Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Price of Horses

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?


Michelle said...

Where I ride, it has gotten to the point that boarders are simply leaving their horses in the stall, telling my trainer to sell them, or keep them, but the boarder is leaving the horse. Period. I agree with all of your points. I'd like to add another item to the list: we should ALL be aware of the horse rescues out there, be advocates for those rescues (volunteer, etc.), and make it clear to the public that there are options beyond just abandoning a horse without care. Great horses can be found there, too. Just my humble opinion. :)

Alison said...

Derby gal--that's so much responsibility on the trainer. Obviously he/she is no longer getting paid. What does your trainer do in this case?

Linda- We had a lady get hay this week who has sixty acres of pasture. She said people drive over with horses in vans begging her to take them. Plus VA has had drought so the pastures are drying up and there is a possibilty of no second hay cutting. That will compound the problem this winter (Especially if it is like last winter!) The rescue farms are inundated as well. A sad situation, and it is the same with pet care and kids as well. Child abuse is increasing.

Linda Benson said...

Derby Gal and Alison - thanks for your comments. One of the shelters I am aware of with a great educational website is locating in Northern Calif. http://norcalequinerescue.com/
They advocate for gelding, and even have a euthanasia clinic.

The receptionist at a vet's office near my home told me that last winter was the worst they'd ever seen for starving horses. I believe well-meaning people just keep hanging on to their horses, even when they can't afford to feed them, because they think things will get better, or basically they just don't know what to do with them.

One of the reasons I blogged about this rather depressing subject is to start a dialogue about it. If we all pitch in with ideas, even if we help even one horse somewhere, the discussion is worth it, don't you think?

Jami Davenport said...

Much to my surprise, I haven't seen much of a drop in prices for good dressage horses around here.

Anonymous said...

I live in southwestern Ontario and fortunately here we have not had the economic problems that have been causing so many problems in the states. So solid well trained horses (and those not so solid!) are still selling around $1500 - $5000.

Still my heart breaks for those that end up at the local auction, which is reportedly a last stop on the line to the slaughter houses in Quebec. Since we also have a large population of Mennonites, in the area, a lot of Standardbreds end up at this auction and selling for meat.

One thing that the racing standardbred group has done is form an adoption society for ex-racers in which they are fostered and re-trained for hunter jumper classes, dressage and western disciplines such as pleasure and trail, and then adopted out to families in the area. If for some reason the horse doesn't suit then it is returned to the foster home as they search for more suitable placement. I did try to adopt from them but they did not at that time have any real trail broke kid safe horses.

This works because the owners are willing to support the society and people are willing to foster and work on re-training until they are ready for a new life off the track.

My own contribution has been to buy (along with my trainer) a young mare (13.3 hands, around 4-6 years old, breeding grade) from the local auction. We will hopefully bring her back to good health and a solid start in her riding career. Then we hope to find her a nice home with a good family and always of course the right of first refusal should this family need to sell her.

We paid $400 for her and she is wormy and has a nasty cough, which she has just developed a week after coming home. Still she is sweet and gentle and very much a pocket pony. My kids just love her.

It's just tough on everyone, especially our four legged friends. Good post. I hope we do get some discussion and more importantly action!

Linda Benson said...

Jami and mommyrides - Glad to hear that prices are holding up in your horse circles. And mommyrides - kudos to you for buying one at an auction and helping out.

In many ways, you would think the drop in horse prices would be a good thing for some people. I've seen some quality animals and registered stock sell for ridiculously low prices, and it ought to mean that people who might not be able to afford a good horse could now buy one.

But I see a larger problem in the amount of horses that just stand around in corrals and pastures without being used. Lots of people are enamoured with the idea of owning a horse, but don't ride them enough to keep them solid and well-trained. Or perhaps the horses never had much training to begin with, and just go sour with too much idle time.

Another thing we could advocate for is more dedicated horse trails, closer to populated areas, so that those teenage girls who adore horses actually have somewhere to ride them, and don't move on to cars and boys so fast (and leave their beloved horse standing in the pasture.)

This is a many-pronged problem. I have read about the overabundance of farm horses, when tractors became prevalent in the 1930's and 1940's, and all those good horses were suddenly out of a job (and many went to slaughter.) If we're going to raise horses, they need a job, which is (primarily) to carry riders around. So I continue to believe we need to keep training horses and riders, and that education is the key to keep animals from suffering.

Sorry to be so long-winded. Keep your comments coming. Anxious to hear how things are in your part of the country/world.

dunslidin said...

Good geldings, broke, sound and gentle are hard to find and command 4,000.00 and up around here but there are tons of young mares, unbroke unregistered horses that are 400.00 and lower. We rehomed our old gelding (who is a stunner) because he can't carry my huge husband for 4 hours on rough trails to a beginner that just rides around his pasture. We were both winners in this deal.

Mrs. Mom said...

Here on the coast of GA, it's difficult to even give a well started horse away. There is an abundance of hay, for good prices (not like when we were deep in the clutches of an Extreme Drought,) and pastures are lush and green.

But people are just not buying much at all. I get emails in my box daily asking for help placing horses/ if we want another horse/ etc etc. A rescue in the Atlanta area is setting up a hay bank to help horse owners through the entire state.

The hardest thing? Is seeing all the lush pastures and beautiful acres of hay cut and baled... and we look and there are skinny, hungry horses all over the place.

I don't have an answer for any of the problems plaguing the horse industry right now. After all, you can "preach" common sense horsemanship, but we can't *make* everyone LEARN.

Francesca Prescott said...

Linda: I wrote a long long long comment to this the other night, with all sorts of details about the situation in Switzerland, and then the internet went kaput and I lost the whole thing. Basically, what I said was that I've not seen anything comparable to what you describe in the US around here, but I live close to Geneva, in Switzerland. Horses are very expensive around here, both to buy and to maintain. I've not seen any drop in prices, nor any horses to give away. I also know that the price of good competition horses, be it for showjumping, dressage or eventing, remains high in Germany and Holland.

However, from having gone to look for a pony as a companion for another pony at my stables (I wrote about it a while back) I know things are not quite as hunky dory a couple of hundred kilometres over the border into France... It all depends what sort of category of horse or pony comes into the equation. Sad, but true, as always.