Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Too Many Horses

By Laura Crum

There are times when my life seems reasonably well-arranged. Yes, I have a lot of horses, but they are all in situations that are working fine. Everything is going well. I’m content.

And then there are the other times. Like last month. All of a sudden, or so it seemed, all my horses were coming home to roost. Or at least coming home to loaf around my corrals and eat hay. It was borne in upon me quite forcibly that eleven horses was too many. Not for the first time.

How the heck did I get in this position? (My husband asks me this question with great frequency.) I don’t need eleven horses. I don’t even want eleven horses. My barn and corral setup is designed to accommodate four horses. Normally I keep four horses here. Four horses that are ridden regularly. My older gelding, Plumber, my trail horse, Sunny, my son’s horse, Henry, and my one boarder, Twister, (who pays for the hay). It works well. I absolutely don’t need more horses . What is the point of the other seven?

Well, one of them is Gunner, I horse I rode for many, many years. He did everything for me. He features in my mystery series. He is one of the best horses I’ll ever be privileged to own. Gunner is 29, still pasture sound, and has been living turned out in my 60 acre pasture for the last ten years. His companion is Danny, a horse I bought and trained, who got seriously injured when he was seven. Danny has a slight limp, but is pasture sound, too. He and Gunner were having a happy time out in the big field until I got a new neighbor there. The neighbor proceeded to turn a motley herd of mares, babies, young stallions…etc into his own piece of crap field next door.

Overnight, my pasture situation went from very good to very bad. I had spent an inordinate amount of money fifteen years ago to replace the shitty barbed wire fence around my pasture with strong, tight, smooth wire fence. In twenty years of steady horse keeping in that field, only one horse has ever gotten a serious cut (and I still don’t know how she did it). However, there were never any horses on the other side of the fence, just cattle.

Suddenly every time I walked out to look at the backside of my pasture, there were bent T-posts and loose wires. I shuddered to think of the antics which caused this damage.

The horses on the other side of the fence were a mess. Needless to say this guy had not replaced the shitty barbed wire in his field. Three horses were cut so badly they could barely walk. The stallions were breeding the mares willy nilly. The mares were having foals. All totally unsupervised. Phone calls of complaint elicited no response. And my horses spent all their time hanging over the fence socializing.
I couldn’t stand it. I brought Gunner and Danny home. Now I had six horses in a four horse setup. This wasn’t good, either. Since I don’t ride Gunner and Danny, I felt they needed to be turned out somewhere where they could graze, not spend their lives standing around in corrals. I farmed them out to a friend’s pasture, where I already keep three other retirees that are too old and/or crippled to get along in my big pasture. I drive out there every day to feed Gunner and the other very old horse their Equine Senior. Gunner is doing fine. I am a basket case.

Juggling all these horses around, trying to make sure they all have a decent life, all get the care they need, all look happy, not to mention making sure I don’t go broke in the process, and have time to spend with my family, work on my books, ride the saddle horses….its making me crazy. Not to mention we’re building an extra bedroom and a bathroom this summer, with all the confusion and expense that entails. You can imagine.

Too many horses. Janet wrote about this in a previous post. Too many horses can bankrupt you. Too many horses can make you crazy. Why do we do this to ourselves?

I know the answer for my own situation. I love my horses. I won’t dump them when they get old and/or crippled. I have adopted a couple of others who were good horses—that were about to be dumped. They didn’t deserve that. And I was the person who could do something about it. Sort of like the Good Samaritin story…I rescue the ones that I happen to see in the ditch. I don’t go looking for them. But if I stumble upon them, then I think its my job to do what needs doing. And I still want to have riding horses for myself and my son. I mean, for me, that’s part of the point of having horses. I want to ride. So I bought a couple of sound, steady trail horses. Voila. Too many horses.
Sometimes I ask myself what I can do to change the situation. And I don’t have any answers.

I’m not gonna give up and abandon the pasture pets. No one else will take them off my hands and care for them. They’d have to be euthanized. And I can’t bring myself to do it. Not while they look happy. Nope. I’m gonna stay the course with them. I just hope I don’t end up bankrupt, in the loony bin, or divorced—all very possible/probable outcomes of trying to maintain too many horses.
Janet started this discussion awhile ago and I’d like to continue it. Any one have any insights to contribute on this subject? Where does a person draw the line? I am still paying the bills, and the horses all look good, seem happy, get decent care. My husband has not left me (yet). We are not in significant debt. Its all staying together. But I’m walking a fine line and I know it. Am I doing a good thing here, or a bad thing? I can’t really tell. I have no good answers. I’d welcome your thoughts.


