Friday, December 18, 2009

Horses For the Holidays

It's safe to read this today. No pleas here for you to send more money or bring home a horse or other rescued pet. Today I'm in awe of the generosity of people I don't know but would like to meet one day.

In my splotch on the planet, horses have it pretty good. There are wonderful homes where owners care deeply about their responsibility towards whatever pets they choose to keep. There are several excellent rescues and no-kill shelters. They can all use a little more financial support, but they are doing an amazing job.

But just now I followed a few threads on Facebook and was dumb-struck (yeah, I can be struck dumb) by the number of horses recently adopted out of the kill pen at Camelot Sales here in Cranbury, New Jersey. While I was feeling sorry for all those abandoned horses, other, better people were busy making room for them in their barns. I could not be more impressed by all of you who continually jump in to save an animal from an unhappy ending.

I do want to note that although Camelot and its kind may seem like cruelty personified, it is not the fault of the auction owner or personnel when a horse winds up in the pens. The care they receive once they are there is, but not the decision to put them in that setting. If there are angry barbs to be launched, their aim needs to be clear. Without the auctions, many of these horses would have simply starved to death, abandoned to their fates by owners who could not or would not see them through to a kinder conclusion. Close the pens, and where will those horses go to find new homes? How will anyone know they are in need?

One poster brought up the fact that euthanasia is still too expensive in many areas. This is an issue that will continue to bring the crazies out of the woodwork on both sides. Euthanasia is not that expensive. Many vets are donating their time at venues to help strapped owners put their horses down humanely. Death may not always be the best solution, but it is an option that needs to be faced without anger and conflict. Is a horse better off humanely killed than painfully starving? Hell yes! But we all need to agree not to target the owners who make that choice as evildoers bound for Perdition.

Another voice aimed barbs at the breed associations, AQHA specifically. Yes, they need to stop offering incentives for breeders. That would go a long way toward eliminating excess horses. The time for numbers competition among the breeds and self-serving approaches is long past. But local jurisdictions also need to get on board and stop requiring breeding and selling of babies for a farmland property tax assessment and abatement. A move toward keeping horses as a requirement would be excellent and might open up new options for owners. Here in New Jersey, it's only been a little over a year since equestrian activities were finally permitted a slot in the "Right to Farm" regulations. Prior to this change (and thanks to the NJ Horse Council for that lobbying coup), nothing equestrian counted as farming, so the difficulties faced by farm owners were legion and expensive to deal with, and breeding was the only sure bet.

Still another voiced the belief that backyard breeders will keep breeding no matter what they are told. That's another problem. Gelding could be made cheaper and breed registration more expensive. When the bloom is off the breeding rose, perhaps more breeders will see the wisdom to keeping only their top stock intact and gelding their babies pre-sale. They could increase their own share of the market with a simple snip-snip and give the industry a leg up on solving this problem.

The issues in our business are many and complex, but there is one simple solution. We need to work together. Horse people are notoriously independent. Like cattle and dairy farmers, they don't like to be told what to do, and government regulation is poison to their souls. Find a way to convince horsemen that the business needs some serious cut-backs and that fewer people need to try to make a living at being horsey, and a paradigm shift will follow.

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