Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Too Many Horses?

by Linda Benson

I've been reading the horse classified ads since I was a small girl dreaming of my own horse. It's a long-instilled habit many decades old, and although I'm not currently in the market for a horse, I still read them daily, although mostly in online format now. I will probably still know the price of horses, and dream about which ones I'd like to own and ride, when I'm in a nursing home someday. Hey - it's in my blood.

But never in my entire life have I been so appalled at the amount of nice-looking horses that people are having trouble finding homes for, even at the price of "free." It's scary and disheartening.

We can talk long and hard about the slaughter issue. I, like many of you, believe that slaughtering horses for meat, at least in the way it is done right now, is wrong. But we all know (or we ought to be aware of) that hundreds of thousands of horses pass through auction houses each year, and are loaded onto trucks and shipped to Canada or Mexico to meet that fate. At this very moment, there are no slaughter plants open in the U.S., although there are people on both sides of the conflict looking to either open them, or close them down in a more permanent fashion.

But what can we, as the horse-loving folks that read this blog, actually do about what I see as the over-abundance of horses available right now? Can we just put our heads together for a minute?

Where I live, in the Pacific Northwest, there are lots of gorgeous green pastures and many horses standing out to pasture. Very few of them, I believe, are actually ridden very often. Horses are, of course, quite beautiful to look at and be around, and many people keep them just for that reason. Until something changes in their lives and they can no longer afford to feed them or have no place for them. Then, that lovely horse is in trouble, unless it's been ridden lately and is gentle and well-trained. And so many of them aren't!

The horses that I see in online classified ads that are having trouble selling are the ones that:
a) are not trained at all
b) are trained, but have not been ridden in awhile so it's hard to diagnose how well they behave
c) are young stock, often registered, that are kept until they are 2-4 years old, at which time the owners have a lot of money in them, but no saddle training
d) are TBs off the track, or Arabians, or something else a little hot-blooded that needs a good rider and a sensitive hand
e) are old horses age 20+ who are past their prime
f) are stud colts that have not been gelded.

And from my point of view, I see a lack of trainers, owners, horse-traders,or qualified horse-people with the time or money to continue on with these horses and make them ready for the average novice horse owner. And so they sit, and the price comes down and down, until they are offered for free or perhaps hauled to an auction and an unknown fate.

So if this is the problem, then what is the solution? I've seen a couple of things happening to address these problems and I applaud them.

One is low-cost gelding clinics. I've heard of these in several different states, where veterinarians and other volunteers hold a clinic to provide gelding (of some of those stud colts) at a very reasonable price. Still, this means that the owner must haul the horse to the clinic, which means they have to have a trailer and the horse has to load. But it's a great idea!

I've also heard of low-cost or free euthanasia clinics. There is a horse rescue in Northern California called Horse Plus Humane Society, and I believe they will take any horse that is surrendered to them and try to find it a home, or put it down if it is suffering. This is a wonderful option for owners who have come to end of their ropes and don't want to have their horse go for slaughter.

What about over-breeding? Are there too many horses being bred today, for the jobs required of them? I was actually horrified recently when I noticed an ad from a horse rescue, which had a 16-year old registered AQHA mare available they had saved from starvation, and they were advertising her as a prospective broodmare. Really?? Isn't that just contributing to the problem? Just because something has "papers" doesn't mean it should be bred. I happen to love Quarter Horses and Paints, but I see way too many of them floating around, unbroke and unrideable, but people keep them and assume they are worth a lot because they are valuable "breeding stock."

I saw a column recently discussing this overabundance of horses where it was proposed that horse owners have a license to breed, and only so many horses could be produced. This seems rather harsh, but how else can we keep people from breeding too many horses when there are not enough homes for them?

Another positive solution, which I touched on in my recent post called Mentoring, is to help develop a love for horses in the younger generation. Pass down your skills. Help that young (or older) horse lover learn to ride. This is one way we can provide homes for what I see as an overabundance of horses right now.

Who else has any good, positive ideas to address this problem? I know we can rail away all day long at what we think is the problem (racehorse overload, backyard breeders) but in my mind, the surplus of horses today (and what is happening to them) is akin to that of the fate of war horses after World Wars l and ll, as well the work horses on our farms after tractors became readily available in the 1940's. It's a crying shame. But we, as horse lovers, need to be concerned, to talk about it, and to take action.

Do you really need to breed your gorgeous mare? (Will the resulting foal be assured of a caring home for 25+ years?) Do you really need to breed your registered stud colt, even though he has (insert famous horse here) in his bloodlines?

