by Laura Crum
Many thanks to Alison, whose post last month titled “Good Enough?” got me started thinking about this subject. I wanted to comment on Alison’s post but my comment rapidly became unwieldy as I thought of all I could say on this subject. So I turned it into a post.
The truth is there is more to say on this topic than I could ever cover. But I want to focus on one specific aspect. There is plenty in the horse world that is obviously not “good enough”—neglect and abuse…etc. There are also folks who keep their horses in more lavish style than I keep my child. Much more than good enough. And these are not what I want to talk about today. I want to talk about the in between.
Really, what I want to talk about is my own good-enough-or-maybe-its-not situation. Its easy to point fingers at others. But often its more realistic to evaluate what we are ourselves are doing or not doing.
So here’s my dilemma. I have a very nice situation for four horses at my home, and I keep my son’s horse and my riding horse, my recently retired riding horse, and one boarder at my place. Three out of the four horses are ridden regularly—they live in big corrals where they can run and buck and play, they have shelter, I feed them three times a day, the fences are good. All four horses seem happy.
Where’s the problem, you say. Well, the problem isn’t here. Its that I am responsible for five other horses. And these horses live at a property that is fifteen minutes from my house. All of these horses are pasture pets and have been for many years. Two of them are thirty-one. The other three are in their twenties or late teens and crippled enough that they can’t be ridden, though they are comfortable in the pasture.
And they live turned out 24/7. They are looked at every day and the two oldest ones are supplemented with senior food and blanketed during winter storms. Given their ages they all look pretty good. They seem content. The problem? The fences are not so good.
A lot of the fencing is OK. Some of it isn’t. The big field is forty acres and the smaller fields are five acres each, so we’re talking about a lot of fence. Over the years I have used every spare fence panel I had (over a dozen), fixing the bad spots. But there are places that really need to be re-built.
The pasture owner is unwilling to afford this. I am unwilling/unable to plow a lot of money into this property, and I don’t think the pasture owner would accept it if I was willing/able. Because there is a lot of feed in the pasture and no horses on the other side of the fence, we have just let things go. All the horses are very sedate; they don’t try the fences. They are all familiar with the field and know the boundaries. And I have been keeping horses there for almost fifteen years with no major disaster. Nothing worse than small cuts/scrapes that did not require a vet. (Knocking on wood here.)
Did I know it wasn’t good enough? Yes. But the solution eluded me. To be frank, most people would euthanize my five horses that live out in this pasture. Only one was my riding horse, of the other four, two are rescues, two are horses I helped train, who got hurt early in their working lives and had to be retired. They are living a very happy life and have been for many years—in the not-good-enough pasture.
Yes, I know we could put up “cheap” plastic tape and/or hot wire, but the cost of installing this stuff (with all the requisite posts…etc) on such a big setup is still more than I can afford to put out on property that is not mine—it isn’t fair to my family. My husband isn’t interested in horses, we don’t have money to burn, I’m already spending quite a bit of money to maintain my horse herd. It would be just plain irresponsible of me (financially) to put our money into this property. But it is irresponsible of me (as a horse owner) not to do something about this not good enough fence situation. Periodically I think I should go ahead and put the horses down (I don’t need them/they are a financial drain/I worry about them)—but they seem so happy. So I just go on feeding them as needed, keeping an eye on them, and hoping for the best.
Fifteen years is a very long time to go with no major problems. Yes, we have euthanized three horses during that time, but all three were to do with the maladies of old age, none were the results of accidents with the fence. Or accidents of any kind. Our track record in that not-good-enough field is actually pretty good.
And then….yesterday I got the call. One of the horses had gone through the fence and was hurt. Not one of my horses. The one horse in the field that belongs to the pasture owner was the one who got tangled in the fence. She was pretty badly cut up, but not lame.
Well, I helped the pasture owner get a vet and doctor the mare, who will probably be fine. And I told that vet that if any of my pasture pets were injured any more severely than this, that I would just put them down. I explained what they were and about the bad fences and the vet shrugged. “I’d do the same as you’re doing,” he said. “These horses look like they’re having a good life.” And he patched the old mare up.
