Sunday, March 03, 2013

Expectation Disorder

Study Examines Off-The-Track Thoroughbred Adoption Issues

Double whammy!  Cliff expects to find gold.  Zip expects Cliff to find cookies.

Okay, there's really not a category in the DSM-V called "Expectation Disorder".  But I think that's because it's an ailment specific to two groups:  Parents, and horse owners. Neither of those groups is fond of close scrutiny and both eschew treatment for any disorder, real or perceived.

Upon first glance, the title of the above Horse Magazine article seems to point in the usual direction.  Conventional wisdom would suggest that any horse adoption tends to be an emotional rather than a financial or logical decision.  That's not to say that all adopters have emotional issues tied up in their choices, just as all parents do not expect their children to grow up to be President or Sports Stars without any parenting involved in the process.  But especially in the context of social media frenzy, many decisions regarding horse ownership are happening without a great deal of research or experience.  Or any, truth be known.

But that's not entirely what the research is showing.  The problem inherent in the adoption of OTTB's isn't that the adoptive owners are equestrian n00bs or worse. Quite the contrary. They are experienced, competitive horsemen who are OTTB n00bs, and that is worse.

I'm going to take it upon myself to don my maven hat and write off the current trend toward a preference for grey horses as just that.  It's a fad.  I've been in the horse biz for more than 50 years, the last five as a certified appraiser, and over that span I've seen fads come and go.  For a while, it was brown horses everyone wanted.  Then it was beige, preferably with a dorsal stripe.  Small horses were overtaken by the desire for huge ones.  Bright colors and lots of "chrome" had their day.  Now it's around 16hh and grey, dappled if possible, but any grey will do.  Don't fret over the color thing.  In a couple of years some Famous Rider will win Olympic gold on a 14hh pink horse with purple polka-dots, and that will be en vogue until someone else comes along to supplant it.

The real summary and surmise of the research is that prospective owners, looking to score pretty, athletic horses that will have a long useful life, are weeding out the adoptive horses that have health issues, the ones that are limited in future use by lameness or other chronic problems, and they're homing in on the most athletic and least restricted for their adoptive enthusiasm.  And that's probably a good thing.  In recent years, the adoption cycle took on a decidedly revolving-door atmosphere as well-meaning, good-hearted, uneducated would-be owners took on "cute", "adorable", "lovely", "sad" horses in a Save the Baybeez whirl, only to discover pretty quickly what a time and money sink an impaired horse can be.  Many of those horses cycled back through the auctions and the rescues as fast as their new owners could arrange transport, and with a great deal of trauma all around.

So what's wrong with picking the most likely to succeed?

My own experience is probably typical.  My OT TBx Paint mare was not 100% healthy, but she was working sound and had nothing serious to prevent me from buying (not adopting) her.  I'd already owned several horses by that point, had lots of riding experience over more than 30 years, and felt I had more than enough expertise to go around.  I wanted a fast, exciting, flashy horse with show potential.  Woo-HOO!

Then came the moment when I let my daughter challenge me to a race up the driveway.  Can we say, "heart-stopping"?  I know we can.  My mare came inches from running headlong into the back of my trailer.  Unfazed, I took her to a show.  Had anyone explained to me (we don't know what we don't know, so how do we know what to ask?) about race horse training and longeing issues and small-pen issues and stall issues and what have you, I'd have known that we had miles to go before that particular dream was going to be anything but a nightmare.

The folks with no OTTB experience don't know better.  They don't even know what to ask.  So they're bringing their new equine BFF's home and finding to their dismay that there are some...uh...quirks.  Boarding farms are notoriously anti-quirk.  So are most dressage instructors.  And ER docs really aren't interested in the long-form explanation for the spiral fracture of your wrist.

So the cycle is renewed as these over-faced owners are returning their new horses to already over-burdened rescues.  Some of the rescue organizations do a fabulous job of retraining the horses and offering long-term support to adopters by connecting them with trainers who can intervene with serious advice before the situation becomes dire.  Rerun Thorougbred Rescue comes to mind, but I'm sure there are others.

The bottom line is that there is no easy path to horse ownership, to equestrian success, or to supporting the equestrian lifestyle.  It's a process, not an end, and it requires a great deal of education, open-minded willingness to consider the options available, and an avoidance of silliness.  If you're thinking of adopting an OTTB, do your homework before, not after, the fact.  There's more than enough information out there, and lots of experienced help to get you through the transition.  If you choose to wing it, it's on your head...which is probably exactly where you'll land the first time you panic and climb that new horse's neck with a cranked-in rein.


Unknown said...

Several years ago I lived down the road from a guy who bought a OTQH mare. She was very pretty and seemed pretty sweet. My old rescue was down with a pretty serious cut on her leg, and I needed a horse to ride. He had more horses than he could ride and said I was welcome to come down and get her anytime. I had no clue what I was getting myself into! It took a lot of lunging just to get her to calm down a little, then we took her and another horse out on the trail. She was spooky and hot, and all over the place as we tried to keep her in line. Then we got to our favorite "run spot" and so we let them lope. The next thing I knew we were flying as fast I have ever been on a horse, completely out of control. I finally got her slowed down and stopped. We WALKED home and cooled her down. Then I put her away and never got on her again. She was waaaay too much horse for me. I don't think her owner ever rode her either, she ended up just being a brood mare.
After that I very smarty went back to only riding horses I knew fairly well and had seen other people ride first.

Joanne Friedman, Freelance Writer, ASEA Certified Equine Appraiser, Owner Gallant Hope Farm said...

Live and learn...hopefully on the "live" part. LOL I've seen ("seen" is the operative there) some really scary rides on OT horses that weren't retrained by riders who didn't know what they were getting into. I've had mine for 18 years now, and she's not the hothead she was back in the day, thank goodness. And I did watch someone ride her before I bought her. I just didn't figure in her lack of conditioning, pregnancy, and sore feet as speed limiters. LOL