Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A Question

By Laura Crum

So today I have a question for all you horse people out there—particularly those who have adopted out a lot of horses. I have done a little of this, and sometimes my adoptive homes worked out and sometimes I had to take the horse back. Sometimes they worked for a few years and then I had to take the horse back because something had changed—the adoptive owner had lost her job or had a new boyfriend and was no longer so interested in the horse…etc. So I have some ideas about what makes a good adoptive home, but I don’t feel I have that much experience.

Here’s Harley’s story—I would welcome advice.

Harley belongs to my uncle, who is a team roper and has owned and raised horses all his life. My uncle bought Harley a couple of years ago for ten thousand dollars, which is a pretty fair price for a team roping horse. (I know, in some disciplines it would be peanuts, but for a rope horse it’s a good price.) Harley was everything the price implied—a twelve year old, well broke, sound, mannerly critter, and a very good rope horse. My uncle roped on him for all of six months and the horse came up lame.

The lameness was diagnosed as a suspensory tear. My uncle did everything that was prescribed. First rest, then a surgery, more rest, gentle legging up, and then, when the horse went lame again, another surgery. Much money was spent. A year and a half passed. And though most horses do heal up and get sound from an injury like this, Harley didn’t. He is still lame. The vets now think he may always be lame. My uncle has him turned out in a small field, and though the horse walks freely and seems comfortable in the pasture, if you trot him he has a noticeable bob. He isn’t sound enough to be a riding horse. A person could walk him for short sessions—either by hand or on his back—which might, perhaps, help him to heal.

My uncle decided he wanted to find a home for Harley and asked if I knew anyone who might be appropriate. It just so happened that that very day a woman I know, who loved horses when she was a girl, told me she’d decided that she wanted to “bring horses into her life again”. She has a small property where she keeps goats, chickens, and ducks….when her kids were small she kept a pony for them to ride. She is an animal person and a very reliable, responsible one. I know her well.

I asked her if she wanted to own a horse. She said, “Maybe.”

The upshot of this is I told my uncle about this friend, and got his permission to tell her about Harley. I put the two of them together. My friend met Harley and loved him. My uncle met my friend and agreed she was a very nice woman. “But,” he said, “She’s not a horse person. Its not the right home.”

I knew exactly what he meant. My friend is not really a horseman. She has some experience with horses. But even a gentle horse like Harley might spook or kick up on a windy day. These are behaviors a horseman takes for granted. But a woman like my friend could get scared or hurt. She doesn’t really have a horse corral or fenced pasture. Merely a largish fenced area where she keeps the goats.

Here’s the rub. My uncle intends to put Harley down if he can’t find a good home for him. He’s also willing to take the horse back at any time if the new home needs to get rid of him. The friend who wants Harley and my uncle live about one mile from each other. These things are in favor of giving the horse to this home.

The fact that my friend is such a responsible person who takes such good care of her animals is in favor of giving her the horse. The fact that she is not a horseman and doesn’t have a horse setup weighs against it. But lame horses are hard to give away in today’s climate. Harley is a happy, healthy horse who does not look as if he needs putting down.

I’m stymied by this. Should we give the friend a try and take Harley back if it doesn’t work out? Or is that asking for trouble? Should we keep looking for someone else who might possibly want this horse? I don’t think we’ll get many takers right now.

I honestly want to do a good thing here, not a bad one. I don’t want to see my friend get hurt or scared. I don’t want to see Harley get hurt. My uncle has thrown the ball back in my court, asking me if I think that he should give the horse to this gal. I’m worried I’ll end up with Harley myself, rather than see him put down, and I really, really can’t afford to take on another horse (see my last post on “An Old Gray Horse”). I’d like to see this friend have a chance to get back into horses, as she wishes to do. I’m truly confused as to what’s the right thing to do.

So what would you do here? Any advice?


A.K. Alexander said...

That is tough. I'm inclined to say give your friend a chance. I know horse skills take time, but they can be learned. Does she have a desire to learn this stuff? If she has any common sense then you have someone you can work with. Would you be willing to give her some guidelines and maybe suggest some books and videos she should take a look at? If Harley is basically going to be a lawn ornament (we have two of them--loved very much, old and one lame--who just basically get turned out daily and graze all day, come back in at night and are groomed on occasion). They are fat and happy. This sounds like what Harley needs. I'd hate to see him put down. I'm one for letting your friend have a go out at it, with the complete understanding that she is aware of what she's getting into.

Hope that helps.

Good luck.


Shanster said...

It sounds like you want to give her and Harley a shot at this. I think if she is that near your Uncle and she is a friend of yours, you two could help her initially with the space and fencing and teach her basic horse behavior/care issues.

If Harley is a polite critter and she really wants to learn - she will listen. We all have to start somewhere...

Laura Crum said...

