Monday, February 11, 2013

Fewer Horse Owners

ARTICLE:  AVMA statistics: Horse ownership is down, and so are veterinarians’ visits

I doubt that this is news to horse people, and anyone else probably won't care.  But the future of the horse business depends on all of us involved in the business taking these stats seriously.

Can't believe it?  Does it seem to you that it's counter-intuitive that everyone in the world doesn't want a thousand-pound pet that costs more to keep than most colleges charge in tuition?  Do you honestly believe that we need to push more innocents into the fray so that they, too, can experience the joy of riding...and the depression that comes with the realization that "something has to be done" about Sparkles because Daddy lost his job and Mommy hasn't got time to take kids to the barn?

Zip's first day on earth


The idyllic scene in this artistically doctored photo of my Zip and his mom, Pokey (that's me as a mere child of...uh...fewer years) is the sort of thing horse people love to pass around.  It makes the whole horse thing seem so pleasant and spiritual that even the strongest will is hard pressed to walk away from the sale barn without a lead rope in hand.

But the fabulous day following Zip's foaling was only Day One of what has now been nearly 17 years of Zipdom, with many more yet to follow. With luck, we're only halfway through his projected lifespan.  In that time, I've spent more on board, tack, feed, lessons, training, more lessons, books to help figure why the training and lessons aren't working, vet care, more vet care, even more vet care, and a farm than on any other area of my life.  And the pregnant Pokey wasn't my first buy, so I already knew that I was insane and shouldn't have been allowed to talk to a horse dealer under any circumstances without heavy medication.

Now the numbers are in, and though a fraction of a percent seems like a minuscule number, in the real world it translates to 300,000+ fewer horse-owning households and over a million fewer horses in this country over a five year period.

Yes, we need to ask quietly where all those horses went, and we know we'll be happy when the answer is that they got old and died, and that we'll be unhappy when the answer is that they went to auction, to slaughter, or just went away and we don't know where they are.  So I'm not going to go there in this  post.

I'm going to go to the place where folks have bought horses thinking they'll breed them and sell a baby every year to help make ends meet in their horse lives.  I'm also going to the place where the breed associations need to stop offering premiums to folks who breed nice horses.  It's time for those owners to get a clue that they're not helping the situation, and for those associations to give back to their memberships by supporting sanity, not just pandering to the breeders they represent.

Look, nice horses will find a market.  It might not be a big, high-dollar market every time for all of them, but there will always be someone who will want to own a pretty, well-conformed, healthy and well-trained horse.  Not everyone is tanking right now.  And the breeding of horses is expensive because it's such a crap shoot.  The same mare/stallion coupling can produce a variety of outcomes, some good, some not.  I think it's time that the not-so-good get their day in the sun too.

Perfect conformation isn't everything.  In fact, it isn't necessarily anything much.  As long as there isn't a disastrous malformation, most horses are fine with what they're dealt.  It's up to us owners to work within the parameters available and stop forcing preconceived notions on the poor animals.  More knowledgeable buyers would have passed over my daughter's best horse, the one with the missing papers and the odd knees and the withers from hell who won dozens of ribbons over fences and on the flat and was her best friend for sixteen years.  And no one would have looked twice at my mare with the stiff lower back who had to be leaned against a wall for hoof trims lest she fall over, but who took me on hundreds of miles of trails and in and out of the show pen with ribbons to show for our efforts.  It's the owners and breed associations and show committees who put so much stock in perfection who need to think hard about their contribution.

Competition is a major force in the horse world. Shows, races, derbies, what have you are what drive people to continually buy better and better horses, and that, in turn, drives the breeders and all the other associated businesses.  But what if there were fewer conformation classes? What if there were just performance classes at the lower levels?  Is it really necessary for kids to start their horse lives by learning how to pose their horse for the judge?  Is an over-at-the-knee animal such a horrible thing to own that a Horse Show Parent won't even consider it despite the possibility that it's an awesome critter with tons of heart and years of pleasure to give to their child?

I know some of you reading this are cringing at the thought of doing away with a part of what you're used to in the horse biz.  But a small change sometimes has large effects, and this might just save the lives of a lot of horses and the horse lives of a lot of young riders whose parents couldn't on their best day afford that "perfect" horse.  I think we're incredibly lucky that horses aren't out searching for the perfect human. Most of us would be in sanctuaries by  now.

I'm no big mucky-muck (pun intended *snort!*) in the horse world, and no one asked my opinion. So I'm just throwing this idea out there.  If someone muckier than I picks it up and does something with it, well, I think something good might happen.

Peace out.

1 comment:

Cindy D. said...

THANK YOU!
That is a wonderful post, and certainly needed to be said. I have tried to say it myself, but you are much more organized in your thoughts than I.