We here in Alaska have our share of stories and storytellers-from the great Robert Service to Dana Stabenow, Peabody Prize winning reporters and on down to erstwhile bloggers such as myself. Blogs are wonderful tools. They can educate, alarm, reveal, and titillate. They can inflame passions, prompt reformations and yet, yet, most readers have no idea that a blog is nothing more than the authors opnion. It may be backed up by graphs, citations, charts and quotes, but whatever "idea' put forth into cyber space is just that: the opinions and conclusions of one person. As such, they are afforded some specific rights under law. Something to keep in mind when reading this entry.
Yes, it's horse related-and if the cast of characters and tale itself does not concern or amuse you-feel free to click on out to some other page.
Okay, that's the preface-now to the rather twisted tale of enterprise, ego and expectations.
There appeared on the horse scene a couple years ago, a man who seemed to be unknown-at least, unknown to those of us on the west side of the Valley. He made a bit of a splash with ads for boarding, and honestly the place looked just lovely. Lots of pasture, nice fencing-that sylvan fields impression. He joined a local horse group online, and seemed friendly and outgoing and genuinely interested in helping kids and horses out.
Now comes onto the scene, the plight of a local feed store. The hard working young couple that started it, were going to close down if someone didn't step in and operate it. An enterprising woman saw the opportunity and soon enough, she and her husband were up and running with new energy. Not being sure of the exact timeline, I can only say that some months passed and I noticed the above mentioned boarding stable operator hanging out at the feed store pretty regularly. More time passed and I noticed the husband was no longer there, and the woman and the stable owner were what can only be called an item. He tells several people he is a member of a particular Valley family, and thus the reason he has those wonderful, grassy acres to put horses on.
More time passed, and onto the local group the man posts about wanting free horses. And he posts to Craigslist for the same. He is asked questions about his motivation for doing so-but explains that he is just looking to put kids and horses together, to have fun, for 4-H, etc. It's been relayed to me that he acquired at least 7 horses in this manner-in addition to the horses he was boarding for others. Several months go by and there are reports of loose horses very near the stable-but he is very quick to deny they originated from there.
Later on (earlier this year) I get a phone call out of the blue from a young man needing boarding. I am happy to oblige and we make arrangements for the following weekend. During the week, he arrives to check on his two, and discovers them in very poor condition. For the fourth time, there is no water, no shelter available and no hay present. The winds are howling like they can only do in Palmer, and the horses are weak and very dehydrated. The young man calls me in a panic-can I take them today? (And of course I agree, it only takes a few minutes to shuffle horses around) Once loaded and on the road, he calls again, nearly in tears. His horses have marks all over them, they are extremely dehydrated, and the mare is having trouble staying on her feet. I suggest water first, then, stop at AC and sign out a complaint. Photos are taken of the wounds and marks, and the MSBACR officer condition scores the horses. Later I get a phone call from my husband when they arrive....giving me a heads up they are "very hungry". I tell him which hay to put out, and have several other conversations with the owner...........and I learn some very peculiar things.
When I arrive home, it's too cold to be taking blankets off of stressed out, weak horses. I run my hands under the blankets and my heart just drops. A condition score 2.5, and about a 3. We quickly confer with vet over the phone and I get them started on a recovery program right away. The next day it is made clear that the responding AC officer is indeed, "good buddies" with the stable owner as no action is taken-not even a warning. The owner is beyond upset, and even more nervous about leaving his horses with someone he does not know (that would be me, of course) I assure him his horses will be fine, and not to worry about his stuff either. I tell him that boarding is a meeting of expectations-he expects that I will take care of them, and I expect to get paid for it ;) Pretty simple, really.
Over the succeeding weeks, the horses recover, even as they show signs of abuse-scars, marks, head shyness, fear, defensiveness. But they were young, and rebounded fairly quickly with balanced nutrition and their other needs attended to in a timely fashion. The owner of the horses and the stable owner have it out over the phone, leaving it that the matter is dropped.
And there it would stay, if it were not for little bits and peices of rumors that continued to crop up from time to time. Missing tack, a horse trailer used without permission, horses ridden without approval, until one day......I get yet another contact, asking about boarding. Of course, I relate what I can offer, and learn that the boarding stable had shut down. I didn't think much of it at the time, other than the passing thought that a lot of horses got shuffled around.