2horseygirls said...

I do not own any horses, and just started shareboarding this winter. I am trying to learn as much as I can about horses and horsekeeping.

It sounds like you are not looking to add to your expense list, and I don't know how your 60-acre pasture is set up (square, long and narrow, etc.) but I'm wondering if there is a way to create a perimeter, or sub-divide the pasture so Gunner and Danny can continue to be turned out - they just wouldn't have the whole 60 acres to wander on.

I don't know if a buffer zone on your side of the fence is possible....maybe 5 acres? Is that enough to keep them separated?

Just a random thought from someone who knows just enough about horses to be really, really dangerous :)

autumnblaze said...

I think 2horseygirls has a point about the buffer zone.

My ex boss had to do that, because of idiot neighbors but not their horses. His horses could reach the neighbors horribly ancient cedar fence. Didn't bother it until one day, the neighbors grandson comes over, and guess who loooooves to feed the ponies carrots? So the ponies start staring into the neighbors back yard for more carrots. Horse owner doesn't mind the treats, advises what is okay and what is not. Neighbor is unhappy though, the horses, though his grandson does, he isn't fond of. Oh... and the cribber starts chewing his ancient decrepid cedar fence. He demanded my boss fix or pay to fix the cedar fence, which he did.

My boss also moved his own fenceline. Too bad for grandson but the horses cannot reach the cedar fence. I think he plans to plant trees in that random little strip of corral too... just for spite.

I'm getting my first horse, today, offically actually. I am already worried I have one too many. :) My husband is too. We can afford it but 'what if's?' keep creeping up. So far he's supportive... bless his heart.

Anonymous said...

This is a really difficult question - I did a post myself recently on it - and I think each of us has to come up with a situation we're comfortable with. For me, I needed to change some things once I started feeling overwhelmed and unhappy - it really forced me to think hard and long about what I was doing and why. I'm also getting older and had to take that into consideration too.

The extra set-back fence sounds like a good idea - although it's sad for you to have to watch those other uncared for horses.

Laura Crum said...

Yeah, the extra set back fence was one of my early thoughts. The truth is its a long fence run, and it would cost a lot. Several thousand, which I can't afford right now. Another problem with the idea is that the no-man's land between the fences would grow long, lush, uneaten grass, and both the neighbor's horses and my horses would be pushing at the fences to get to it.

Since both Gunner and Danny are happily turned out in my friend's pasture, where I get free board in exchange for caring for her one old rescued OTTB, I am leaving well enough alone for now. I have three steers turned out in my own pasture--I've been raising my own beef for several years now. Unlike the horses, the steers are in no danger due to the neighbor's livestock, so for now, my pasture is a cattle field. If the property behind me changes hands again, maybe I can go back to keeping horses there.

And yes, Kate, I called to try to get that man to take care of the horses that got cut. He did eventually haul two of them to the vet, but he made no change in the overall situation. Its frustrating.

Congratulations on your "new" horse autumnblaze! One is not too many...really. (Says me who started with one and worked her way up to eleven.)

Maryannwrites said...

Laura, it appears from your comment that you have things well in hand, so my only advice is to narrow your focus. Don't think about all the horses and all the problems and all the hassles at the same time. Just take care of what needs to be taken care of now. Sort of the "one step at a time" approach. That works for me when I start feeling overwhelmed with things I have to do for my animals or family issues or writing.

Laura Crum said...

Maryann--That's good advice. Everything seems quite doable (usually) when I focus on what needs to get done today. Its onl;y when I look at the "big picture" that I get nervous. Perhaps its a case of needing not to see the forest--just look at the individual trees and deal with them one by one.

DeeDee said...

Laura, when I get overwhelmed, one thing I do is take a blank sheet of paper and just start writing down stuff I am doing, more like a mind map than a list. Try to group related stuff to gether, etc.
Then I can get a gestalt of what is going on. And can start to see connections and sometimes needless repetitions, etc.
Also I can say, hey, I really am juggling a lot, or hey, that isn't as busy as I thought. both help relieve the pressure somehow.
WHat you do with the 'picture' is then up to you.
If this is helpful, use it. Otherwise, just know I am enjoying reading about your life and horses and everything here and on the mugwump chronicles. DeeDee