What positive things have you heard of, or been a part of, in your community to help solve the issue of Too Many Horses? Let's put our heads together. Let us know!


Unknown said...

Great post Linda. It's an extremely difficult and sometimes sensitive subject for horse owners/lovers with answers not easily forthcoming. There are so many factors involved with owning a horse, and even those with good intentions find themselves in situations beyond their control. Especially in these times, in my location, loss of employment, or less hours at current employment,and loss of homes has made a huge impact. These once happy horse owners now struggle to find new homes for horses in a already flooded market as they struggle themselves to survive. I don't know what the answer is, but I know it's heartbreaking to see.

Linda Benson said...

Yes, that's good terminology, L.B. - a flooded market. I watched my neighbors, who are basically good caring people, try to get rid of their three horses, which hadn't been ridden in awhile, this summer. Two of the horses were registered, but they ended up giving one away and taking the other two to an auction. Very sad.

No one wants to be or say that they are part of the problem, but I do believe it's not just the economy now. I think we are becoming a more urban society, and although most of us reading this blog are horse lovers/owners, there are right now fewer people buying horses than there are horses available. So I do think the problem is too many horses. Perhaps those raising them need to make sure they are well-trained before trying to sell them. Thoughts?

hammerhorses said...

I think that what we need to ALL do as horse people - is take 1 person a year who has even the slightest desire to be around horses... and let them be around horses... and to take 1 horse who would otherwise end up in a bad situation, train it, and re-home it to an appropriate home (and not take on any others until that horse finds a new home)

I currently have 1 horse I rescued from a neglect situation who is a 3yo that I'm slowly starting as he's a gangly guy right now, and definitely not conformationally perfect, 1 that wasn't a rescue - per se - but needed a different life than what it had who is now happily toting around beginner riders after figuring out that nobody here wanted to race her around and only gallop for hours on end, and 1 horse that is truly, 100% a breeding quality horse.

I've also got 1 horse here in training for her owner, who would otherwise be a "free" horse because, as a 5yo, she's had nothing done but be given treats and held for the farrier. I'm training this horse at a very discounted price as she is a quality horse that deserves a quality home. She's just uneducated.

I have 6 riding students - 4 children and 2 adults, that I am teaching how to ride and care for horses. 1 of the children is my "freebie" for the year.

My 1 breeding quality horse is from an uncommon (though not rare) breed, with a lot of show records, approvals for breeding quality through the ISR/OLD registry, great bloodlines, nearly perfect conformation, and tons of talent that is currently unridable due to a trailering injury that may prevent her from ever doing more than basic showing.

Due to those factors, and my desire to actually have 1 truly show quality animal on my property, especially 1 that I can train and take to shows from a young age onward, I bred her to an equally nice, successfully shown, with rare bloodlines, and an AMAZING temperament stallion for a foal for myself.

Something bad could happen to me, but as long as it doesn't, then this foal will always have a home with me.

I've also got several people already begging me to sell this foal in-utero but since this is a baby I've specifically bred for myself, I'm refusing all offers at this time...

Linda Benson said...

Thanks for responding, Stephanie. I like your ideas of taking one person and one horse at a time and helping them. I think that if we realize it's a two-fold problem: too many horses and not enough new eager riders to buy them, it helps in finding a solution.

Another thing is sharing hints on selling horses - something that I've done a lot over the years. It's kind of like trying to move real estate in a poor market - you really need to spruce it up, advertise heavily, and do your best to show your product.

I do think that for those good horses that haven't been ridden much lately, it's really important to find someone to put a few hours or days on them, so that they can settle back in a routine of being ridden and show what they know. It's almost impossible to sell a horse as a "project" or "possibility" these days. And that is a way that experienced horse people can lend a hand, also, for someone they know that is trying to sell a horse that's been "out to pasture" for awhile. Maybe offer to ride it a couple of times for them, or even when someone comes to look at it.

These are all positive ideas, so keep 'em coming!

Laura Crum said...