So here’s my questions for today. Should I just put these horses down now and make sure they never suffer? Or should I let them go on living a happy life in that field and put them down when their time comes, bearing in mind it may come because they get in that fence? Because its not “good enough”? I am not going to be putting significant amounts of money into that property—does that make me a not-good-enough horse owner? I must confess, I do not know the answers to these questions.
This is a toughie! To me (a poor college student who has yet to keep a horse at home), it would depend on how much of a financial drain the "unusables" are. As in, feed, rent for the field, etc. If its affordable, I personally would have to let them go on living. Not only let them, but enjoy watching them continue their happy lives.
Obviously they are not too mischevious a bunch or they already would have gotten into the fence, in my opinion at least.
Best of luck with deciding.
Laura, I feel your confusion and fustration. It is a tough one. You know I have some old broodmares pasture pets and some of the same questions have been bubbling around in my head to. Our fences are not great and the mosquitos are absolutely horrible in the summer months. I stress over them being eaten alive more than I do about them going through a fence. Fly sprays and sheets etc just don't cut it. You could be out there all day spraying etc and they would still be covered with bites.
I joke to my friends and family that I have a "euth" group (instead of Youth - haha) at the ranch and of course they all think that I am being sick and twisted. They are also the first to ask - How long are you planning on taking care of those old mares - isn't it expensive and time consuming?
With winter coming I wonder if I am doing them a favor or not. They have shelter and they get plenty to eat, but they are still subject to harsh cold and mud, etc.
When you get this figured out... can you let me know. :)
I agree, sounds like your oldies have it "good enough" which seems better than most. If you're worried, could you just add a strand of electric wire to the existing posts and/or trees? Go cheap with aluminum wire and plastic insulators...no fancy expensive connectors. You can use screws for the insulators if the posts can't take the pounding of a hammer, and skip a post that might be missing. That's the most inexpensive option I can think of:$200-250 for everything including a decent shock-thru weeds charger that's yours to take home if the boarding situation changes. Maybe the owner would split the cost to help prevent another vet bill? Tough decision when money's tight. Hope something works out so you can have peace of mind.
Fencing is such a problem for everybody with a lot of acreage (particularly someone else's - I'm in the same situation although ours are safe except in a few spots where theand not unlimited funds. You could hot wire, with a single strand, the worst sections for the cost of some tape and a few batteries - I doubt it would be affordable to do the whole property.
I'd say as long as they're healthy and happy, run the risk - as long as someone's around (I'll bet you're out there pretty frequently) to get to a horse immediately if there were a problem. I bet I know what the horses would choose . . .
This: " Or should I let them go on living a happy life in that field and put them down when their time comes, bearing in mind it may come because they get in that fence".
Oh there is better than and less than all around us. It doesn't mean our horses are "safe".
My horses are better off than so and so and not as well off as such and such.
Easiest to focus on our own and do the best we can with what we have.
As long as the horses are in good weight, happy attitude and healthy with occasional vet and hoof trims, they are fine.
And if the fence ends their life prematurely? So be it. They have all been around the block a few times which in horses means quite a bit. They are smart and know and have fence experience.
We've all heard stories of crazy ways horses kill or hurt themselves.
Knew a guy who rode pro jumpers in CA.... you think that barn was lacking in fences? I'm betting not. He said a helicopter flew overhead, spooked the horse he was on... he broke his back from the fall and the horse ended up crashing thru a beautiful, painted, wooden fence, impaling itself on a shard of splintered wood and had to be put down.
Know a guy in NE who runs QHs... a colt of his was in the pasture one day galloping around - it lived in this pasture mind you - and it ran smack, head on, into a large tree in the pasture instantly killing itself.
Can't bubble wrap 'em to keep 'em safe. As much as we may like to....
