by Linda Benson
I'm sure those of you involved with horses are quite aware that the price of horses has been one of the casualties of our latest economic downturn. Horse prices have, at least in the parts of the country where I've lived, always had some fluctuation according to the time of year. Normally in the cold, wet months, or times when pasture is scarce and the kids are going back to school - prices go down. And in the spring, when pasture is lush and the weather turns lovely and summer is just coming on, horses become popular again as recreational animals, and it's hard to find a gentle broke horse for a reasonable amount of money.
This scenario, to me, has all gone topsy-turvey in the last couple of years. I am truly only speaking about the nice type of family trail riding horse, and I cannot say how it is for show barns, or the upper echelons of dressage, jumping, cutting, and other competitive sports. But I'm sure they have taken a hit also, and some of you may want to chime in here with your experiences.
It used to be (even as far back as the 1950's and 60's when I grew up) that any kind of a decent riding horse, no matter how old, commanded a price of at least $500. And a very nice, well-conformed, fancy riding horse with some training on them, in the desirable age of say 5-12, would be worth an easy $1000-$1500 and up.
And these prices were true in many states that I lived, all the way up until a few years ago. It was just plain hard to find a decent horse of any kind for under $500.
This is not true any more. Every horse person that I know has had a horse given to them, for free, perhaps one that's a little long in the tooth, but not over-the-hill. Solid horses with a lot of training on them - people are giving them away. For free.
Granted, the county where I live has unemployment rates lingering in the teens, and it's just a sad fact of life that many people cannot afford their horses any more. But what happens then to the bottom of the barrel - to the really old horses, the ones with physical problems, and the ones not yet trained? Craigslist is full of free horses. This used to be true only in the winter, but for the last couple of years it has been all year round. These are usually old horses, stud colts (not worth the price of gelding) untrained young stock that are now 3-5 years old and have been out to pasture all their life. But I've even seen good, well-trained 15-19 year old horses offered for free to a great home. And I won't even mention the fact that some people are actually turning their horses loose on forest service land, to survive by themselves. (Please don't ask me what I think of people that consider this.)
Although this kind of market could be great for small time horse trainers or dealers or anyone who thinks they can train a horse and turn a profit - there are also plenty of shysters out there, ones who might take a horse for free and then take it right to the auction.
For people who truly love horses, it's a sad and scary situation.
I think many factors are at work here, and the bad economy and family financial woes have just brought things to a head. I personally think there are just plain too many horses out there right now, compared to how many riders we have. And, since the closure of the slaughter plants in the U.S. there is a surplus of older and unwanted horses standing around in pastures and people's backyards.
As I see our society moving in a more urban direction, I believe we (as horse people) need to do two things;
1) Foster new equestrians and horse lovers, and help them develop the skills they need to keep and love horses.
2) Stop breeding so many horses. If you can't raise a foal up long enough to train it and sell as a riding animal, you shouldn't be in the business of breeding.
These are my opinions. Some of you may disagree with me. Feel free to share what you think, let's just be civil.
How is it in your neck of the woods? Have you seen horse prices fall through the roof? What do you think might be done to alleviate the situation, and help horses everywhere?