Friday, June 12, 2009

What are We Doing? by Janet Huntington

I have a friend who started to breed high quality paint and QH pleasure horses several years ago. She had a nice home, horses for her and her husband to ride and a good layout for broodmares on her place. She bought two high quality mares and bred to the best studs she could find. I'm talking Dynamic in The Dark and One Hot Krymsun. Her foals were stunning.

Several years went by and we became reacquainted. She is in the process of losing her home and lives in an apartment attached to her barn. She has 12 head of gorgeous horses she hasn't sold. Her training bills are crippling her, she spends four hours a day simply maintaining her horses, on top of trying to carry a full time job and neither she nor her husband ride any more. She carries several maxed out credit cards.

I know another family who went into breeding. They owned a young mare who went to the top in reined cowhorse. She was piloted by one of the top trainers in the country. She was retired to be a broodmare after earning over $50,000 dollars. This family also bred their mares to top stallions. They bought their own stud colt and put him in training. Soon they had a barn full of horses in training. None of them panned out.

At this point in time they have gone into bankruptcy, lost half their property, their truck and trailer and the heavy equipment that ran the family business. The husband works out of state now and makes it home once a month. They have over 20 head.

I could keep going. I know too many people who end up here because of broken dreams which evolve around horses.

Believe me, I'm not judging. I'm struggling with 5 head, the last of the horses I still have from my training business. I know I have too many and will sell at least one of them, maybe more before I can relax and enjoy my horses again.

Are we collectors? What separates us from the crazy cat ladies? How do we get from one horse we love to ride, to so many, we slave just to give them basic care?

Part of it comes from an unreal sense of the value of our horses.

They are only worth what somebody is willing to pay for them.

We get caught in the trap of thinking we should recoup our expenses. Simply because the stud fee, mare care, feed, veterinary expenses, farrier services, training and travel costs come up to $35, 000, it doesn't mean that's what our horse will bring.

The other trap I see is greed. Pure and simple. We read the NRCHA snaffle bit sales results and see a top selling horse go for hundreds of thousands. We think, hey, my mare is a full sister to the grandmother of that horse. Or, my trainer won the state fair this year, she should be able to train my horse so I can get the big bucks.

Then reality hits. There are big names of established trainers, breeders and owners. These people have money. Piles of it. Even if your blood line runs true, you have to have the name to go with it to make the big bucks.

Chances are your blood lines are almost the same.

Almost doesn't work.

Facilities and locations count. The high dollar clients aren't going to come look at your prospect if you live on a 20 acre ranchette in the back 40. They just aren't.

Your trainer has to make some big wins, have a bunch of luck and win on more than one of your horses before people will show up to buy.

The folks I was talking about earlier had these problems plus more. The friend who breeds pleasure horses simply loves them too much to let them go. It's truly that simple. After all this trauma, financial ruin and heartbreak she's come to realize she can't bear to part with them.

The other gal is a collector, plain and simple. She has too many horses, none of them get enough to eat or their feet and vetting done often enough. She has pens filled with donkeys, goats, dogs birds, it's a nightmare. She ran out of money so now she haunts the auction, saying she's "rescuing" this horse or that. They join the group of not quite fed enough, not broke, not handled masses of animals she has. I know some day she'll be on T.V., screaming at the humane society and sheriff as they confiscate her animals.

And me? I'm caught in the fear of my animals ending up in slaughter. I'm able to care for them at this point. I have trained them, loved them and hope they have the manners and temperament they need to survive in this world. But I can't quite send them away. I have decided I can't breed, buy or sell anymore horses. I'll deal with the card I've dealt myself and continue to worry about my friends who bury themselves in this horse business.

How did we get here?

My friend saw a pretty paint colt in a field in Utah.

I was having dinner with the collector and her husband at a horse show. The husband said, "When we first got horses we were going to trail ride and take them camping. We were going to have one each. We just wanted to ride in the mountains."

He looked so sad I almost cried.

I went partners in on a well bred colt who was falling between the cracks.
I bought my next show horse.
I bred my daughter's champion mare.
I bought my daughter an investment colt and she fell in love.
So now I'm at five.

I know this is scattered, but it's simply a collection of my thoughts as I rode one of my five today. Maybe tomorrow, as I ride another, I'll come up with some answers.

Anybody thoughts?

43 comments:

stillearning said...

The fine line between passion and obsession is hard to define. By many standards I'm already well past it. My horses' needs come way before my own.

I can afford the horses I have now but like many or us I spend more time and energy supporting them than is reasonable. When my financial balancing act shifts even a little it's tough to keep up. This year I've had to squeeze in another part-time job to make it work.

I finally realized with my last sales project that I am not able to sell my horses easily. I spend too much time finding what works for them. My marketing technique is more match-making than sales, and very few prospective buyers meet my criteria. I ended up giving that last project to his next owner, because she was the right match! Some sales project...but at least it finally got thru my thick skull that my horses are not a means to make money, or even recoup costs.

I sympathize with borderline collectors. If I had the funds, I'd have kept every horse I've ever owned.

Sorry, no answers here.

Nikker said...

