Monday, September 26, 2011

Equine Policy Reform Starts at Home

The Horse | Racing Breakdowns Could Lead to Veterinarian Policy Reform

This article from today's The Horse RSS feed is an important one, so I'm reposting it here.  It might be one of the best things to come out of all the sad track disasters of the past few years.  In this case, the disaster befell a filly--Langfurs Answer--whose leg broke during morning training at Penn National Race Course in PA.  The poor animal had to wait an hour to be euthanized because no vet could be found on the grounds to do the deed.

Not that euthanasia is a pretty thing, and it's hard to think about even when it's not your horse.  But there are moments when it is the best alternative, and in those moments quick action is a must.  

Possibly the most horrific thing I've ever seen happen to a horse was not at the track, but at a local show.  It was held at the Sussex County Fairgrounds, and we were there early watching and waiting our turn.  As I recall, it was the first in a series of rated shows that would be held annually from thence forward, so there was a lot of excitement surrounding it.  

The first classes were young horses being shown in halter for points, and one of the first classes was won by a lovely Palomino yearling named Obviously I'm Gold or something like that.  He was gorgeous and he did his breeder/owner proud.  When his class was over, she put him in the big six-horse straight-load trailer, hung some hay for him, tied his head, and walked away out the side personnel-escape door.  He called after her, then made a scramble over the half-wall in front of him.  Head tied, he got hung up, and his efforts to free himself cost him his back leg.  It was almost completely amputated by the edge of the wall.  Several of us hurried to cut the tie holding him, and one of us was successful.  He came tumbling out and stood calling and bleeding.

That's not the bad part.  The owner falling to her knees in front of him, sobbing hysterically was bad, but that wasn't the bad part either.  The bad part came when the other partners in his ownership could not be reached and the insurance company would not allow him to be euthed until they had all the permissions necessary.  His leg was splinted and he was given a bale of hay to chew on  That was the bad part.  

The moral of this story?  There are more policy changes that need to be made.  In this case the vet was right there and ready to do what was necessary, but the insurance company held up the process.  The insurance company was following their own policy, and the bottom line there was the owners.

I'm sure that little guy was worth a bunch of money, and I'm sure the partners wanted to get their investment back, but at what cost?

I've written before about the wisdom of having insurance on your horse, particularly if s/he is of great value, but if the result of that caution and bottom-line focus is pain and anguish for an animal who didn't do anything to deserve it, then perhaps a new focus needs to be found.  Whoever came up with the "replacement value" thing in the mortality clause of the policies we carry probably didn't think ahead to this kind of outcome. 

Zip, worth approximately $20 today,
assuming I could pay someone to take him.
As with everything in the horse biz, the valuation aspect is a two-edged sword.  When horses have no monetary value to their owners, their care seems to become less important.  When they have too much value, this sort of craziness ensues.  We need a middle road that takes into account that horses are living creatures that can be dollar-valued today and financially worthless tomorrow.  

I'm looking out the window at my lovely Zip who is waiting for the vet to come and figure out what he did to his right foreleg in the pasture yesterday, just when I'd planned on riding him.  We were just getting back to work when the storms hit and the ring went under water.  It's been a couple of weeks since Lake Friedman appeared at one end, and it's almost gone now, so we (I) were excited about getting back into the program.  With one foreleg out of commission, ain't much riding going to happen.  Does that reduce his value significantly?  Sure, and if I'd wanted to sell him, yesterday would have been a much better day than today for that.  Oh well.  

You don't buy a horse believing he'll never get sick or suffer an injury just like you don't get married without that "sickness and health" stipulation, and you don't have kids without the chance that one will get in with a bad crowd and wind up a Tea Bag Republican.  Stuff happens.  It's my opinion that we need to suck it up a little better and do what needs to be done when it needs doing. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Predators and Their Prey


Spa day
redators are all around us.  These are living up the block from me.  Their sister lives in the woods above my pasture.  If I don’t see them coming, the horses are happy to give their presence away by clumping together and staring.  They start practicing in the spring when the Tom turkeys make bear-look-alike lumps in the pasture.

