Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The discarded..........

Today, a rant and a ramble both.

We have rather more than our share of geriatric horses here in Alaska. There are a number of reasons for this, but it pretty much boils down to no auction or processing facility, and no retirement options for senior horses. It costs a very pretty penny to haul them Outside, *if* one can afford and locate a retirement arrangement in the Lower 48 somewhere. After all, going rate for hauling is over $1500, just to the PNW one way.

If the horses survive the weather and dubious ownership here, they can look forward to being passed around from person to person until they succumb to the elements or ignorance and/or apathy of the last owner. Very few horse owners up here provide their horses' final rest, although some might make the extra effort and haul the horse to a local dog musher. Aged horses seem to pass through a variety of "4-H" homes, until such time as they can no longer perform as expected, or their health deteriorates, or becomes compromised. Of course, by this point, they are inexpensive compared to their younger counterparts, but still overpriced considering their special needs.

Usually this means the horse has some sort of lameness issue, or poor dental condition, or a disease process left untreated, etc. Arthritis and bad teeth and overgrown hooves are very common, right up there with crappy cheap feed and not enough of it.

Throw in the cold, the dark, high energy and feed costs and who gets the short end of the stick? The horse, of course. That luxury purchased for the teenager or family turns into a liability that means real physical effort when it's -25 out. So naturally it's time to get rid of that horse, too much work, too much $$, too much of everything. And on the bulletin boards and into ads they go, hopefully placed into competent care at the least. Or they turn a blind eye to basic needs until such time as the horse is in critical condition or actually down.

The very lucky might get a welcome at the only rescue we have, Alaska Equine Rescue. And that only if the owner will actually pick up the phone to call for help. But AER is very limited in resources, being 100% funded by our small horse community. They limp along on a fraction of what is needed, depending on the generosity of volunteers/donors and are forced to turn away horses every winter. Some winters, it's quite a few. Maybe the horse will get lucky, and someone will make a pity purchase. Or contact the local AC about their condition-Occam's razor for horses up here, whether that turns out advantageous or not. Or perhaps the owner will simply not monitor their horse, and they will find a corpse come daylight.

More likely, however, is a marginal grasp on life, sometimes for months and months. How these horses survive such "care" is beyond me, but many do. I can think of nothing more cruel than to see a geriatric horse who is a bag of bones, standing in unimaginable conditions with no shelter or blanket, rotted stemmy hay (if they are fortunate) they cannot eat, with no water and no attention. Or worse yet, have the bad luck to be owned by a "know it all" who swears the horse is a condition score two because "it's OLD, over 20 you know!" which we all know is utter nonsense. Commonly found with plumper, younger companions, the aged are a dirty secret and I swear there must be some sort of backwoods trade in them, the rate they move from place to place.

Even though I have not been very active in the horse community for a number of years, I still get told about situations I can do nothing about. Like the two year old stud colt, never seen a farrier who has a large gash that hasn't been treated. Or the bags of bones tucked over there in the back of that subdivision, right behind the 300K house. Or the old timer wasting away because "it's the kids horse, they are supposed to feed it" 99% of the time, it's from someone who does not want to "get involved" themselves, naturally. Oh heaven forbid they actually DO something constructive on their own! No, let's leave it to someone else to deal with, thereby absolving ourselves of any responsibility or guilt, right? (Pardon the sarcasm :)) People tell me, I presume, because they know I am passionate about humane care and will act where others won't. Which of course gives them an easy out, and makes me feared and reviled within the community. Well screw them, I say.

If you will NOT feed wholesome and appropriate food,
if you will NOT provide water or shelter,
if you will NOT provide vet care,
if you will NOT provide farrier care,
if you will NOT provide the minimum for a healthy horse,
then GET OUT of horses, period!

