Monday, November 17, 2014

Derangement of the Equine Kind

When Horses Act Dangerously

I'm sure this article [By Brenda Forsythe Sappington, M.S., Ph.D | October 2001]  will trigger some discussions in barn lounges and owners' kitchens.  Be sure to read the entire thing before you launch a diatribe.  Yes, it's an old article, but the reprinting is worthy of note.

The worthiness lies in this sentence:

 And unfortunately, these horses often end up with novices in search of affordable horses, who don't yet know how to evaluate a horse's training.

 I get chills whenever someone sends me pictures or articles about rescued horses or horses seen at auction in dire need of a home.  The most frightening are the ones with long, sobby descriptions of how beautiful and lovely and warm and friendly the needy horse appears to be.  Having been caught up myself in the Facebook Rescue Mania of 2008-2011, I'm familiar with the distant sound of sanity breathing its last.
A rescue horse properly handled by volunteers at
Mylestone Equine Rescue in NJ.

There are many thousands of horses in need of homes, of that there is no doubt.  There are far more of them than there are homes to house them.  That's the sad truth of our Boomer obsession with making horses our lives without an endgame for when our numbers dwindled and the economy could no longer foot the bill.  There are many, many legitimate, reliable, trustworthy rescues (see the photos on this page for examples) doing their best to cull the herd and re-home the horses that can be re-homed without causing trauma to their new owners.  Many of them charge little or nothing for the horses in their care once they have assured themselves that the new home is suitable.  The best offer a return policy either limited or permanent.

But there will always be horse folks who think they know how to fix a horse that has been damaged either by nature or by unhappy contact with Humanity.  I'm talking to those people.

I've seen more than I'd like of commentors on discussion forums who castigate some poor horse owner who is housing a troubled equine and having problems serious enough to warrant asking a bunch of nut-job strangers for help.  That the person is asking is to their credit.  That they're asking strangers leaves their sanity open to question.  That the last thing they need to hear is "You can fix this poor furbaby if you will just..."

Sorry, but most damaged equines are well beyond the ability of a backyard amateur to fix.  Biophilia gives us the "wanna" without the "how to" piece.  

Yes, there are success stories even in that setting.  The right combination of horse and owner can be magical, flying in the face of conventional wisdom (and every other kind).  But the fact that those stories are shared repeatedly only points out how rare they are.  

Once upon a time, my daughter, an experienced horseman with trainer training under her belt, got hold of a horse with an issue. The issue didn't appear immediately.  It waited seven months.  The horse arrived in September, and he was a gem all winter.  It wasn't till spring that he lost his mind.  

Now, neither of us had anything to prove, so we agreed that the horse needed 1) a solid vet check to rule out pain or illness, and 2) passing that, he needed to go back to the dealer whence he came.  Long story short, the horse turned out to have a sensitivity to the spring grass here.  We didn't have a dry paddock for him.  He was sold twice more only to be returned after injuring an owner.  The dealer finally kept him, as he loved her and she could house him safely.  

This brief episode cost my daughter a jaw broken in three places and two very expensive reconstructive surgeries that will keep her seeking pain management forever.  Imagine if a beginner had gotten that horse.
Radiohead, an OTTB, received Tildren therapy courtesy of
Rerun Thoroughbred Rescue.
[photo via by Rerun via Facebook]
That was still a better situation than the girl who brought a young mare for training, having purchased her online with only a video (and a price in three digits) to her credit.  The girl was clueless, had already suffered a broken collarbone from her effort to do-it-herself, and even after training was injured by the horse shortly after they left here.

Or the beginner riders who were sold a truly loose cannon of a horse of whom we were all afraid for the brief period she was here.  Those girls survived, but the horse had to be moved from farm to farm because of the damage she did before she was finally put down.

My point today is not to belabor that horses can be very dangerous or to suggest that every dangerous horse needs to be put down immediately without benefit of professional assessment.  I'm not here to suggest that all horses found at auction or at rescues are a hazard.  I'm here to belabor the professional assessment idea.  There are lots of pros around who specialize in this sort of thing.  I know one lovely, tiny woman who can take one look at a horse, know immediately what he needs, and be merciless in sharing with the owner the errors of his/her ways regarding management.  I know a young man and his mom who are amazing at dealing with horses other folks would consider hopeless.  And I've watched Buck, the Buck Brannaman documentary, and seen that brilliant horseman ask that a horse be destroyed because his mishandling had rendered him beyond help and too dangerous for human contact.  Watching that stallion attack Brannaman's assistant with teeth bared and raking across the man's skull was a mind-blower.  This wasn't staged.  This wasn't a movie like The Horse Whisperer.  This was a raging, spoiled, ruined horse trying to kill any human in his reach.

If you honestly think you can rehab a seriously damaged horse on your own, watch that movie first.  If you still think you can handle it, check your health insurance, life insurance, and check in with your ICE person.  Sign up for Long-Term Care Insurance, and then have at it.  

Or you can call a pro before you even get that horse into your barn.  Have the animal assessed medically, physiologically, and psychologically, and then reconsider what you can do.  Just a handful of cookies isn't going to make a pocket pony out of a horse out for vengeance.  

Be sane out there.

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