DAKOTA:  What is that thing?  It doesn’t look edible.

  ZIP:  Shit, Boy!  Haven’t you learned anything in twenty years?  It doesn’t matter what it is.  We stand and stare and The Human comes out and takes pictures of it and scares it away.  

 DAKOTA:  But what if it’s something big and ugly and it eats The Human?

 ZIP:  No problem!  While it’s busy, we run away.  The Human’s got this covered no matter what.  Uh…you gonna eat that hunk of hay or what?

A predator endangered by lack of fashion sense:
Topknot feathers are so six years ago!

And so it goes through the spring, and by summer the animals have figured out which lumps are dangerous and which are just lumps.  It’s hard not to take the horses’ sixth sense seriously (no matter how impaired it might be), especially in light of the pony that was killed by a bear last week just a couple of towns away.  Horses know these things.  If they don’t know them, they’ll make them up.  

It’s not so easy with the other kinds of predators.  Reportedly, one of that kind took a horse from its grazing area a week or so ago without the owner’s consent and knowledge.  Horse thieves are among us, though given the current state of the equine biz lately, one has to wonder why.  I’ll admit to passing thoughts of putting Zips Moneypit out on the lawn and calling the authorities to report a loose horse.  Unfortunately, they’d probably bring him here.  Besides, they’d take one look at the size of that butt and be hard-pressed to believe he’d left home willingly.

Of course I’m joking (today), but the only outlet these days for stolen horses is the slaughter auction, Camelot Horse Auction, or one of the other registered slaughter buyers.  It’s hard to believe anyone is hungry enough to take a horse home for dinner, but I suppose it’s possible.  More likely there’s a shipment going out to Canada or Mexico.

There’s the predator that lives in a nice house, owns or manages a boarding/training/sale barn with a cute lesson program for little kids.  Insidious, that one is.  Such cute ponies and such personable barn hands can’t possibly be harbingers of doom!  That’s the one that assesses each visitor’s financial wherewithal based on the kind of car s/he drives up in and adjusts the price of the horses in stock accordingly.  Just let him find out that the Mercedes owner can’t tell a bridle from a bridesmaid, and watch the fun begin!  It took me years to find out that the saddle I’d been sold that was sure to fit my horse didn’t fit me, the horse, or anyone over the age of 7.  That the horse was blind in one eye was a bonus.

Then there’s the kind of predator that’s invisible because it morphs at will from Poor Beleaguered Farm Owner to Poor Beleaguered Horse Rescue to “Oops!  I didn’t know that was illegal” and back again, changing shape and names until the score card looks like my grandson’s finger painting.  Once again the State of NJ is on the job, and once again they’ve rooted out someone who has been masquerading as a legit charity, sucking funds from the real non-profits, willingly taking coffee money from folks just barely hanging on, and not worrying for a minute about the consequences.

[Details are still not public, but they will be.  Meanwhile, report your dealings with suspected frauds at the link above.] 

Winter is on its way, and it’s predicted to be a bad one weather-wise.  The predators are gearing up in the way they know how.  Protect yourselves and your animals.  One good way is to contact Stolen Horse International (  Microchip and register your horse with them in case the worst happens.  If you have small animals, your vet can chip and register them, as well.  

Bears eat ponies and anything smaller that doesn’t run fast enough to get away.  Foxes and coyotes are keen on fawns, lambs, goats, chickens, bunnies, groundhogs, cats, and small dogs.  Coyotes will kill foxes but won’t eat them, presumably because they taste bad, so a dead but intact fox is a good sign coyotes are about.  

Faux rescuer
Sharon Crumb
I hope you’re taking notes.  If you live in the twigs like I do, this is pretty much everyday stuff.  But this bad weather year has brought the predators out of their comfort zones and into yours even if you are totally ensconced in Suburban Heaven.  I posted a couple of blog-days ago about the post-storm scams.  I’ve posted about the horse rescue scammers. It ain’t pretty, but it’s the way the world is going right now.  Be alert to all of the predators in our midst. 