Wow...reality check for myself. I have no idea why I have more than I can ride easily in one day/afternoon after putting a full day at work. And I have never really thought about the difference in time spent on care/work/budget v.s. actual saddle time. I know I am at my limit, but have no idea why I have to be AT MY LIMIT rather than say...one horse away from it. Very thought provoking! I shall reflect on this as I clean stalls and squeeze in a ride on one of the "hippos" tonight!

Jami Davenport said...

I, too, know women with several horses. I swear one buys food for the horses before she feeds her kids. Most of them never ride.

I have one horse, and she's expensive enough. I know how easy it would be to take on one or two more as I have the room and two empty stalls. So far I've managed to say no. Someday I will buy a horse for my husband, but that's in the future.

stillearning said...

I've always felt that it was important to ride any horses I own, too, and for years I only had one horse at a time. But then my horse got older,and was no longer happy working at the level I wanted to. I owe him retirement for all he's done for me; I could not even consider selling this one. He's my horse.

So, we bought a place with a little land and brought him home. Tried the sales project horse thing here for a few years, then ended up buying him a mini companion. I've also got a young prospect, for me, not for sale. He's boarded out now because it's hard to do serious work dealing with the weather, footing, and around your jobs.

See how easy it is to become a multiple horse owner?

Laura Crum said...

Oh boy, do I hear this one. I currently care for eleven horses. I have a four horse facility here at home. A perfect space for my two saddle horses, my son's horse and my boarder, who pays for the hay for all the horses. So, how the heck did I end up with seven more?

Easy. Three are horses I used to ride, retired due to age and/or injury. They were all good horses...I owed them that. Two are horses I liked that were about to fall through the cracks and end up at the saleyard. I rescued them and turned them out with my retired herd--they all live in a pasture near my home. I care for the pasture owner's one retired mare along with my herd in order to keep them there. The last two are horses I owned that just didn't fit me and I couldn't bear to sell them, and, as Janet says, take the chance that they would end up slaughtered. I gave them to friends but agreed I would take them back if it was needed. So there you are--hey presto, I have eleven.

So far, I'm making it work. The four saddle horses live in big corrals where they can run and buck and play if I don't ride them. They seem happy. The pasture pets live turned out year round, with supplemental food for those who need it. They all get wormed, feet trimmed, vet care as needed. But I realize I'm walking a fine line financially. When my son's horse colicked last winter, I spent almost ten thousand dollars on colic surgery to save his life. More than Henry is worth for sure, but worth it for my son's sake. We survived that financial blow--I'm lucky, I know. But I learned something. I've promised myself that I won't spend money like that unless I really have a use for the horse. I am not going to bankrupt my family for the horses. And as you once wrote to me, Janet, "no more horses" is now my mantra.

Its such a real problem. I got here cause I love horses. I kept the ones that were old and crippled. I "saved" others. I want to have a few to ride so had to buy a couple of sound trail horses for myself and my son. And there you are. Too many horses.

FD said...

We get hooked on our horses alright.

I remember one lady who had an evil little shit of a rescue pony (seriously OMG don't even get me started) boarded with us. I was always juggling his shoeing dates and etcetera for her because she was permanently broke. I mean, we were a full service livery, and NOT cheap.
Nice, nice lady. I could never work out why she spent so much money on him when he would have been just fine somewhere cheaper, and closer to home for her. Not to mention that he made her miserable. But she wanted him to have the best. *shrug*

Horses are so expensive and they live such a long time and you have to invest so much time and energy in order to make the relationship satisfying. And when it is, you really are partners. Why do so many women stay with abusive men? Gotta wonder if there's a correlation. Horders are nearly always female, aren't they?
I actually lean towards it being a form of psychosis, like the serious baby blues - if you listen to the things they say, the two groups have an awful lot in common.

I have to resist, resist, resist taking on horses. I just don't have the time or the money really now. And I feel like such a shit, responsible somehow, when I know that the horse is likely not going to have a good future. Yet what can you do? I don't believe in robbing Peter to pay Paul.

mugwump said...

This is such a snake pit. You know who the best clients are? The ones who don't care. The people who treat their horses like cars always pay their training bills, keep up on the vet and farrier and pay to show, show, show.
The folks who love their horses get in trouble with money, can't say no to saving the abandoned horse in the barn, won't show enough because they won't stress their horse etc.
It stinks on so many levels.

mugwump said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sydney said...

Collecter, hoarder or owner? I try and limit myself to what I can work equally 3 or more times a week consistently.

mulerider said...

I had worked myself up to 6 before I woke up one day and said, "What the heck is the matter with you? You can't properly care for 6 equines!" Now I'm down to 2.

The herd growth is slow and insidious and creeps up on you.

"So and so can't afford to keep her horse anymore. She said she would give it away to a good home. Do you want it?"

Sure.

"I know someone that has a really nice mule for sale - cheap. You'd really like her. Come see her."

Sure.

"Would you take this horse, just temporarily, until I (move/find a new job/convince my boyfriend to let me keep him...)?"

Sure.

And before you know it, you've got a pasture full.

chamoiswillow said...

