Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Hands Across the Aisle

H&R editor Juli Thorson has a blog entry that bears reading by all horse owners and shoppers. That's okay. I'll wait.

[Muzak plays softly as we gaze on the photo of a willing dealer showing me Dakota in a better light than I showed him yesterday.]

The "across the aisle" concept has been bandied about in the political arena lately to indicate bi-partisan efforts in Congress to settle our socio-economic ills across party lines. It's time, I think, for a bi-partisan effort between sellers and buyers in the horse business to settle our socio-economic problems as well.

We need, in my opinion, to consider that the folks least likely to be able to afford to keep horses are the same ones who are feeling the impact of the country's economic woes the most deeply. When one is busy worrying about how to make a jar of peanut butter stretch to four more lunches, and the wolf at the door is more vocal than the one in the pasture, one is far less likely to be able to focus much care and concern (not to mention toss the endless stream of cash) toward an equine pet. In the end, everyone loses. The horses that go hungry or without basic veterinary care certainly aren't in the best possible place. The owners who must watch their animals suffer aren't there either. The ones who simply turn their backs and pretend they aren't responsible for their equine's problems are the bottom of the barrel of sad endings.

The temptation among sellers seems to be to continually drop the prices on their animals. The logic is sound--lower prices mean more buyers have access to the horse in question--but it's the same logic that created the mortgage crisis. Allowing buyers to pay in monthly installments or desperately offering horses "Free to good home" can turn a transaction into a death sentence very quickly. If the buyer can't afford to buy the horse, how in the world can she afford to feed it, house it, care for it, and give it all it needs year after year?

Certainly, if you're among the ones who are struggling to buy the next bale of hay, your options are limited, and giving away an equine buddy is preferable (mostly) to letting it (or your kids) starve. But dealers have an edge here as do people who are selling not because they have to, but because they want to move up, over, or down the equestrian ladder. You need to avoid short-sighted deals. The horse world--even at its most competitive--is fluid. Nothing is carved in stone. You can hang on for one more year to a horse you've outgrown if you want to. The rest of the horse world is grinding more slowly as well, so it may wind up being more of a stasis than a decline in your goals.

The wise seller might just be the one who holds out for his price, assuming the price is fair, and who doesn't bend over backward to see that Little Lulu in her worn Wal Mart sneakers gets to own a pony this year. Played right, the game will result in more horses finding appropriate homes and fewer owners going bankrupt trying to feed too many mouths. Though it's not quite PC to request a financial statement from a buyer, it's easy enough to price animals properly and avoid the pitfalls of "I will gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today" bargaining.

Buyers, I can't stress strongly enough that a horse is a very, very expensive pet. The ones lounging around my pasture cost me roughly $125 per month each including all the perks, and that's not counting what it cost me to buy the farm and keep it. So just having the horse in your backyard doesn't erase the bottom line; it just thins it out a bit and hides some of the expenses in different categories. If you don't have the income to handle it, then please don't buy a horse. Not now.

This isn't the Great Depression. Things may never return to pre-recession levels, but they will get better than they are now. How quickly depends not just on the politicians but on the decisions each of us makes. Decide wisely. The days of instant gratification are coming to an ugly end and the wisest heads will prevail.

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