by Laura Crum
In the discussion following my last post stillearning raised some great points about the issue of selling a horse you feel you can no longer keep. She referenced the idea that it may just be ego that tells us we are the only ones who can deal with this horse’s issues. I agreed with her that there may very well be others who can deal with the horse’s issues as well or better than we can, but is their loyalty to the horse going to be as high as ours, who trained him and owned him for many years? Perhaps he worked his butt off for us, acquiring his issues along the way. I suggested that we owe him at least keeping track of him and taking him back if need be, to be sure he doesn’t come to a bad end. And I referenced my first horse, Jackson, who was mentioned in my previous post.
Well, it occurred to me this morning, reading stillearning’s last comment, that Jackson makes a great illustration of the point I am trying to make. So here is his story.
I bought Jackson when I was fifteen years old. I had saved my money for many years and hounded my parents, and I was finally permitted to buy a horse of my own. My cowboy uncle was my trusted advisor. We tried many horses, but my uncle liked Jackson, who looked like a rope horse (15.3 and strongly made). We found the horse through an add in the paper; he was dirt cheap, and the woman who owned him said he was gentle. She’d owned him for two years, she said. He was fourteen years old. She was clearly a novice, and was able to walk, trot, lope the horse around her little ring. My uncle and I rode him and we bought him that day. That’s all in the world we knew about him.
I owned Jackson for three years. He turned out to have some issues. Though gentle to walk, trot, lope around a ring, he did not care for solitary trail rides and would rear vertically to make his point clear. I dealt with it. If put under pressure to load, have his feet worked on, and at certain other times, he would kick out, hard. I learned to be careful. He did not care for being a rope horse and tried some pretty violent evasions. Fortunately nobody was hurt.
When I had owned him three years, I decided I wanted to buy a young horse to train. I was not so attached to Jackson and sold him, as my previous post describes, to the riding school where I used to take lessons. The fact that he did not end up at the saleyard is pure luck. (See my post--"What Do We Owe Them?" for more on this.)
Here’s my point. When I was trail riding Jackson one day I met a middle aged lady on a horse. She looked at my mount and asked me his name. When I told her she said, “I raised that horse and trained him myself.”
I kept quiet about the training.
She asked where I got him and I told her.
She said, “I sold him to that gal when he was twelve. She was just a beginner and wanted a gentle horse. I sold him cheap because she said she’d give him a good home.”
And I could tell this lady was not pleased. She had not expected that her horse would be sold again in two years. And this time to a fifteen year old girl. But she had clearly not kept track of the horse. And she did not offer to buy him back if I wanted to sell him. She simply rode on, on the younger horse she now had.
When Jackson was seventeen I sold him to a riding school. I was tired of his issues, which were not of my making. As I said, it is simply luck that he didn’t end up at the sale and get bought by the killbuyers. So, I think it is a point worth making, that, as long time owners and trainers of a horse, we may have a little more loyalty to that horse and an acceptance of his issues, since we know exactly how he got them. They are usually due to our own choices. Someone who has owned the horse for a couple of years and didn’t create his problems may feel quite free to pass him on. It may not be ego to suppose that we are more likely to take good care of this horse when he gets old and give him the retirement and dignified death we might feel we owe him in exchange for all the years of work he has done for us.
Again, I’m not suggesting that we all need to keep all of our horses. I know its not always possible. I am wondering, however, if we don’t owe our horses something, if we have owned them a long time, and made the choices that created the issues they have, lameness or otherwise. I guess I’m asking if we don’t at least owe it to keep track of them and be sure that they don’t come to a bad end. Which means be willing to take them back. The problem, however, which I understand very well (because its happened to me), is that we often get these horses back when they really have no more useful riding horse years left, but may have many years as a pasture pet…which is all about taking care of them and writing checks to pay for their care…and not about riding and having fun. So, there’s the question in a nutshell. Do we owe them that?
I am asking a question--I'm not saying I know the answer. My own opinion, for what it's worth, is that I do owe my horses that, and if it's financially impossible for me to keep my retirees any more (which may well happen), then I owe them that dignified death. I am not at all adverse to letting someone else care for them (and write the checks) as long as I continue to be responsible for them and have enough control over their fate to be sure they don't end up starved or otherwise abused (or dumped at the sale.)
As always I welcome hearing your thoughts on this. Its a complicated subject, because we all have different circumstances. And yet everyone who has owned a horse for a long time will probably understand how critical it is that we as responsible horsemen give some real thought to what we owe these horses.
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