Oh boy. I got myself up to 7 horses/ponies at my home, and all were well cared for, although I never rode anymore as I was so busy taking care of them! Then my prize two-year old got recurrent uveitis. I spent all my savings and then some on treatment, trips to the equine hospital, surgery for a then experimental drug implant, etc. Needless to say the house of cards fell down. I was fortunate in that I had very nice animals and was quickly able to downsize the herd, all went to great homes. I eventually got down to two, with one leased out, so I had only the now-blind mare to care for. Now I bred the blind mare and her filly is now a yearling, the old gelding I leased out is back, and just last week an owner of one of the ponies I had sold called to ask do I want her back???? It took everything I had to say no. My mare going blind made me realize how quickly things can turn. One job loss, one medical bill (human or horse), and in this economy I would not be able to downsize nearly as quickly.

Heather said...

I have one horse that I am able to ride 4-5 times per week. We are in a great boarding situation where all of the horses are well taken care of. There are a few ladies who have old retired guys who just sit around all day. I just can't imagine paying full stall board fees for a horse I can't use.

I have considered another horse for the husband to ride, but if he got really interested and outgrew the horse, would we upgrade him and keep the 'learner' horse? How quickly would they add up? It is a difficult position, but I think the best case scenario is to lease to facilitate easy upgrades until it becomes clear that a purchase would be best for the horse and rider.

Jesse said...

That's the good thing about being a college student - I have no money to buy another horse.

My mare is turning 20 on Thursday. I keep finding myself poking around the online classifieds looking for a young prospect. I'd love to jump bigger jumps again, to event again, but I'm already taking out loans to pay for school and working my tail off to pay for my horse.

I graduate in December. I figure I'm going to be looking for another horse as soon as I find a decent job and pay off my loans.

Horses are the reason I didn't go into horses as a career.

Katy said...

My goal is to not have more horses than riders, but it's hard to stick to it. We've been at three horses to two riders for a year, while my son grows into his horse and out of his pony. The pony, Polly, who is the most amazing equine ever created, will be leased to a friend with a younger son. I won't sell her, given the uncertain future that could involve for this lovely little mare who made my son into my riding buddy. I'm the adoption coordinator for our local rescue (horsehaven.net), so I see the results of hoarding, job loss, and such every single day. It's hard not to bring home that one horse (look at our available horses, for me it is Jeph) that hits your heart just right. Still, the only way to stay on the side of sanity is to stick to my guns, and find that lovely horse a wonderful home - someday.

HorsesAndTurbos said...

Well, I did go from one to two...I adopted the mini I was fostering (no one wanted a one-eyed, foundered, locking-stiffle, hit-by-car and can't be anything but a pasture ornament mini for some reason). I am an approved home for New Vocations Racehorse Adoption, but right now, even tho' I have an empty stall, I am sticking to my guns and waiting for the economy to turn around.

I am glad I had my boarder for a while...he made me realize that I really only have time right now for one riding horse - my other hobby, drag racing (on a local level) takes up the rest of my summer time. I am hoping in the near future...but we'll see.

Oh, and I see so many horses I'd love to flip on Craigs List...lots of nice yearlings that just need time. Sigh.

Jackie

Anonymous said...

I recently purchased my first horse. I saved up for him and made sure I knew what my expenses were going to be when I got him. I have NO money left over at the end of each month now. I'm not in the red, but I am not able to add to my savings at the moment. I need to do some more serious budgeting, but the biggest issue is all the stuff I "needed" to get back into showing. That put a big dent in my accounts. Hopefully it'll level off in the next year when the tack and clothing are paid for and it's just the training/lessons and show fees.....I feel like I've been stimulating the economy all by myself!

It terrifies me when I watch the news and hear how bad things are for people and pray that I remain in good shape. I do have a plan of what to do if I need to drastically cut expenses.

I have a friend who might be considered a "hoarder" by some. Last I heard she had just over 30 horses and ponies. All of them are healthy, have regular vet and hoof care. They are fed well. They are not all broke. She wanted to start a hunter pony breeding business, bought two lovely pony stallions and breed them to her pony and horse mares. All offspring are registered. She knows horses well and chooses good stock. Unfortunately she's been breeding way more than she can train. She purchased many ponies with the intention of making them school ponies but has way more of THEM than she can train. I'm not sure how she affords all the care. I don't think she's sold anything in 3 years. Though all the equines are halter broke, many started under saddle, nicely built and well cared for, if something happened to my friend and she couldn't do the over 4 hours of daily feeding duties, I don't know what would happen. She's nearly 60. It's not a location where a herd reduction auction would be well attended by buyers looking for that type/level (or even by KB's for that matter) and the economy is what it is.

I don't know how she makes ends meet and I worry, but if the animals are well cared for...

kel said...

One of the traps people fall into is going to sales at places like the SBF or a NRCHA event and see a horse sell for 120K. Chances are, that it was a publicity stunt. The owner has one of his buddies or a business partners bid on the horse and then the owner pays the bidder the money back plus the buy back. This happens all the time in the livestock industry. "I had the top selling horse at the SBF" it costs the owner a 10% buy back to get the privilege of having those bragging rights and to put his name out front, it is going to be splashed across magazines etc for several months. That advertising is costing the owner
12K (the buy back) and if they had taken out ads in the mags it would have cost them double that - plus they still get to sell the horse... It gives a completely false sense of reality.

mugwump said...