Monday, September 12, 2011

Unintended Consequences on Several Levels

Edward Tenner's take on the unintended consequences of technological advances is an obvious pick for a discussion both of the psychology of the human animal and of the interactions between us and Mother Nature.  Is there any doubt that the day we domesticated animals, we opened that Pandora's Box of which he speaks so eloquently?

Here we are, a few bazillion years from the origin of our species, and we still don't have a grip on the ripple effect.  In his classic story "A Sound of Thunder", Ray Bradbury brought the "butterfly effect" into the public lexicon.  A single idiot breaks a single rule, a single step kills a single insect, a prehistoric lizard misses dinner, and eons later the world is a different place, tossed from its intended path.  Our problem?  We can't see the future no matter how hard we try.

Predicting outcomes is the stuff of science and science fiction.  If you've read 1984, then you know how badly we judge what our actions will produce.  Orwell focused on leadership and our intense drive to take advantage of each other.  He missed the part about our inability to agree on anything ever.  Though many argue that Big Brother is alive and well in our society, the truth is a bit less dramatic.  If we could all vote alike and think alike and elect someone with that sort of vision, perhaps we would fit that mold.  But we can't.  We can't even agree on whether a yellow light means pause and then go or just drift slowly into the middle of the intersection while we discuss our relationship on our cell phone. 

Tenner deals very neatly with the domestication of foodstuffs, and we can certainly apply that same imagery to the horses in our barns.  The use of horses for hauling and eventually riding was only the beginning of the chaotic rise and fall of this horse business.  Handy for dragging heavy things and transporting lazy butts long distances, the horse, much more cooperative and like-minded than we humans, opened himself to the real  advent of Big Brother.  Lives there a horse herd untainted, uncontrolled and unbroken by human intervention?  If so, we know where they are, have named their members, and there are YouTube videos of them in their most private moments. 

Courtesy of Jess:  Unintended consequences galore

Leather harness gave way to saddles.  Basic saddles gave way to more intricate equipment for controlling the horse.  Getting from Point A to Point B yielded to "my horse is prettier than your horse" which led to dressage, jumping, and My Little Pony.  All unintended consequences of the poor horse's usefulness as a draft animal. 

Natural pasture settings are replicated (not very well) at farms all over the world, and natural horsemanship techniques supplanted basic abuse and incarceration.  Still, none of it harks back to the origins.  How far we've come, and mostly without a plan.  The whole thing is reminiscent of a vacation my SA, the Girl Child and I once took.  He thought I had the map.  Uh.....

And still we push forward.  We breed for specific traits without bothering to calculate which other traits will have to be deleted from the master blueprint to make room for the change.  Horses' feet get small, bodies grow large, joints deteriorate.  Horses designed by nature to be 15 hh max are topping 17 hands and we don't get why they're breaking down before their teens.  Tiny heads are called "refined".  Big barrels are "stock type".  Over-muscled?  How can that be bad?

We train using gizmos and gadgets instead of common sense and don't understand why the kind animal before us is glaring, teeth bared, as the straps force his body into unnatural positions.  And the horses become "unruly", "unmanageable", "inappropriate", and, eventually "free to good home". 

Undomesticated looks really, really different from domesticated.
Unintended consequence?  The fox gets evicted from his turf.

If we take the horse thing to the next level, we see that the unintended consequence of primitive man's need of transport and discovery of horse power is also the rise of folks wanting to keep the current crop alive and out of harm's way.  Rescues were born, and from rescues, scams became an offshoot.  Illegality abounds in this area.  Which Hittite would have been the Futurist of his clan that pointed at his horse and pronounced, "One day we will be asked to send money through the air to people we've never seen to pay for the upkeep of horses we've never ridden, and we'll see that ill-gotten money spin the wheels at casinos in the City called Atlantic!" ?