I keep my horses and retire them when their working life is done--that's my contribution, and its part of the solution. I push this approach relentlessly in real life and on this blog. If EVERY horse owner kept and retired the horses that gave that person years of good service, the "horse problem" would be significantly decreased. Yes, it would not vanish--there are other factors, as you fairly point out. But sadly, it is the fact that people feel that it is somehow OK just to get rid of horses who have "paid their dues" but are no longer useful that creates some of the problem. I realize that life changes (loss of job, loss of health, divorce...etc) can make selling a horse seem like the only solution, but quite frequently people just get rid of horses because the horse is inconvenient--even though for years the horse was the owner's pride and joy. This is the attitude that I think can/should change. And yes, it does result in me having a barnyard full of older horses--but they've earned their home and they are going to live as good a life as I can give them until they're ready to leave this world. And it is my privilege and joy to do this for them. I really wish I could convince every horse owner to do the same.

Linda Benson said...

I agree that your choice to keep your retired older horses is fantastic, Laura. I admire you so much for doing so, and I know that you talk about it and advocate for this practice tirelessly. And yes, if everyone did this we wouldn't have such a surplus of older horses out there.

But so many of the horses that I see people trying to sell are young, unbroken stock, and this bothers me tremendously. I don't think that slaughter is the answer. I have heard stockmen (I hesitate to call them horsemen) stand around and say that if they'd open the slaughter houses back up in this country, the price of horses would go up. But plenty of horses are going to slaughter, and still there are too many of them.

I personally believe we need to stop breeding so many (just like unwanted litters of puppies and kittens, of which there are so many) and train or actually spend the time riding the ones that we have.

For many of us, though, just being aware of the problem is a starting point. Go jump on Craigslist in your local community and search under Farm and Garden for horses. Type "Free Horses" or "Auction Horses" in the Facebook search bar up top, and see how many groups appear that are devoted to finding good homes for them.

And yes, hats off to the rescue groups who work tirelessly to keep these horses out of the auction yard.

Let's keep brainstorming about this. It's a good thing!

Anonymous said...

We started a local ladies horse club. This helps veteran owners share their knowledge and gives new owners a safe place to ask questions. It also helps keep horses on everyones front burner, which is important when kids/job/finances get in the way. Each month we schedule a "clinic" to work on problem issues and also schedule a dinner where we mostly brag and trade stories. It has been a great way to share horse knowledge as well as feeding strategies, farrier reccomendations and the best local hay suppliers. Our membership has three requirements. 1. A love of horses. 2. You must be kind to humans and animals. 3. You must have a horse related goal (however small) that you are working towards.
The compaionship is fun, but the accountability has really served to get us out there keeping our packers tuned up and putting training and miles on our greenies.

Also, I second the no need to breed for the average owner. I understand planned breeding for successful competition horses, but all my trail ponies and local show horses have been somebodies throwaway from craigslist.

Laura Crum said...

Linda--I totally agree about not breeding more horses. I just don't know how to accomplish this (other than by talking about it--a LOT), because I am really against some sort of government controlled you-must-have-a license-to-breed program. However, most people that I personally know who used to breed horses do not do this any more--simply because they could not sell what they raised--for a reasonable price. So, at least in my small bit of the horse world, this change is happening.

Linda Benson said...

Laura, I'm glad to hear that you know of some horse people, at least, who have stopped breeding. And no, I wouldn't want the government involved either, which is why it's important that we all share information about this crisis (because I think it is, indeed, a crisis.)

Anonymous, thanks so much for sharing! A horse club sounds like so much fun, especially if it's informal and anyone can join. Great idea! I've found that owning horses is much more enjoyable when you have someone to do it with. Sharing your special accomplishments (even if it's as small as Dobbin picking up his back feet, or crossing a creek well or allowing clippers behind his ears) in a group of understanding people with the same interests is awesome. Thanks for a positive idea!

(And I agree about Craigslist. It is filled with great-looking horses that so tempt me!)

Anonymous said...

I agree with the gelding and euthanasia clinics, and that most "unwanted" horses needed training years ago. I've sold 2 horses in my lifetime, they both got very good homes, and both were well trained. Since the bottom fell out of the horse market, I haven't sold any, and have rescued 3. All of them have been ridden, 2 of them regularly. One of the mares has problems that are the result of poor feeding and years of neglect. She can be ridden lightly on a good day. She won't be sold. I wish I was 15 years younger so I was able to help train some of the horses out there, but I have all I can do now to take care of the 4 we have.

Linda Benson said...

Thanks for chiming in, RedHorse, and it sounds like you are doing your part. I wish I was younger too, because I know there are lots of horses out there that just need some hours and miles on them to make them good solid citizens. But what I can still do is write. I can share my views, and write good horse and animal books that teach kindness, compassion, and help instill a love of horses in the next generation. Hopefully that helps, too. (Reading horse books sure put the bug in me! :-))