I get the living on the thin line. I realized that for every year I was a professional horse trainer I ended up $1,000 in the hole.
Ouch. And for some of those years I was pretty successful. But as I became a better trainer my clients were no longer happy with a pen and a shed. I needed horses under lights, year-round riding, top of the line feeding programs (as in the current fad in feed) and the ability to be available to show. All the time. Which means hiring help.
It always cost a little more than I made to get through each month.
Then, when I finally had the sense to quit I thought, Oh, I've only got five head, I can whip through those in no time.
Wow. I forgot about the full time job.
So I still don't have a clue.

Beckz said...

I have a dream of working with horses. To take on schoolers and train for people. To spend my whole life doing what I love.

But I know thats never going to happen, so all I can do is work with my own horses and work hard on the farm. It makes me sad sometimes though.

Deered said...

I haven't owned a horse since April 1995 - I stopped riding in February - I went to University, sold my horse to my sister, was able to ride her a litttle in the holidays (when I wasn't working, which was never), and have not felt that I have the time or money to do a horse justice.

FD said...

Mugs comments about money, the snake pit, and thin line absolutely encapsulate why I'm no longer a pro.
Oh, there's a soup├žon of self-doubting 'maybe I wasn't good enough,' but that's about the long and the short of it.

If you don't come from money, it's so, so hard to get anywhere in the horse business. You can have luck, grit, talent, an amazing horse (or horses) and all the connections in the world and still have it not be enough.
Seriously, this isn't sour grapes, though I guess it could sound like it. If I wanted to go back, even now, unfit and with several years out of the scene, I could be managing a facility by the end of the week. And I was never a public name type competition person.

But if I wanted a place of my own? Uhuh. I've seen too many good friends crash and burn that way and I just wasn't going to go down that road.
You know, they win some, they make a name for themselves, they get a couple of owners to ride for, they save up for a down payment, or they get a decent lease. They set up, and maybe it all goes good for a while. They get their name in a few magzines, maybe the team selectors come looking.
Then their best horse needs colic surgery, or the roof blows off their haybarn. Or a flu runs through the yard and they lose a season's competition. Suddenly, their name's not in any of the trade mags, and then they lose their best owner... and then the rest start to go like rats from a ship. It all starts to come crumbling down and before you know it they're struggling, slipping and sliding and they can't pay their farrier, and you're loaning them money for feed, and they're short money on the mortgage...

Yeah. Hell with that.

Tammy said...

We got horses as an adult almost 10 yrs ago. Really thought our kids would enjoy them although I had forgotten my dream of "when I grow up, I'm going to have horses." So finally, I guess I was grown up.

The first year, we kind of fell in that trap of buying more... trying to find the "perfect" horse for me as I had fear issues. Also got mixed up with someone who does a lot of trading and before long, I was buying at sales, too. Although that friend & I had a lot of differences (she was experienced, I wasn't), the biggest was I get attached to my animals and they were commodities to her. So my herd grew & stayed.

About 5 years into it, I realized I had a herd of horses but nothing I really felt comfortable riding. There were 4 in our family - we only needed 4 horses. The kids were set with good horses. My husband was satisfied with his horse - which was the first horse we bought. It was ME who was collecting!

I sent my favorite horse to a trainer and slowly started selling/giving away those we didn't need. We are down to 5 now & will probably stay there. The 5th is a draft mare that has been with us since the start - attachment too much to let her go. But that's okay.

What is cool now is we have 4 GOOD horses (and a spare) instead of a herd of mediocre horses.

autumnblaze said...

I'm getting my first horse in a few weeks. My husband is nervous. Honestly, I'm nervous. We should be fine - even be able to still save monthly. I'm still picking up some extra work... just in case, it's settles my nerves about it.

The horse I'm getting is coming from a breeding farm. They both have great jobs. She continues to work to pay for the horses - perfect barns/run ins, perfect fields, feed, farrier, vet etc for everyone. They put two unbelivable Arabs on the ground this year. Four bred back... intending on five total.

They've foaled out 15 in the last 4 years (not including the 4-5 on the way of course). Currently have 3 in training (well one is injured and just sitting at the trainers...).

They've sold ... *drum roll*...

ONE and for a lot less than what he was 'worth'. However, as mugs said they're only worth what someone will pay.

My boy was their daughters show horse (15 y/o) and is getting 'pushed out' space-wise. They'd swore he'd never leave their ownership.

I worry a lot about them but all the horses are impeccably cared for and other than stress about the market they're happy with their operation. However they're not young - late 50's. Their kids don't get the horse thing and both live across the country (not even the daughter gets the breeding operation). I worry if something happens to one or the other of them. That's a lot of inventory to move and care for alone...

I don't have an answer. Sometimes I think it's pure fools luck. I do think you have to have the money to play the game in the first place to really make it. I read on a blog somewhere someone said 'To make a million dollars in horses, you better start out with five million'. I think it's true... taking on my boy is a live long dream and expected labor of love. I won't have more horses than riders - even if I have a retiree. I just can't even if we could afford it. The slope is too slippery for me...

Heidi the Hick said...

