There’s a sign posted on the tack room door in the barn where I board my horse. It’s the type of sign you might buy in a tack store or order online. It’s not homemade but commercially produced. It’s a leftover from the previous barn owners.
Every day I walk by it dozens of times, and every day I’m annoyed by one phrase on the sign. Sometimes I’ll even stop and read it, even though I have the phrase memorized. I’ll ponder the content and wonder what possessed someone somewhere to make a statement like this.
The subject of this sign is what to do in case of a fire. Sounds pretty innocuous, right? Well, it should be. It has a list of bullets of what to do in case of a fire. I have an issue with one bulleted item:
If you can’t rescue all the horses, save the youngest and most valuable first.
Okay, youngest, I understand that to a point, but only to a point. How young are we talking? Should an unbroken three-year-old be rescued before a Grand Prix schoolmaster who’s fifteen years old? Why take the youngest first? Because they have more useful life ahead of them? I might concede the age thing but not completely.
But most valuable?
Now that statement annoys me. Are we only talking purely monetary value? What about the uninsured horses? Should they go first or last? After all, the “valuable” horses are probably insured for mortality.
So how is value truly defined? Just because Jane Smith spent $100,000 on her horse does it truly have more value than a thousand-dollar Quarter Horse? Are dollars the only way to define the value of a horse?
The warmblood across from Gailey is for sale for a good chunk of money so we know someone (a trainer, the owner) has placed a large monetary value on him. Is he more valuable than the little Arab in the stall across from him? The one whose owner loves her dearly and can’t afford another horse if something should happen to her? This owner has worked religiously over the past few years to bring her little mare from a green-broke five-year-old to a quite nice second level horse, while the owner of the expensive warmblood rarely comes to the barn and pays the trainer to ride him. Shouldn’t there be some value placed on hard work?
There’s another type of value which doesn’t have a dollar figure or hours-worked figure. Sentiment. Just because my horse didn’t cost more than my house, doesn’t mean I don’t love her and place great value on my partnership with my horse. Can you really place a value on love? I’d be devastated if I lost Gailey in a fire because she wasn’t deemed valuable enough to rescue. I put great value on her. I love that horse. In my mind, I want her rescued first.
So how stupid and callous is the statement: save the most valuable horses first? Even though the sign is hanging in my barn, I don’t believe the ownership or barn workers “buy” the value statement. What types of barns would agree with this statement? Would someone truly rescue the most expensive horses in a fire and leave the rest to their fate?
Are there show barns in Florida or California in which staff are briefed on which horses are most valuable? Do they get special care and privileges because of their value? If there are, I wouldn’t want to board there. I know some horse owners place little value on sentiment and treat their horses as a business. Perhaps, this particular sign was geared toward a racing barn not a boarding stable? How many barns display this same sign or some version of it?
I can’t place a value on the horses in my barn because they’re all equally loved and cared for by their respective owners. Their value is not for me to measure, nor is it for me to choose which ones live and die in a barn fire based on monetary value. I would simply remove the first horses I came to, which is why my mare is in the first stall in the barn. ;)
I am sorely tempted to find and post a different “in case of fire” sign so I don’t have to look at this one each time I’m saddling up or going in and out of the tack room.
The value of a horse or any other animal isn’t in their purchase price, but it’s in what these generous animals give to us and what we give back to them. It’s in the soft nickering when we walk into the barn in the morning. It’s in the big brown eyes that follow us as we’re saddling up, hoping for a treat. It’s in the great ride in which we were in harmony with our horses. It’s in so many things money can never measure.
If I ever feel currency is the only measure I use to value my horses, I’m hanging up my spurs and taking up golfing or some other sport not involving a living, breathing animal.