The summer progressed, and the horses in my care just bloomed. Glossy, excellent weight, their personalities emerged from the frightened, spooky state they arrived in. I took extra pains to get the one horse past a new fear of hand implements-would actually bolt and then cower at the motion of a manure rake in hand, poor thing. Eventually the owner found new stabling arrangements more convenient to work and home, and they moved on. The owner was more than pleased with their condition, but called me less than a week later with a very serious question.........
......and the question raised so many other issues, that I began doing a little bit of digging.
It's amazing what you find when you start turning over rocks, really it is.
I began to get a better picture of the ego exhibited when further discussions take place regarding the boarding operation with those who either boarded there, or who knew someone who did. One of the stranger things was a "fee" charged to a new boarder, euphemistically called "herd introduction fee". Of the nearly 50 horses on the property, I am not sure how many people were forced to pay this extra fee for the priviledge of arrival there-but at a $150 per head....well, let's just say it was likely lucrative. For $500 a month for two horses, you got pasture and hay. If you wanted your horses to get any grain (or they needed it) it was a flat $80 per month, per horse. And COB was all that you could get. Most people expect some sort of shelter and water would be provided, but in actuality, the majority of the horses had only trees, and water was not available 24/7, Instead, it was "just being filled" or, "tank is frozen, it needs thawing first" or some such. Always an excuse, and horses were moved from paddocks and rotated through pastures fairly regularly. Several people arrived to find saddle marks on their horses-always explained away....light hearted, "it was kids" type of explanations.
In May, word came that the horses had been moved. All of them. Or, the story was, the place was "closing down" and you "must come get your horse right away". Whichever the real truth is, I don't know, but a bunch got moved to another location-without the knowledge of some owners and definitely without prior approval. A number of people are still owed refunds on boarding money paid in good faith. Others are just happy their skinny horses got moved to a place where food and water are not a worry. Quite a bit of tack is still missing too, some of which are specialty items not commonly found in local tack rooms.
Turning over yet more rocks, I learn that the boarding operator was not actually a relative of the local Valley family.
And, he had managed to procure goods and/or services under the alias of that last name.
And, he'd never had a business license either.
And neither does the feed store-under either name. The same one they advertise for sale too.
This is the same guy who trolls for customers on Craigslist, touting "quantity purchases" of grains in "bulk". This is the same guy that has a rather interesting history with the local court system. This is the same guy who scammed at least 7 free horses for his 4-H club, of which there are four members. This is the same guy who threatens anyone who asks questions, or who just flat refuses to answer. This is the same guy who brags he's "good buddies" with a well known MSBACR officer-and he can do as he likes with horses in his care. This is the same guy that never told any of his boarders that he was actually kicked off the original property. This is the same guy that joined the local horse group, then left it when people asked any questions of him.
Keep in mind that the boarding operation was going full swing as the feed store is in business also. Surely, he had access to more hay? Surely, he had the means to get more stock tanks, or hoses, or tank heaters? Surely, he did not need to use anyone elses' tack? Surely, he had the knowledge to manage so many horses?
But like many things within the horse world, trust is a fragile element. Just as you can break a horses' trust with an ill timed, unnecessary reprimand, so too, a person can cause their own "house of cards" to collapse easily enough-all it takes is threats.
In closing, please bear in mind that while on the surface this may appear to be a personal spat, the truth is, this effects ALL of us in the horse communuity here. Here you have a guy who should have had all the right resources to provide quality care for the horses in his stable. He has the feed store connection, he had the land, he started a 4-H club-all perfectly wonderful things in their own right. What he seemingly did not have was the expertise, the licensing, and the common sense to know he was going to eventually be caught out in falsehoods.
When asked simply for information, he came out with threats and/or denials. Since I was not privy to the conversations, I cannot relate what those might have been-but it serves as a warning to the rest of us: Know who you do business with, and ask for references. Do not rely upon a casual friends' recommendation, or the charisma of the person. Visit your horses frequently when boarded out. Don't be afraid to ask questions-and if you aren't happy with the answers-move your horses! They depend solely on your judgement, remember?