Thanks for the help, Michele and Shanster. You're both right--I'm inclined to give my friend a chance at this project. I am going up there today to have another look at her "goat field", with an eye to seeing if it really is suitable for a horse. I've seen it before but never thought of it in this way. She has plans and hopes for corrals and a barn, but like most of us, its a cash flow issue. She can't afford to build this stuff right now. I have some ideas about what could be cheap and practical, which I will suggest (electric fence, portable corral panels which could be moved around), and I'll see how she responds. The biggest problem is that I literally don't have time to be a big help to her; I would always be available to answer questions or run up to her place in an emergency, but with my own horses and life being so demanding, I just don't have time to go up there regularly and help her. I never was much good at instructing others, anyway, one of the reasons I never became a trainer. Still, I would like to see my friend get this horse and succeeed at being happy with him, so I guess I'll try to faciltate this.

autumnblaze said...

For what it's worth, I agree with MS and Shanster.

I would only point out two additional things - is Harley okay with goats? Is Harley okay as the only horse with other critter species as companions? I would be sure to address his comfort with that stuff before you left him there.

Anonymous said...

Totally agree! Harley needs to be comfortable. I would also warn her that he might still kick up his heels once in a while. She probably would handle him a little bit for grooming, etc. I think I would give her a chance, but still keep an eye and let her know that I am there to answer her questions. After a successful life as a roper, I don't think the right thing to do is to put him down. Give her a try, supervise her if you can, give her some of your best advice, I'm sure they'll both be grateful.

horsegenes said...

You can't become a horsemen with having a horse. If the lady is willing to learn and try, I say give it a go. Be upfront with your concerns and ask her what concerns she has. Communication is a wonderful thing. She might surprise you. I would think that a few personal visits during the first few months might be in order. It would be way cheaper to visit Harley than take him on as a retirement project.

Laura Crum said...

autumnblaze--I agree--I had thought of those two concerns, too. I talked to my friend about the possibility of Harley not being Ok with the goats (he might be scared of them, or, being an old rope horse, he might want to chase them) and suggested she build a separate pen for him. She has an ideal site for one, as I saw when I visited her today. She seems open to the purchase of enough pipe panels to make a small pen to start out with, and I think that if she got the horse out every day and walked him, which she intends to, it might be just fine.

And you're right Kel and Anon. I offered to come by any time she needed me to, and we'll see how that goes. I did warn her that Harley, like all horses, was capable of spooking and kicking up, and just getting on the muscle. She seemed to understand.

I am feeling better about this, as I hear that most of you seem to agree that its worth taking a chance on.

Anonymous said...

Give the friend a chance. Tell her what a safe fence looks like, and explain what a mess a runaway horse can get into (injuries & damages).

But honestly, I think your uncle isn't too cool for wanting to euthanize Harley when he served him as a roping horse. Harley has done nothing but try, and shouldn't be killed "just because he's not a roper anymore."

Laura Crum said...

Anon--I don't agree with my uncle's approach, either. He is one of the very many horsemen who own horses to serve a purpose and when a horse does not serve that purpose, they get rid of him. In his defense, however, my uncle is not hauling this horse to the local sale, where the horse would inevitably be bought by the kill buyers, which very many unsentimental horsemen would do. I feel that euthanizing such a horse, though not the choice I would make, is still a responsible choice, particularly if a home cannot be found and the owner can't/doesn't want to go on caring for the horse. This subject has been discussed endlessly on fugly's blog and elsewhere, and I know people have very strong feelings about it. As for me, I keep all my horses until their quality of life is such that I feel they are not happy any more. I have already said I would take Harley rather than see him be put down. However, as with all of us, there is a limit to the number of horses I can responsibly care for, and I am about at that limit.

I think my friend is working out a good plan for how to keep Harley, and she understands the parameters. I have hope that it will work out well.

Enjay said...

I would ask myself if Harley is a horse I would trust to teach a beginner how to handle horses. Does he have the personality for it? Seeing as they're in proximity, would your uncle be willing to give her lessons on horse handling before she takes them? Does HE have the personality for it? :)

Laura Crum said...

Enjay--Those are good questions. As for Harley, I didn't own him or handle him, just observed him from a distance, so to speak. He was always obedient. I'm not sure if he's a beginner's horse or not, though. You're right about that being a certain sort of horse. I asked my uncle about this and he said the horse was gentle. But my uncle is a tough old horseman and its hard to say what "gentle" means to him. I did warn my friend that I didn't know Harley beyond observing him, and he always appeared to have very good manners. This subject has been one of my main concerns in the whole deal.

Its interesting that you bring this up because I have been worried from the git go about my role in this. If I "help" this friend to acquire this horse, I don't want her to eventually hate me for it. I have had a bad experience with this lately, where a friendship ended because I tried to help someone. My intentions were entirely good, but the friend ended up resenting me and accusing me of stuff that was the furthest thing from my mind. The whole thing has left me shaking my singed fingers, so to speak, and wondering if I should ever try to help anyone again. If this friend and Harley are not a good match, is she going to blame me and be angry at me? I have explained to her exactly the truth...what I know about this horse and what I don't know. She has already got plans for having an experienced neighbor come over and help her with the horse. Still, it does worry me.

As for my, he is not likely to give a beginner lessons. Like me he has too many horses and too little time and he isn't particularly patient with beginners. I am quite willing to field questions from my friend and come over as needed, but just don't have time to be her regular helper. So I'm hoping the neighbor will work out.