is figuring out which imperfections you can live with. Kicks other horses when tied to the trailer? Not an issue if you can put her on one side by herself, right?  Pulls back when tied?  Not a huge issue if he’ll stand when you loop the rope around the rail, and there’s always the blocker tie ring which fixes/minimizes the behavior. I think they cost $20.  (Also, once you figure out what kinds of things make him do that – like tightening the girth when tied or reaching for his face too quickly – you can frequently decrease the incidents so much that you’ll forget the horse was ever a puller).  How about head shy?   I have never had one not get a lot better with patience and cookies.  When you horse shop, remember that most issues are created by humans and can be fixed by different, more experienced, softer, more consistent humans.  I have seen horses have absolute 180 degree transformations in their first month here – the crabby become happy, the shut-down and dull become alert and interested.  As they become physically more comfortable and pain-free thanks to quality farrier, chiro, massage, a saddle that fits, etc. you see cranky, sullen behavior, refusal to move off the leg, head tossing, refusal to take a lead and general stiffness under saddle disappear.

So go shopping – just make sure your sense of reality is packed along with your wallet.  Perfect for you doesn’t mean perfect and flawless.  Perfect and flawless isn’t any more common in horses than it is in humans.  (Who doesn’t know that person who is forever alone because they have decided they require 46 specific qualities in their future partner?)  Decide what is important, leave room in the budget for a vet check so that you know exactly what the soundness level is, and then choose the best horse for you that is out there in your price range.  Close your eyes to color, size and gender unless they’re related to your competitive goals.  Mr. or Ms. Right is out there – don’t reject them because they are wearing ugly socks!



Another day – another Craigslist ad.


I have no doubt we can all agree this mare should not be ridden, not even by “small riders.”  But as soon as someone talks about what is or is not the “right thing” to do here, we see that equestrians are generally divided into two groups:

1)  “Put it to sleep!  For Heaven’s sake. It’s obvious there is no fixing that.”

2) “What a horrible thing to say.  Someone would give her a home as a pet. She shouldn’t have to be KILLED!”

Anyone who has been reading what I have to say for a while knows I tend to be a member of group #1 – at least when a horse is obviously, permanently disabled. I understand I’m not a vet, nor are most commenters, and no one has seen the x-rays, but a leg like the one shown in the picture isn’t exactly a mystery lameness requiring diagnostics to figure out.  I don’t know what happened to that mare, but that leg is, for lack of any better term, seriously (insert epithet of choice) up.  I am very comfortable betting $1000 cash that mare does not walk sound, even without seeing her or her x-rays.

Am I always in group #1?  Nope.  If the major issue seems to be lack of weight, I’m never ever in group #1.  I know for a fact that BCS 1 horses can recover fully and go on to ride and compete for twenty years. It happens all the time. Euthanizing something because it is skinny sounds like the dumbest thing in the world to me.

Nor would I be in group #1 if the horse’s legs appeared normal, but the horse was seriously lame.  There are a thousand things that could cause that, and this is when you do need a vet, and x-rays, and ultrasounds, and a good farrier.

Furthermore, I’m hardly ever in group #1 when we’re talking about behavioral issues.  Most things can be fixed.  Due to the shortage of truly talented trainers who can fix them (and funds to pay for training), I don’t criticize rescues that end up euthanizing for aggression – but at the same time, I think most of those horses (100% of those whose aggression doesn’t come from a physical cause) can be resolved. I am not saying the horse will ever be a beginner horse but can it be made safe for an experienced person to ride and handle?  Yes.  If the aggression is not being caused by pain or chemical/hormonal issues that can’t be resolved.

But when I see a leg like the one in the ad, or a horse who needs a prosthesis, or a spooky, reactive horse who has lost his vision – I am firmly in group #1.  Why?  Because horse disability isn’t human disability.  Let’s say I lose my vision.  Pretty horrible to think about – but the world is full of adaptive equipment. I can listen to audiobooks. I can get software that reads me everything on my computer screen and allows me to reply.  I can get a great seeing-eye dog to help me stay mobile.  Heck, it won’t be long til I’ll be able to drive now that self-driving cars are coming out.  I can work at a job and I can still write – many blind individuals do, so I could earn a living. If I couldn’t earn a living, I could get disability payments to at least ensure that I’d have a roof over my head and food to eat.  I can get a horse trained to deal with a blind rider, and keep riding.  Much of what I currently do, I could relearn how to do with one sense missing.  People do it all the time, surprising themselves and others with their incredible ability to adapt.

Now, let’s look at that horse in the ad with that leg.  What can she do?  Well, she can’t run, I am sure she is lame at the walk and I am sure moving hurts.  She can’t go take 2 Advil – she’s a horse.  Unless her people recognize she needs pain meds (and that certainly didn’t happen here), she doesn’t get any.  She can’t go get a scooter or an electric wheelchair to get around comfortably – she’s a horse.  She can’t lay down for long periods of time or she will colic and die – she’s a horse.  If another horse tries to kick her, well, she’s pretty much going to get kicked. She can’t get out of the way.  She can’t call the cops and report the assault, or pick up a pepper spray to defend herself.  Her entire ability to defend herself, by kicking back, is completely gone.