My husband always says... all we have to do is let our guard down and we'd have a pasture full of horses.

That scares me, honestly, because I find myself closing my eyes and repeating "I cannot take on another horse I do not need another horse" over and over.

I know I can't afford it and don't have time. Not right now. Maybe next year but not now.

How do I convince myself???

Well, I imagine how the two I have now would have their care cut back if there were two more to spend time and money on. I can barely handle it now. They're healthy and fit. I'd rather have two happy horses than four slightly neglected ones.

Repeat, repeat, repeat and try to believe it when I see I really nice one for a good price, or an old sweetie who needs a good home...

Joy said...

This was very interesting and thought provoking.

The one horse I own was bred very well. He was supposed to be a cutting horse but he didn't cut it as a two year old (pardon the pun). This was before I owned him. Very athletic and nice looking. Lots of talent. I had owned him for a year when he broke his leg in turn out. You never know what will happen. (Healthy as a horse is a complete and total misnomer in my opinion by the way!) Good thing I was never banking on making any money off him.

A couple at the barn where I board have a nicely bred reining mare. She's lovely, but not finished for reining. Neither of them ride her and both are afraid of her. So they bred her. And now they have a filly who is about 2 months old and already a total bitch. They are afraid of the filly too. I do not understand why they would breed their mare.

I would NEVER breed a mare or buy a baby. I have no business "training" an unbroke colt or filly and have no desire to try.

Right now I'm taking care of a friend's two horses while she's on vacation. So I "have" a total of four horses for 11 days. I'm exhausted and I don't even have to feed them (they are all at a full service barn). Just getting them ridden/exercised every day is kicking my butt.

My husband and I are hoping to get horse property in the next 12 months. I know I will never have more than the two horses I already have. I can't handle more.

I think some people think they are like dogs. And so they over-extend themselves. It might be that they really are collectors. It's sad because the horses suffer.

I can understand you having 5 Janet. You're a trainer. You know how to make them even better horses. Or Laura owning how ever many she's got. She can handle it. But people who end up like the examples in your blog - that's sad. The horses will suffer, like you said.

Very thought provoking.

mugwump said...

Joy - I have more than I can handle. 5 is too many. If I had them at home it might work, but I don't. Hopefully I will end up with three, maybe two.My daughter will take one or two once she graduates. Do you think the fact she's starting her freshman year of college this fall might be what's freaking me out?
I think we all have to frak out once in a while to stop the "just one more" syndrome.
Is it possible hoarders and collectors are simply optimists?
They aren't all wome, although most seem to be. There was the idiot in S. Dakota who is about to go down for starving his mustangs to death.

Redsmom said...

Fascinating topic. I guess I knew from going broke in the beef cattle business in the 70's (my parents, anyway), that it takes big bucks plus 100's of acres of land to make it in the agri biz. My old dairy cow neighbors? They have it all mortgaged to Production Credit Assoc. When the old man "retired," it just meant he transferred all the mortgages to his son. Son got a mortgaged Cadillac and assumed all the debt. Still, its a lovely dream. I have 1 horse too many. What I am seriously considering is establishing my horse hobby as a business and taking advantage of some losses for tax purposes. I think Jessica Jahliel had an article on that recently. I would never expect to make money. Just maybe be able to take advantage of some of the expense.

Shadow Rider said...

The worst thing you can do to me, is show me a good horse in bad circumstances. In the past 15 years I have had a good record as a 'recycler.' I have bought horses, fed then, vetted them and trained them, and found good homes. I have had as many as 5 I was working on (in addition to the 3 keepers, two of which are recycles we kept) while working full time. But, over the few years, I have seen the market tank, and 2 of the 3 horses I have picked up have stayed longer than a year. I have to take a break. Once these 3 are gone, we are just keeping our riding horses for a while. It's going to be really hard for me, but since I am approaching 50 at warp speed, I have to slow down.

3ChunkyMonkies said...

I have 3. Translation = 1 too many. There is the "horse of a lifetime" semi-retiree, the stunning dream horse that needs miles but is a good horse, and the injured-herd bound-metabolic disorder-extra.

Why do I keep her? She's the sweetest mare I've ever known. And she is my favorite color- bay with just a tiny star. And who would want her, let alone take care of her? She needs ~30 minutes of exercise a day. She needs a special diet. She has had a year off after an injury resulting from a bad fall and is still not 100%.

I justify keeping her because I have plenty of quality pasture (25 acres) and I love her. In an arena she is a blast to ride-sensitive and responsive with easy, comfortable gaits.

I will not sell anything. Period. The risk of a bad situation later is too great. I am smart enough to say enough is enough. I have ridden twice this month. Who? The semi-retiree. We walk-trot but mostly walk.

When did I decide to sacrifice most other luxuries so I could have pasture ornaments? I have no satellite, no dinners out, no movies-not even rentals. I LOVE my life. I need to ride.

Wormwood said...

Like Jesse said, the good thing about being a student, is that something other than horses has a strangle hold on your bank account.

There have been times that my fiance and I have talked about buying a horse we could ride casually - some older mare or gelding who was ready to down-shift a bit that we could take on a trail once a week. One horse wouldn't put us in the red, however we'd have to tighten our belts a bit.