Placing a stupidly high price tag on the mid 20s senior with other issues is not going to help you quickly get rid of your financial liability. Thinking you can get your feed costs back is as smart as thinking you can get the gas money back out of a used car, you idiot. If hay is over $600 a ton in the feed store, and quality sacked feeds the same, how is it that your done nothing, grade, arthritic, lame, and toothless wonder is worth $1000 or $1500? Anyone who has $1500 to spend, is looking for younger horses without the issues, stupid. But no of course your marvelous aged horse has to be worth more than some ill conceived notion of what "slaughter price" is (which no one knows up here anyway, but is oft quoted by the ignorant) and so you will stubbornly hold out for the almighty dollar, while your "investment" withers away right in front of you. Any attempt to use logic will fall on deaf ears, until eventually you realize that you "just can't afford" the horse and call someone in desperation to fix your ignorant mess. IF it can be fixed, after you have ridden the crap out of the horse for umpteen years, fed the cheapest, crappiest cow hay you could find, and the horse suffers permanent damage from parasites you were too cheap to remedy. You will probably bundle in the shoddy tack you purchased on eBay, and maybe the few remaining bales of moldy hay buried under the tarp out back into the deal-just anything to get rid of "it".

Bah! Which brings me round to the idiocy of local horse prices, yet again......

I have noticed that a couple folks are wising up to the real market, by lowering their prices. Not enough to get them sold, but enough that a buyer might actually take a look. People are figuring out that registry doesn't mean much (especially if the pedigree is marginal at best) but still, I see weaners and yearlings advertised for prices that would buy a fully finished adult with show points to boot in other locations. If the ads don't change from month to month, then you need to re-evaluate your own estimation of price and worth, don'tcha think? And where did this lower floor on green horses come from anyhow? These are advertised anywhere between $1500 and $2800, mostly between three and eight. These are the exact same horses that in the Lower 48 might bring $200 at a sale, yet somehow they are magically worth ten times as much here? This boggles the mind, really....and it isn't unusual to see seniors advertised for nearly the same amount. Another puzzler, since generally the aged require rather more care and $$ than a younger horse in the same price range...but let's just dump our problem on someone else who doesn't know any more than we do, yes?

I would like to take these people and treat their own family members as they do their aged horses. Let's just put Granny out back without shelter, water, or a winter coat. Let's not let her have dentures (because after all, horses don't) and let's feed her when we remember to. No reason to bother with water, there is snow and ice on the ground after all. Let's ignore Granny until daylight when we realize we really must make a trip to the feedstore, only to discover that Granny's feed has gone up 25%. Let's then panic and decide to dump Granny since after all, the other toys in the household bring more fun year round. Since we haven't bothered to take good care of Granny, she now has infirmities which limit her use, but that's okay in the end, we'll get $1000 or more and just buy a younger version we can ignore the next winter......

1 comment:

the-farmer's-wife said...

Okey dokey Suvalley, I'll bite . . . . missing our fearless leader and came to browse on your site. I will brag on myself but only because it seems the right thing to do (I mean doing the right thing for the horse).

We own a 29 yr old Morgan gelding who is a multiple-times winner at Nationals in Oklahoma City. His teeth are about gone and he's on a complicated diet of senior palatable feeds. His blood work and organs are not top notch but he's still bright eyed and helping raise our weanling colt. A few days ago our farrier came to reset the mare, trim the colt, and trim the old codger. Running his hand over the bony ribs and jutting hipbones he looked at me as if to say, "Why?" bother to trim this dude. I explained that we are prearranging his funeral before the snow flies, but at the moment he seems happy and content with life, although we know he'll never comfortably get through an icy winter. But that's no reason to shirk his care, and the $25 to trim his hooves is a pittance compared to the years of pleasure he has given us. Blacksmith did his usual good job on all three horses and left with the remark, "I wish all my sustomers took such care of their elders. I go to lots of barns to shoe the healthy young using horses and see the oldtimers out in the back corral withering away with little care. Made me feel good to know we are doing the right thing, and sad for the other horses.

Our winters are brisk to say the least, but cannot imagine Alaskan winters. Brrrr!