This is a subject dear to me as I spent my adult life helping children, disturbed emotionally and physically by the unintended consequences of the treatment they received, cope with the world.  I could go on for days, and would if I didn't think my Faithful Readers would x-click me in a heartbeat....unintended consequence of wordiness that I do my best to predict.  So I'll quit while I'm ahead and hope that the minds far more brilliant than mind are working hard to train us to stop and think now and then.  

Monday, September 05, 2011

Is That a Knife in My Back, or Are You Just Glad to See Me?

here’s demons amongst us!  As tends to happen after even a minor upheaval, the combination of mild earth quaking and Hurricane Irene (with more yet to come) has some people on their knees praying, hoping to ward off more problems, and others preying in the ugliest possible way. 

I figured it was time for a reprise on a old topic:  FRAUD

It is part of the Human Condition that the wily will find the soft underbellies of the weak and launch an all-out attack at a moment’s notice.  The current weather issues across the country have opened up scores of new opportunities for the base among us to rip us off.  Back in May of this year the FTC posted this warning:

FTC Warns Consumers: Charity and Home Repair Scams May Appear After a Disaster

After flooding along the Mississippi River and tornadoes in the southeast and midwest, the Federal Trade Commission reminds consumers that scams often follow disasters. The nation’s consumer protection agency warns consumers about urgent appeals for charitable donations, and cautions residents in stricken areas about fraudulent home repair offers.

Insurance settlements and other relief are crucial for homeowners and businesses, but these funds also attract criminals. If you are asked in person, by phone, e-mail or postal mail to make a donation, consider these tips about giving wisely:
  • Donate to charities you know and trust. Be alert for charities that seem to have sprung up overnight.
  • If you’re solicited for a donation, ask if the caller is a paid fundraiser, who they work for, and the percentage of your donation that will go to the charity and to the fundraiser. If you don’t get a clear answer — or if you don’t like the answer you get — consider donating to a different organization.
  • Do not give out personal or financial information – including your credit card or bank account number – unless you know the charity is reputable.
  • Never send cash: you can’t be sure the organization will receive your donation.
  • Check out a charity before you donate. Contact the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance at
Fraudsters aim at disaster-affected areas, hoping to cash in on property owners’ insurance settlements and federal government relief. Home and business owners who are considering whether to hire a contractor should:
  • Ask for copies of the contractor’s general liability and worker’s compensation insurance.
  • Check the contractor’s identification and references.
  • Avoid paying more than the minimum in advance.
  • Deal with reputable people in your community.
  • Call local law enforcement and the Better Business Bureau if you suspect a con.
The Federal Trade Commission works for consumers to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish, visit the FTC’s online Complaint Assistant or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). The FTC enters complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to more than 2,000 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. The FTC’s Web site provides free information on a variety of consumer topics. Like the FTC on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
Office of Public Affairs

I suspect my regular readers know where I’m going with this, but I’m going to lay it all out again anyway.  Please, if you are approached for a donation or for emergency help with a repair to your farm or home, think twice.  Look up the information that is publicly available before you jump on what appears to be either a much-needed lifeline (it rarely is) or someone in dire need (they sometimes are, but often not).  If it's a local contractor or charity, call the BBB or Chamber of Commerce in your area and check with them for reports of improper conduct.

And if you are still blind-sided and wind up on the upwind side of a scam artist, dial first and ask questions later.  The numbers above are there for your protection, not just for the amusement of bored government employees.  Email, fax documentation, report abuses, and generally whine and complain until the fraud is exposed and wiped from the face of the planet like the slime mold it is. Every state has a Department of Consumer Affairs.  Google the state where your questionable charity or disaster recovery scammer is operating and look them up on the public listings.  Seriously, people, you can’t still be na├»ve enough to give in to every slick-talker who crosses your path...can you?  

Several possible frauds have been brought to my attention, and as time goes by and I can verify the information, I will share the public portions publicly.  For now, all I can say is You Are Smarter Than That! Go out there and prove it.