But then a few days later, I find myself thinking about emergency colic surgeries, surprise injuries in the pasture, chronic conditions etc. and I have to drop the idea. I just can't bring myself to buy a horse without an emergency reservoir for all those 'what ifs' that doesn't involve the visa.

Not with a seven grand a year tuition bill; no way, no how.

That doesn't mean I don't completely understand the 'just one more' urge. When I did have a mare, I boarded her for a summer so I could ride with a friend. There was a beautiful little standardbred mare there who I heard through the grapevine was headed to auction shortly as she could no longer race. I spent long hours huddled over a calculator trying to see if I could make three horses work, but there was just no way. Just about killed me to admit that too and frankly, I still feel guilty that I couldn't do anything for her.

FD said...

Mmmm. Re-reading my comment above I failed to include the bit that all the people I know who tanked the worst had in common - too many horses of their own. It's all very well if they're liveries or horses in training, but when you start collecting/breeding competition horses, it's a slippery slope. And yet, if you're a pro, you pretty much HAVE to have horses of your own - owners can and do go elsewhere at the drop of a hat.

Ugh Jason Meduna. I've seen something like that, although not as terrible thank heaven.
I worked a summer camp for a few years. Big horse operation - they had over 80 head of their own that they kept year round. (Those horses had a fantastic life incidentally, people don't rate camps, but they took excellent care of theirs.) However the program was big enough that they needed 30 head maybe for spares, and trail riding. So they hired horses for the summer from a local trail riding outfit - had been doing so for well over 20 years.
Very uncommunicative, old-school kind of guy - the horses were a bit rough and ready, but not ill treated, and they were quiet. They came early, so we could get them coggins'd & sort tack and any issues out.

As always, late one spring evening he dropped off the first 15 into a spare pasture.
Got there in the early morning, rattled a bucket and just about died.
What came shambling out of the mist was a bunch of animated skeletons with rain-rot, and cracked, crumbly feet.
Obviously, we couldn't use them. We rang and said, uh did they have a hard winter or something? He ummed and ahed, and allowed as how he'd given us the gentler ones because we wouldn't be hard on them. Eventually, after some pressure, he allowed us to come up and select the others ourselves.

It was awful. Tough old guy; he mumbled something about his back, and maybe having trouble keeping up with things. I asked him about a couple of horses, and it was clear that he wasn't entirely tracking. There were at least 60 head more on his property, out back - he wasn't short of land.
I want to be clear - he wasn't a cruel guy - in the past, I'd talked to him, and he could give you pedigrees for generations back - some of them descended from horses he'd had more than half a century ago. You could hear the affection in his voice for them.
And he wasn't exactly senile - I went to halter one chestnut mare and he was quick enough to say 'not her - she's bitchy with other mares'.
Looking ahead to next year, I asked him about selling us some stock, something he'd always resisted, and still, he couldn't quite bring himself to face the idea.
It was weird, heartbreaking combination of him being too proud to admit he couldn't keep up, and maybe deluding himself about how bad it was.

mugwump said...

I have known older people who fall apart like that. With their dogs and cats too.That's a tough one, because you don't want to call the authorities, but you can't stand the idea of the animals starving to death.
I hope when I get that old someone will wack me with a shovel and help my critters.

Laura Crum said...

Joy, I have to agree with mugwump, I have too many horses, too. So far they are all getting decent care. I only own one that is solely my riding horse. My other riding horse gets ridden by my boarder, too. And I keep them, as I said in big pens where they can run and play (and they do). I rode three days a week (at least) all last year. But this summer we are building an addition to our house and my time is absorbed. My son's horse had colic surgery last winter, and I am still afraid to stress him on the steeper trails. So our riding lately has been pretty limited. Still, I think I'm keeping up. The pasture pets get their supplemental feed every day. It's just a constant juggling effort on my part. But what can I do? There isn't a soul in the world that would relieve me of the old/half crippled pasture pets (not and take care of them) and I do want to own ridable horses for myself and my son. And I can't get rid of my boarder--he pays the bills. So, yes, I have too many horses. No, I don't know what other solution there might be to my situation. I will say that I would euthanize any of the pasture pets who had a serious medical problem. I am aware that I can't afford to spend major money onb them. So, I've got a vestige of sense, anyway.

badges blues N jazz said...

I could EASILY become a hoarder if I had more land and finances. There is my hubby, myself and my daughter. They each have a horse, and I have 2.
I look everyday and see horses I like. I have to tell myself NO NO NO NO... The difference between "normal" people and the "hoarder" mentality, is that the "normal" people at least can stop themselves for the sake of the animals. A hoarder cannot.
Impulse control is faulty in a hoarder and they are not aware of animal conditions and health, and frankly just dont see it.
if for any reason, I could not meet the needs of any of my animals to keep them healthy, I would find a new home.
I am totally a "bleeding heart" and would LOVE to rescue - but financially I jsut cannot do it, so I wont even try.
I will stick with my two horses and still look and dream, but I will also control myself... My deal with myself: IF I see one I just have to have, then one has to go in order to get another - and I cant seem to want to part with either of my two... so, I jsut dream!

badges blues N jazz said...