Blind Cathy can get a job.  Lame Cathy can get all kinds of jobs.  (Cathy’s lame most days, especially in the morning, but Lame Cathy can take Advil and go clean the barn anyway).  Mare with a back leg shaped like a C?  There are no jobs. The only way she gets any food at all is if some human feeds her – and given that she can’t be ridden and therefore provide a service in return for that expense, the potential homes are now narrowed down to just serious animal lovers…who also happen to be able to afford an extra horse who cannot do a job.  Needless to say, that is a tiny number of potential homes. Most of us who can afford to support retirees are already at capacity.  How often do you hear someone say “yeah, I’m looking for just the right crippled Thoroughbred to add to my herd?”    Lame Mare doesn’t have a family who might take her in.  She can’t apply for disability.  Her odds of having adequate food and medical care and hoof care are painfully slim.  As the ad shows, she isn’t getting any of that now.

Group #2, I get it. I truly do. It’s one of the great unfairnesses of life that this mare got hurt, maybe from something dumb a human did, and now she’s the one who has to die.  It is very, very sad.   Our nature as humans is to believe there’s always a way to succeed at anything; that a happy ending can snatched out of the jaws of defeat every time.  That’s just not the case when it comes to disabled horses.  Horses are, unfortunately, not designed to withstand major injury.  If they don’t get immediate surgery, everything becomes, in layman’s terms, a big awful calcified arthritic mess.  I am sure there is a vet term for that, but I don’t know it.  It’s what has happened when you see those ridiculous baseball-sized knees on horses.  Horses who can’t even bend their foreleg and have to swing the leg like a crutch to hobble around the pen.  Because horses are flighty prey animals, they try to do things that their crippled leg cannot withstand, like gallop around and do rollbacks.  Then they add something like a suspensory tear to their baseball-sized knee.  You can’t tell them to take it easy and stay alive because – they’re a horse.  You can drug them up forever, I guess, but even that has varying levels of success and long term use of tranquilizers can create side effects like organ failure.

I know that Group #2 hates this answer, but sometimes there is no answer.  Sometimes something can’t be fixed.  Or it didn’t get fixed at the time and now it can’t be fixed because it’s too late.   Sometimes death is the answer and it’s the best answer.  You can rant all day about the crap owner who let this happen, but that doesn’t improve the life of Lame Mare.  Arguing with everybody else in rescue about it doesn’t help her, either.  You can fundraise and spend a lot of money on some procedure that might make Lame Mare a little less lame, but in the meantime, 12 other young, sweet, cute, sound, pocket pony Thoroughbreds with all the potential in the world just went to kill.  Does that make sense?

It sucks and it’s not fair but when you look at the big picture, and what life is really like for a disabled horse, you see why so many horse advocates do advocate for euthanasia in cases like these.  Lame Mare can be spoiled and given lots of treats and loved on for a week or two.  It will probably be the best week or two of her entire life.  Horses have no sense of death; just of danger and pain.  Slaughter is not evil because the horses wind up dead — it’s evil because of the pain and terror they experience before that happens.  A horse receiving a tranquilizer before euthanasia feels no differently than a horse being anesthetized for a procedure he or she will wake up from.  If the choice of euthanasia is a bullet and the shooter knows what they are doing, death is instantaneous.  YOU know what a gun is, the HORSE does not.  They aren’t feeling fear or anxiety. They don’t know a gun is capable of ending their life. They are gone in a flash – no more pain, no more suffering.

The only way any horse being euthanized knows something bad is up is if you’re there and are upset and crying – which is why I recommend owners who can’t hold it together not attend.  Again, Lame Mare is not your great-aunt, who will be horribly upset you didn’t show up at the hospital to say goodbye. Lame Mare doesn’t know she is going anywhere.  She doesn’t know she won’t be here tomorrow.  Only you know that, which is why you’re the one who is upset.  As much as we love them, and as much as we do believe horses have higher intelligence than we give them credit for, I have never seen any research suggesting that a horse about to undergo euthanasia has the faintest clue what is about to take place or that death is imminent.  Slaughter, yes – they smell the blood and are well aware because it’s an assembly line.  One horse being euthanized at home by calm, professional people?   No clue.  As far as they know, it is spring shots time.

Keeping a flighty prey animal alive in a state of constant pain, unable to move around freely, is never about the horse. It is about people who cannot handle death.  My understanding is that this mare has been picked up by a rescue.  I hope it is one that will do the right thing – give her an absolutely fabulous mini-retirement and then send her over the Bridge, to a place where she can run as Thoroughbreds should and as she no doubt once did.