Monday, October 11, 2010

When Is It Time to Give Up?

 Lately the horse news has been riddled with the facts and suppositions of the growing problem of abuse and abandonment of horses across the nation.  Pro-slaughter voices are blaming the 2007 law ostensibly (though not in reality) banning all slaughter of American horses.  Anti-slaughter advocates are sure the statistics are lies made up by their adversaries.

The reality is that both factions are wrong.  What’s happening to America’s horses is less related to laws for or against slaughter and more directly akin to the 14% primary residence foreclosure rate and the growing fashion cachet that horse ownership has developed in recent years.  Like high-end cars and McMansions, horses are falling prey to unrealistic materialism.  Unlike houses and cars, however, which are easily repossessed, horses are more likely to be subject to abandonment or early destruction when their owners run short of time, money or enthusiasm. 

The statistics are not absolute. The Horse and other magazines continue to follow the debate.  But reports of horses being “released into the wild” or left to languish in pastures across the country are numerous and hard to refute.  Regardless of the cause, the effect is the same:  Horses are being abandoned.

Now, abandonment comes in many forms.  It’s not necessary for a horse owner to haul poor Misty off to the open range and sing “Born Free” while she stands looking startled and confused.  Abandonment can happen right in the backyard.  When owners run out of money, horses run out of hay, grain and veterinary care.

But let’s back up a bit and consider the early warning signs that horse owners may ignore:

Ø  The horse’s rider is a child who has stopped begging to go to the barn.

Ø  Old Sawdust is starting to look more like a yak than a horse, but no one seems to have the energy  or time to give him even a quick once-over with a brush.

Ø  The horse needs shoes or is overdue for dental work or shots, but you’re putting off those expenses so that you can pay other bills.

Ø  Hay and feed suddenly seem very expensive, so you’ve started cutting corners.

Ø  There’s a dead bird floating in the water trough, and you don’t know how long it’s been there.

Ø  You’ve made a lifestyle change—new job, marriage, pregnancy, new hobby—and riding simply isn’t high on your priority list anymore.

Ø  The rider in the family has suffered an injury or illness that precludes active participation in sports or active care of a large animal.

Ø  The horse owner in the family has passed away, and no one else is interested in the animals.

Ø  Your barn needs repair, but you really aren’t excited about the work and expense involved. 

Ø  You’ve stopped looking forward to the flood of new catalogs and horse magazines that used to keep you lusting for days each month.

Ø  Inertia has replaced excitement in your horse life, and you aren’t sure why.

Certainly none of these symptoms of disaffection is necessarily terminal.  If the change is only temporary, and just a few minor adjustments in your attitude or your situation transport you back to your accustomed level of interest, then there’s no reason for concern.  But many times we horse owners simply have a hard time admitting that we’ve lost the desire to own a horse. The horse world is tight-knit and full of pressure, so guilt and embarrassment play a large role in our decisions to keep horses past a logical point. Guilt is never a good reason for a choice.  Voices using guilt as a propaganda tactic to force unwanted horses into inappropriate homes are adding to the chaos and pain, not relieving it.  If you're on food stamps, you don't need a horse.  Period.

Regardless of the rationale, when a living creature—no matter how shaggy and evil-smelling it might have become—has its life and well-being in your hands, it is your responsibility to make good decisions.  Whether you leave a horse standing in your pasture unattended and uncared-for or you open the gate and hope that Sugar Lips will find her place in the wild, abandonment is never the right answer. Nor is clicking your heels three times and hoping someone will come along and hand you the money to keep your obsession alive.  Hand-to-mouth doesn't work when the mouth is attached to a thousand-pound eating machine, a fact that many rescues and adoptive owners are quickly discovering, and vet bills can bankrupt a marginal economic system in a heartbeat.

The right answer may take the form of a sale ad online or a “Free Horse!” poster at the supermarket as long as the prospective owners are thoroughly vetted and come with references from horse professionals.  It may mean a free lease to an excited young rider or a donation to a handicapped riding center. It may mean calling a rescue group and dropping your pretense of financial stability long enough to beg for a home for your former equine partner.  Whatever you choose, make sure you have the horse’s best interests in mind, not just your own convenience.  Don’t turn a blind eye to a hazardous living situation at a run-down farm just because the owners will take your problem off your hands quickly.  Ask around, take some time, and find your horse a new home.  Wherever you stand on the subject of horse ownership, doing the right thing is always the correct answer.

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