Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Day in Court and Should You Fall For an Old Guy?

 As the Rescue Turns:  A Day in Court for the Horse Angels' "Fearless Leader"

For those readers who have denned up early and missed the drama, back on December 3rd the State of NJ Attorney General's office sued The NJ Horse Angels and their trustees, Sharon Catalano-Crumb and Frank Wikoff, for misappropriation of funds.  Of the $145,000+ that was raised in less than a year by the group, roughly $61,000 went for non-horse-related (unless there might have been some OTB going on down in the Big AC between visits to the slots and the tables) expenses, gifts, and general hoo-hah already detailed in multiple news articles. 

I'm bringing the insanity to the fore again today because what hasn't hit the paper yet (but is probably in transit as I type) is that yesterday the case went to court.  Ms Crumb, for some reason believing that her financial records might mystically disappear or morph into something less incriminating, held her ground and took the case and our tax money all the way to the courthouse...and lost.  The State, under the fine hand of DAG Anna Lascurain, won a nifty victory over evildoers, not just in the form of the erstwhile Angels, but as a slap aross the face and a loud Watch Your Step to anyone in the charity biz thinking about diverting funds, losing touch with accounting skills, or otherwise not taking the high road.  The State will take away all of the ill-gotten gains and anything else that comes from that ill-getting, in perpetuity.  Ms Crumb and all her little aliases will never again be allowed to dabble in charity work, faux or factual.  The news and all the gory details will travel the interwebs unrestrained forever and a day to haunt her and her offspring.  And other Angels will be suspect no matter how pristine their wings.

Learn from this. 

Old Horses and New Owners:
The Good and the Bad of it

Old horses have style
Maybe you’re a beginner rider.  Perhaps you’re the parent of a horsey child who really wants a horse but isn’t accomplished enough to take on the challenge of a young, green animal.  Or you could be an older rider returning to the sport after a long layoff or simply looking to cut down your trips to the ER a bit.  All of these are suitable reasons to look for an older horse to buy or adopt. In the current depressed horse market, older horses are getting more and more common, cheap or free, in the marketplace, so they are a definite option to consider.

No matter how accomplished a rider you may be, eventually the time will come when you will see the reason behind the high prices for “packers” and retired schoolies.  A horse that has been there, done that, and lived to tell the tale generally has sophisticated manners and an understanding of the meaning of “less is more”:  Less bucking and fussing = less energy expended and less retraining time = more time for grazing and hanging with the herd.  We humans learn this eventually.  Young horses take some educating before they see the light.  In fact, according to a recent study, young horses don’t learn anything as quickly or with such enthusiasm as their older counterparts. 

Of course there’s an age limit you will want to consider, and it varies depending on the discipline you intend to engage in.  By veterinary standards, any horse over 18 is “aged”.  By some vets’ standards, that age drops to 15.  Sanity generally strikes around 12 in even the most fractious saddle horse.  So when we talk about old horses, we’re looking at animals 12 years old and older. 

But how much older?  We all know of horses who continued their fox hunting or jumping or dressage or cattle driving careers into their mid-twenties and older.  They certainly do exist, and a lot of how well they hold up depends on what’s been done with them during their lifetimes.  There are certain sports which have been identified as strongly related to early break-down of the hocks and stifles in most horses.  Reining, barrel racing and dressage—any discipline requiring serious collection and rocking back onto the hindquarters—are among those. 

Generally when a horse reaches 20 he has begun to show signs of aging regardless of his life’s work.  Gray hairs are insignificant.  Some horses roan out early, and it means nothing in terms of their ability to perform.  But there are other signs that are significant indeed if you intend to continue the horse in some sort of work beyond quiet trail rides.  For instance, a sway-back is not unusual in all very old horses, but the dipping of the spine and stretching of the ligaments and muscles that cause it will happen earlier in a horse that has worked hard its whole life or has essential conformational problems.  Most over-20’s will show signs of arthritis in their leg joints—pasterns and hocks in particular—but severe arthritic changes are visible in x-rays of horses used in those high-collection sports mentioned above.  With arthritis of the hocks comes the process of “fusing”  The hock joint, which is actually made up of several smaller joints, will begin to solidify, the cartilage hardening and causing pain and lameness until the process has come to a conclusion.

A horse with fused hocks will still be useful as long as collection and sudden stops aren’t required.  His movement probably won’t be pretty, however, and he may be reduced to only one canter/lope lead or none at all.  If you are okay with owning a walk/trot horse, then you can up your age limit from 12 to 20-something and still have at least a few years of riding time, perfect for an older rider who is close to retirement from the sport.

Pastern joints that are painful are a bigger problem.  Hard-ridden horses may not seem lame when paraded by for the buyer’s approval.  If all four legs are equally affected, his gaits may be stiff, but unless the buyer is familiar with the horse, that may not be noticed.  Since almost all older  horses will vet out with some sort of arthritis, x-rays are vital prior to purchase.  The degree to which the changes have occurred and the rapidity with which they continue are important in determining how long the horse’s useful life might be. 

If you are buying a 12-year-old, you know you may have as many as 15 good years of riding ahead if he’s been well-cared-for and not over-worked.  If you buy a 15-year-old, you get the extra sanity at the expense of fewer years of work time.  While it’s possible for a rider to break down even a younger horse with hard riding, it’s absolutely guaranteed that an older animal is going to go down faster.

So as you consider taking Uncle Bo home with you, keep in mind that with lameness comes lost riding time.  If you board out, that may strike you as financially illogical.  With illness comes vet bills and possibly long-term medication and an increase in labor just to keep your buddy alive and out of the vet clinic.  Just as humans become more difficult and more expensive to maintain as they age, so do horses. 

The take-away message here is simple:  If you know the horse’s history (not always available in any honest representation from the current owner, let alone with a rescued animal), and you understand that you may have limited time with your new best friend as a working team, and you can afford the care that an older horse requires, then you can’t do better than to buy a horse with the savvy to keep you both safe and sound. 

But if you quailed at any of those requirements, then think twice.  Buy a 20-year-old now, and in two years, when he’s 22 and perhaps is beginning to show a hitch in his gitalong, he’ll be a hard horse to place in a  good new home.  Think seriously about your feelings toward spending board money to keep a pasture pal with no riding possibilities.  Consider what measures you’d be willing to take when your new buddy is no longer capable of participating in your discipline of choice.  Horse rescue sanctuary facilities are overcrowded with beloved older horses whose owners didn’t think through the endgame that would be facing them.  Be part of the solution, and opt for an aged horse only if you are willing to do the job to the end.  If you are, then there is no better companion than a calm, quiet oldster whose eyes light up when he hears your voice.  Believe me, as owner of three geriatric equines, I know the value of that soft whinny in the distance.  It’s priceless. 

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