^please excuse faulty spelling...typing fast due to being at work!

quietann said...

I have one, because it's what I can afford. She's a lifer, simply because she's a bit high-maintenance and I could easily see her ending up in a very bad place. If, g-d forbid, something happened and she needed to be retired, I know where she could go, and it's inexpensive enough that I could have a second, riding horse... but no training, fewer lessons, and said horse had better be an easy keeper with good feet!

per the camp horses: there's an old guy up in the PNW (either BC or WA) with a big herd of Morgans who won't let them go. Most of them are nice little ranch-type horses (yes, the "working Western" bloodlines trace back to some of the same horses as your Quarter Horses do) in pretty colors, but he just doesn't get that the market has tanked, and folks won't pay $5000 for a barely started gelding or barely halter-broke mare anymore. Or $1000 for one with a major conformation flaw. I think he's sold one or two in the past year. At least he's cut way back on breeding, and some of the stallions have been gelded, and he is apparently keeping up with registering them. But... he's really old, his mental and physical health is failing, and once he's gone those horses will be on a truck to a bad place...

Justaplainsam said...

I have not owned a horse in 10 years.

When I sold my original horse at 17 I thought I would have a new one the next summer. But I found a job training and riding horses that I could never afford, and that has continued to this day.

I tend to make horses so that I can no longer afford them when their owners want to sell them. 'My' filly that I could have bought for $800 as a weanling now has over 100 pts in Halter and will next year become a foundation mare in her owners breeding program. Ive been alowed to show her, fit her, and love her without the expence. Her owners did not have the knowledge to get the points, but could feed and house her so it worked for both of us.

But I see horses that I've worked with end up in some not so great homes, and it kills me to think of them there even though I had no part in them ending up there. I dont think I could own my own breeding business, I could never sell....

Anonymous said...

I've never met him, but my sister-in-law's grandfather is very well off and bragged to DH's non-horsey parents that he "made his fortune in the horse business"

I'm pretty safe in assuming foul play of some kind, right?

littledog said...

I don't think it's necessarily greed or hoarding or lack of reality issues that gets us into having too many horses. For me (here goes my story, starting from about 15 years ago) it was: 1. I had a property and put a lot of work into make it a nice working horse property. 2. I worked at a training place as a barn manager, learned a ton about horse care/training/facility management. 3. I networked a lot, knew many pony-club families looking for first horses or move-up horses--also knew a lot of local horses in need of upgrades.

So, why not grab up some of the local horses with potential, put some training on them, and match them up with people who were looking? I wasn't expecting to make big bucks, just offset some of my own horse expenses, and since my regular job was pretty flexible, it seemed quite doable.

And for a few years it worked out great.

In the meantime, my own personal horse's breeders (who I had become good friends with) fell on hard times. The husband had terminal cancer, and they had to find good homes for their herd. A wake-up call for me (though I didn't realize it at the time): bad stuff can happen, through no fault of your own! So I bought their 2yo colt who was the full-brother of my horse, with the intention of starting him and then selling him in a year or two. And they GAVE me the sire of both colts, a 4th-level dressage Trakehener stallion who was by then in his 20s, promising him a forever home with good care and light work.

Wow, was I in heaven, or what?! A 4yo, just starting his show career, doing low-level eventing. A gorgeous black Trakehner stallion who was teaching me higher-level dressage in occasional lessons. A very sweet and cooperative 2yo who I was having fun ground training and starting, and not repeating the mistakes I'd learned from training his 4yo brother. And finally, my senior Appy mare who I'd upgraded and was now out on lease to a pony-club teen.

How quickly things can fall apart--I went through a horrid divorce and lost my property to foreclosure. The colt needed expensive cryptorchid surgery (as the vet said, "it looks like two, but it's just one big one.") and the pony-club girl was ready for a higher-level horse and gave me back my mare. Forget about any more eventing (we even qualified for the championships that year, but couldn't afford to go.) it was all I could do to feed my horses and buy 4-for-a-dollar mac'n'cheese for myself.

Goodbye decent part-time business, and hello downsizing. I was able to geld the colt, train him up to solid WTC, sell him to a good home for a decent price, and he ended up a sucessful dressage horse. I found a good home for my senior Appy mare, gave her to my friend's young niece for 4-H. Found a good boarding stable for the other two, and kept my promise to the stallion--rode him lightly up to age 27, then PTS 2 years ago when his cancer progressed beyond the point of keeping him happy and comfortable.

I'm down to one horse now--the first colt in my story, who is now a senior but is still a beauty, always fun, and will be my partner for the rest of his life. But his soundness is getting more challenging to manage (well, so is mine!)--and I SOOO want to Event again--he still loves jumping too. Tried to DRAG me down to the jumping arena today, in fact, just because we did a few little jumps there yesterday.
Neither of us are as fit as we once were, and we both suffer from backaches the day after a tough workout--but maybe we could still work towards entering some easy events, like low-level pony-club benefits--right?
It's all about having fun with my lifetime partner horse, isn't it? We understand each other after all these years and I tell us we don't care all that much about progressing through the levels...But sometimes I still dream about getting some young OTTB with potential...

Kathryn said...

