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Another day – another Craigslist ad.

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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.

5 Responses to “Horse versus Human Disability – There’s No Comparison!”

  1. Susan Crane-Sundell

    Hi Cathy:

    I couldn’t agree with you more. Euthanasia is a very gentle way to go- more people in our country ought to be extended its rights and benefits as well. However this poor and very neglected mare deserves the chance of a very through evaluation by a competent equine vet before we send her over the bridge. That bow is beyond atrocious and I bet it has been that way for so long that she will never have a comfortable life. But I have seen great recoveries where a very badly injured animal has adapted. She could never be more than a pasture ornament and the crap about a “light rider” is beyond laughable it’s certifiable. These people who offered her for sale need to be charged with animal cruelty and publicly shamed.They should never be able to steward an animal again.

    As for Lame Mare, perhaps she could adjust to a better life with a small single pasture, proper nutrition and constant concerned care and attentive veterinary monitoring.

    I once said to a close friend that her acquired mare was beyond saving, well with nine months of incredible dedicated care and a homeopathic vet that worked round the clock with calendula poultices, short lead walks, changed bedding twice a day and determination that extended into going into the barn in the middle of the night EVERY night during the coldest winter weather (I’m talking 12 degrees here) the worst case of laminitis I have ever seen was eliminated. That Lame Mare made it. She happily proved me wrong. Let this one have at least a chance with a real “horseperson” as her patient advocate before we send her over the bridge. It’s not inexpensive and it may be futile to give her care, but just like with a crummy marriage, you have to give it a real last chance before you can say you gave it everything you had! I hope she makes it and if not, at least she will have experienced some real love and concern in her short, badly managed life.

    (A pox on those owners and they live in “Horse Country too)

  2. Lahle Ehrlich

    Excellent post, Kathy. I agree with all you said — it is hard to deal with difficult cases like this especially when people less familiar with a particular horse’s situation have all kinds of advice.

    It is because there are horses that will fall into category #1 that I fully support rescue orgs who take in horses (from auctions, Craig’s etc.) for the sole purpose of giving them love for a few days and then a humane, peaceful ending. Sometimes, that is all you can give a horse — but it is still a great gift to the animal to let them pass compassionately, surrounded by people who care.

    It drives me bonkers when I see rescues criticized for posting they are going to pull a horse knowing the chances of immediate euthanasia are high. It still costs money to rescue a horse, even if all they are able to benefit from is a few days of love and a dignified, peaceful ending, and we should support the decisions made by rescue workers–even the tough decisions.

    Rescue work involves making hard decisions and sometimes the only reasonable rescue for a horse is to spare it a life of deprivation and pain.

    God bless you for your work, your honesty, and integrity.

  3. JulesK

    Sometimes people *really* want to save that one horse no matter what (and no matter how much it costs), and sometimes you’re glad you did, and it’s quite heartwarming, but it’s a terrible idea as a “standard practice”, and it’s certainly not an expectation we should help create in the general public.

    Nice, sane, sound, or mostly sound horses, saintly old geldings and mares who packed kids around many a summer, are going to Mexico by the truckload. So nope, I have no problem with putting down a mare like this. I feel terrible for her, but in the grand scheme of things creating an expectation that any rescue should spend their dollars in this way vs. placing horses someone might actually want is incredibly irresponsible. The general public doesn’t know any better and is easily swayed by such things too. Even some horse people who should know better are. And when I say horses people might actually want, I don’t mean the perfect young polo prospect that can do double chukkers, I mean those nice old geldings that are great horses, but that people often do pass on, because they don’t understand that’s the horse they really do need.

  4. kidznhorses

    If I could, I would post a photo of Addy, the 18 year old mare I got last May. She was about a 1.5..similar to this mare. Her knee was bulging and she was lame. Her buddy came with her to my farm. Her eyes spoke to me. Before this horse, I would be totally, completely in your camp! Trust me, I would never have believed I would do this and it did surprise my friends. But she came home. Two vets said she wouldn’t make it 6 months. When she coliced they said, she’s not going to make it. She did. Her entire personality changed. She became the boss mare with a strong joyful personality. As I didn’t have a lot of money, I just fed them a ton of hay and their weight picked up quickly. She is now getting triple crown senior for the winter and doing fantastic. We added a devil’s claw supplement and she hardly limps although her knee is still large and leg crooked. She seems to have adjusted to her disability well. Her eyes told me everything from day one. She wanted to live, she wanted help. I now have a friend come out every week to groom her and they are both healing. Now all this said,I will not go to extraordinary lengths to keep her alive.. if she goes down hill, I will ease her pain. With 5 other horses over 25 and 2 over 30, I am at my limit with elderly horse care.
    I would say that if someone has the inclination and can go and look at this mare with open eyes to see what she says about wanting to live, do it. It might amaze you.

  5. Tricia Buster

    I am the person who rescued and paid the $160.00 for this horse. I had the feeling by looking at the picture I was going to have to do the humane thing and put her down. When I got there she was as bad as she looked in the picture.I understand both sides of the fence, but like everything in life nothing is either black or white… there’s the grey area. We have no intentions to ever ride the horse and when I say I rescued her…from a life of obvious pain weather from starvation or a bad leg. I thought I would let the a vet make the decision for me and leave my heart out of it. After three days of round the clock small feedings she gained a lot of strength and she came alive!Then the vet visit….My vet examined the horse,she has a sound heart, lungs and all the organs sounded good. She has amazingly adapted to the bad leg because she has lived with it for so long. She can walk and graze. We called her from across the field and she freely decided to slowly trot over to us. We determined if she was in serious pain she would not make any effort to trot or move.
    We will continue the vet visits and give her all the care she needs. She is a sweet horse and really wants to live… you can see it in her eyes

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