I'm with Stilllearning. You are a good horse owner, Laura. Don't beat yourself up because you can't be a perfect one. You have your priorities straight - family comes first, then the best life you can provide for the old ones. (Who sound like they are way too savvy to mess with that fence. :))
If you're willing, and financially able, to continue caring for them, and as long as they seem content, sounds like it's more than good enough to me, even with the fence issue.
Thanks all for your insights. I've found them helpful and reassuring. My kid is sick so I'm too busy and preoccupied to reply much. But my pasture pets will be left to continue their lives--and I will put them down if they have serious problems--including a problem caused by the fence. Life isn't perfect for any of us, after all. They have a pretty good deal, I guess.
You are a responsible and caring horse owner. You recognize that your former riding horse gave you hours of pleasure and now is reaping his reward. The horses you put to pasture who were hurt didn't ask to be hurt and unusable. Also you have that wonderful thing, common sense and the ability to see the writing on the wall so that if your financial situation was going to change you would make the choice to euthanize the horses rather than not be able to put food on the table for yourself.
My horses are boarded at a farm that has less than stellar fencing but they are fat, happy and the barn owner is a superstar. It is a full care facility with awesome pastures, each horse gets looked at twice a day at feeding time and then turned back out.
Also you so obviously care about and feel responsible for your horses given how much you think about the quality of their lives.
If I were to be reincarnated I'd like to come back and be one of your horses.
PS--I am almost finished reading all twelve of your Gail McCarthy books. I started Chasing Cans last night. I have really enjoyed them all!
Thank you, 1st horse--Your comment gave me a smile--both the bit about wanting to be reincarnated as one of my horses (now that's a real compliment) and the fact that you've enjoyed my mystery series. And since I haven't smiled much in three days of a sick little boy (we think it was food poisoning--he's better today), I was especially grateful.
The thing about the pasture pets is frustrating because if I go look at them on a sunny spring day when they're all grazing on green grass in what looks like horse heaven (if you turn a blind eye to the sagging spots in the fence), you would think that they have a great life--in fact I'm tempted to call Joe at TB Friends and take on a few more rescues. But in the winter when they all look pretty cold and miserable and there is mud, I wonder, like Kel, if I am really doing them a favor by keeping them alive. But I guess I'll just keep on as I am--most of you folks seem to agree that's a good choice.
I feel I have no authority to help make this decision (because I just found your blog!), but if I were in your shoes.... if an older horse reveals any discomfort (i.e., cannot get up very easily after rolling), then I say put them down- I figure we might as well see it as fortunate that the law allows us humane euthanasia. But if there is little to no justification for it, I think putting a horse down would leave a bit of hollowness inside me.
Any chance of getting local donations to care for them? Or to make them part of a therapy program?
Good luck with the decision!
Corinna--Welcome to Equestrian Ink--hope you visit us again. And I agree that putting down a horse without a very good reason to do so would definitely leave a very hollow feeling. I've never actually done this--every horse I've ever euthanised was truly at the end of the road--to the best of my knowledge. It was always sad, but felt necessary.
I just got back from vacation and wanted to comment, too. (I hope your son is feeling better!)
I think everyone covered your dilemma, especially Shanster who mentioned that horses will do stupid things no matter how great/expensive the fence. And Corinna who said you will know when your oldsters need to be put down. However, I second the notion of some cheap plastic posts (I use them constantly) that you just stick in the ground, white electric tape and a solar-powered charger just for areas that you really think might be dsaster-prone.
Kel--I feel for you with your mosquito problem! A few flies and bot flies drive me crazy. Where do you live that they are so bad?
Alison--Yes, electric fence is the obvious answer. If I could get the pasture owner to throw in, we could maybe do it. I am hesitant to "mess with" her space--even in a good cause. We had one gal keeping her horse out there who did a lot of that, and in the end it did not work out. I'm pretty sure the pasture owner felt her space was being invaded.
kel lives a few hours from me--but we don't have mosquitos to speak of here where I am. Many folks are having problems with them this summer it seems.
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