Honestly, I think it's much easier not to acquire 'just one more' when you have to board, well, and when you want/need the help of a good trainer. For me, 2 horses = 2x the monthly bill. And when your board/training costs are already higher than your mortgage, well, it makes it a whole helluva lot easier to say no. I have a one at a time rule, and I don't have THAT much trouble sticking to it ... purely from a $$$ perspective. When I really feel the need to help some poor horse out, I start looking for a good 501(c)(3) instead.

Shanster said...

Yes, definately interesting post. I have three.

Used to have four... it was almost a blessing when we finally put Jess down. She was 35.

Care for the old ones can get costly when things begin to go wrong - heck - for ANY horse.

She kept going but wasn't doing well..there was nothing obviously wrong.. we pulled blood etc.

She would NOT have made it through a CO winter because she dropped so much weight - even with warm mashes and extra feed and blankets. We ended it one morning with our vet before the weather turned.

I've owned my gelding since I was 16. He is 31 now. He has Cushings and ringbone but so far we've been able to keep him comfortable.

Who would take him? I owe him his retirement. Each day I wonder if this is gonna be his last summer... if it is, it will be incredibly sad for me but it will be a blessing to our finances.


I have my 9 yr old riding mare and I brought home my "free" OTTB gelding(free 'til we bought a load of hay to feed him!) when he was 4 - now 7.

I figure he is my "insurance" if something should go South with my riding mare. We all know horses can colic, injure themselves etc. and be unsound at best... dead at worst.

I ride them pretty consistantly when the weather is cooperative... I am limited by rain/mud/lightning/ice/snow etc. because I don't have an indoor.

I'd love to have a horse I could put anyone on and feel comfortable he/she would pack them around safely. It's tempting to bring in another with the economy and "good deals" out there...

At the same time... the economy also makes me fearful.

We are o.k. but like your post emphasizes, anything can happen at any given time and that is what scares me and keeps me in check.

Sezz said...

This is a great discussion - I have been lurking for a few days but not posting, and it's funny how my circumstances have changed since I started reading. 3 days ago my story would have read along the lines of this:
I have 4 horses, my semi-in work mare at home(my "main" horse), my quarter pony mare is turned out for winter, a QH broodmare away on breeding lease and my eldery pony gelding on lease to a little girl to poke around on at home. I'm thinking about taking on a pony with a frightful case of neglected feet, RSPCA type stuff, if I can convince the owner that it's in the pony's best interest to come live with me. Whilst I am in a position to financially support my existing horses plus one more, I am little light on for time, due to working 11 hours each day.

This is my story today:

I still own 4 horses but my old pony gelding is coming home, due to the little girl being just far too scared of horses to want to ride. I suddenly have doubled my horse related chores each day without taking on the neglected pony, I would have been in serious trouble if I had taken him and then ended up with three at home, especially if the pony needed rather intensive care.

I suppose what I'm trying to say is that I can see how easy it is to "hoard" horses and how one becomes several.

I started with my pony gelding, who is just too old and too small for me to ride very much. I owe it to him to keep him in his retirement and let him live out his twilight years in comfort - I would NEVER sell him. I started looking for a new horse and bought my young one. Unfortunately that didn't work out for us - she was too much horse and I was too inexperienced. She's now out on lease to be a broodmare and I will advertise her for sale later this year, however I am happy to keep leasing her as a broody if I am unable to sell her. I have backup leasees interested if the current deal falls through. My mum gave me her QP mare (which was given to her) after she decided riding wasn't for her. A lovely pony but I'm rather tall and at 14hh she just wasn't for me. She also needs more educating than I am able to give her and after the diasterous outcome with my young filly, I wanted an older, educated, been there done that type horse. The big mistake I made was buying my current mare before selling the QP mare - I now have a lovely little mare that I'm having trouble selling/leasing or even giving to the right home due to the lack of education that I am unable to give her. I could have sold her ten times over if I didn't care about the sort of home she went to, but of course, like most horses owners, I vet my buyers fairly well and would rather keep her than let her go to a potentially unsuitable home. Current plan is to send her to a trainer for a few weeks once summer rolls around, put a few hours in the saddle and try again to sell her. I need to downsize so I can give the remaining ponies the time and attention they deserve. Ultimate plan is to downsize to my in work mare and the pony gelding, but if all 4 stay then I'll have to make it work. I have definitely learnt my lesson though and WILL NOT take on any more horses - owning 4, even if some are out on lease, can turn into 4 at home in the paddock very quickly!!!

Kate said...

Very interesting post - I posted on my own blog about my struggle with taking care of 5 horses. I'm not a professional and never will be, but I'm edging into collector territory, and would like not to end up there. Partly it's my childen's horses - we have three of those, only one of which is still rideable. As of next fall, both my children will be away from home so it's just me to take care of the horses. I also have a 29yo retiree who blessedly is in excellent health. I'm too old and not physically able enough to have my own place, so expenses are an issue too, and the facility I'm at requires a lot of extra work.

I've got a partial solution in the works - I'd like to make sure my "lifetime horses" get taken care of, but also end up where I have a couple (no more) horses to ride and work with. Thanks for addressing this difficult issue head-on.