Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Horsey or Hoarder?

How Many Horses Makes a Hoarder? | TheHorse.com

What a great question!  I've engaged in a lot of conversation lately with horse owners at various levels, and have been surprised, given the descriptions of some of the boarding situations and "I have a friend who..." comments that not once has the term "hoarder" come up.  So I read the linked article with great interest.  It would appear that the definition of a hoarder has been so vague that it's been difficult to pin down the actual description of that beast.

I decided to start with a google search for the definition.  I laughed out loud that the first link that popped up was this:

  1. a person who hoards things.
    "I'm a bit of a hoarder"

So I wandered the results for a bit until I settled on this one from the Mayo Clinic:

Hoarding disorder is a persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions because of a perceived need to save them. A person with hoarding disorder experiences distress at the thought of getting rid of the items. Excessive accumulation of items, regardless of actual value, occurs.
Hoarding often creates such cramped living conditions that homes may be filled to capacity, with only narrow pathways winding through stacks of clutter. Some people also collect animals, keeping dozens or hundreds of pets in unsanitary conditions because they can't care for them properly.
Hoarding ranges from mild to severe. In some cases, hoarding may not have much impact on your life, while in other cases it seriously affects your functioning on a daily basis.
People with hoarding disorder often don't see it as a problem, making treatment challenging. But intensive treatment can help people with hoarding disorder understand their compulsions and live safer, more enjoyable lives
That, in a nutshell, describes what I've seen far too much of.  The key point is that hoarders don't see it as a problem and think they're saving whatever it is either because they think they'll need it themselves some time or from a fate worse than...well...being hoarded.
How many horses does it take to screw up a hoarder?
One more than s/he can afford to keep without suffering on either side of the balance sheet.
I've been within spitting range of a hoarder who did her best to suck me into the program and pretty much succeeded.  The complex care system she instituted to permit her to keep as many as 25 horses in a space perfectly suited to 3 was astounding (though it didn't compare to what was done to keep the other species she also packed in like sardines).  I arrived with three horses.  I left with six.  The last ones she was charging me so little to keep it was pretty much my pocket to the feed store cash drawer.  She'd have done anything to bring more ponies into the space, and she did.
These are chickens.  A 4' x 4' coop with nesting
boxes and a fenced run can house about a dozen.
Look down.  Do you have 40 of them in a 10' x 10' space?
That's not "saving" anything.
Was she worse than the folks who had 50 acres and 52 horses, all but 18 of them fed outdoors in an all-day ballet of bucket brigade insanity?  Nope.  Ironically, all of the horses at both places were in good condition.  Only the facility and the owner/manager suffered, and they suffered greatly.  Insanity isn't pretty from any angle.  You can't Photoshop a filter on the sort of nutsiness that has people taking horse meds for their own ailments because seeing a doctor is just too expensive, or eating animal food.  Yeah.  That.  
Were either of those people worse than the guy who had only one horse penned up in a melange of gates and fence panels on an empty lot with a tool shed for shelter?  No hay, no water, knee-deep muck, and a ribby, lice-ridden equine that hadn't seen a vet or dentist or farrier in years would shout "No!"
"But what will happen to them if I'm not taking care of them?"
Why do people do this?  Hoarding is often related to Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.  When the sufferer moves from lining up pencils on the desk in perfect symmetry because to leave one out of order is too stressful to lining the house with dog crates or the backyard with horses, there's been a massive step upward into an area requiring professional help.  It looks funny on TV.  It doesn't look funny in the real world.  The important factor is the negative effect on the hoarder and his/her hoardees.
Don't bother shrieking at your favorite hoarder.  It won't help.  Withdrawing something they love can sometimes tip the balance to force them to seek help.  The local animal warden is very good at that, assuming there's a place to put the excess critters.  The threat of losing even one piece of the puzzle that is the hoard can sometimes be sufficient.
Stuff doesn't have to eat and breathe to be the subject of
hoarding.  This is not my whole bit collection.  My
theory is that I might need one of them one
day.  Uh...sure.
If you know a horse hoarder, you can start by talking (gently) about possibly finding homes for some of the animals.  Feel the temperature of the water and decide if there's any receptivity.  Sometimes the hoarder is really desperate for help getting out from under, so offer it.  Not criticism.  Just help.  Not an influx of cash to support the hoarding activity, help lessening it.  And if you can't, or the person isn't receptive, then call someone who can.  The Hooved Animal Humane Society, SPCA, and whatever local groups in your area are able to step in with some authority are a good place to start.  Sometimes just making people aware of the situation is a big step forward.  Hoarders are very good at hiding their activities from any but their closest cohort, so bringing it all into the light can be life-altering...and scary.  
Often hoarding is the result of a smidge of emotional disturbance exacerbated by circumstances like the death of a spouse, loss of employment, or the inability to accept that the horse business venture is a bust and needs to be abandoned.  So tread lightly.  There's enough blood in the water already.
If you are hoarding, and you're a novice at the craft, it's time to sit down with pen and paper, do up a (realistic) budget of finances and time, and see if you can't sort yourself out before you dig a hole to deep for you to climb out of without help.  You're not saving the horses if you can't save yourself.

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