A few days ago, a friend of mine (we'll call her Pat) left me a few voicemails. I could tell by the tone something was wrong. I called her back to find her choked up with emotion. She'd discovered a few things and was filing for a divorce.
You're probably wondering what this has to do with horses. Actually, lots. How many of you have been through a divorce or faced with the stark reality of one? I know I have. With it comes the sticky situation of how to keep the horses and the farm intact. Most single women find it daunting to run a farm on their own, financially and physically.
In Pat's case, she has five horses, some valuable, some not. She wants to keep two, and she'd love to keep her beautiful farm. Yet, how realistic is that? I was lucky. My ex had a business, so I kept the farm, he kept the business. We did everything quite civally. I know others who aren't quite that lucky. Another friend of mine kept her farm, for a while. After a year of working long hours as a nurse and being a slave to her small farm, she ended up boarding her two horses and selling the farm. Now she has a small house and lots of spare time for her horses.
What happens when you've amassed a small herd of horses and are faced with the stark reality of losing your farm and your horses, not just through divorce but possibly through loss of income? How realistic is it to try to keep everything? What options are open to you? I've been trying to help Pat with her options, but she isn't ready to accept them yet. She doesn't want to change her life or lose her farm and horses. In most cases, this is not realistic.
Sometimes, it just takes a little imagination and a lot of networking to find options for your horses, especially ones you want to keep.
One of our local trainers is looking for inexpensive Hanoverian broodmares. Pat has a broodmare approved by the Hanoverian Society. Another friend has a nice farm, grooms for a local trainer and takes regualar lessons but cannot afford the upfront expense of a nice dressage horse. I suggested Pat lease her most hard-to-sell, difficult yet talented horse to this friend. She'd get a good home and free training, possibly even exposure at shows. In a year or so, they can decide where to go next. I'd go the advertising route for the third horse, a nice young Hanoverian filly.
The last two horses, she really wants to keep. Pat isn't working and is in school and has one more year to go. Can she keep two horses and finish school? Even if she can, they won't be worked or shown or become anything but pasture ornaments. They're both too nice for that (both are nieces of my mare). It seems to me, she'd be better off leasing both of them for two years until she gets back on her feet. People would line up to lease them, they are that nice, including me. ;)
Yet, still she hesitates. I can understand. It's hard to face life changes like this, especially after two decades of marriage. You have to think of what's best for your, your family, and your horses. Sometimes you really can't have your cake and eat it, too.
You also have to face the issue of the horses being considered community property. I've heard several horror stories of horses being split between the fighting couple and being starved or sold for meat in a moment of spite or revenge. Not that I think for a moment either of these two would do such a thing.
In my own case, my horse was listed in the divorce decree with a value assigned to her. For us, it didn't really matter, but for others, it may. How do you protect your horses from becoming "assets" in a nasty divorce? Can you? By rights, they are most likely community property. Assigning a realistic value to them might also be an issue considering the parties involved and the relative ignorance of the legal community. If the horses are insured, that's one way to assign value, which might also be something to consider when valuing your horse for insurance purposes.
I think the best thing for a horse-loving person to do in a divorce situation is to be pro-active. If you believe you'll need to sell off part of your herd, take control of the sales so you know where your animals are going. Of course, talk to your attorney first, but I wouldn't wait until the courts decide the fate of my animals, I'd be taking steps to insure their well-being and their future. If I want to keep one or two, I'd start working on ways to do that before the horses are pawns in a nasty tug of war.
While I hope none of you ever have to go through this, I'm sure many of you already have. I hope things turned out okay for you, your family, and your horses.