Tuesday, February 22, 2011

I try not too get to soap boxy here at the chronicles. But this recently ran in the paper. I will never, ever, go to a horse sale again.

An Afternoon at The Sale

By Janet Huntington

Anybody who owns horses knows what a mess the horse market is in. It’s almost impossible to sell one, even giving them away can be tough.

The current economy is not completely to blame, but it was the last straw for the crumbling horse industry.

The term "Unwanted Horse" was first coined by the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) at a horse industry meeting in Washington D.C. in 2005. Unwanted horses are defined as "those no longer wanted by their current owner because they are old; injured; sick; unmanageable; fail to meet their owner's expectations; or the owner can no longer afford to keep them".
The fact which jumps off the page and hits me over the head is there are simply too many horses and not enough people who want them.

The closing of American slaughterhouses to horses, backyard breeders and over production of horses by the large ranches have all been blamed for the current equine market. The arguments become so political I have tuned them all out and tried to go on with my life.

Unfortunately my life has been directly affected by the mess the horse world is in and continues to be so.

As a horse trainer I saw the extra funds horse owners used to keep me employed going to buy hay. I saw prices for a horse drop and way too many skinny horses standing in over grazed fields.

It’s a bit of a blow to your ego to realize the career you have carefully constructed over years of back breaking work is the first expense cut when budgets start being trimmed.

Now as a horse owner in the private sector I’m seeing high quality horses with absolutely no market value being given away or taken to the auctions.

I spent last Saturday afternoon at the Calhan horse sale. My thinking was I should see first hand what’s going on out there. It was pretty upsetting.

Most of the stock was healthy and in good weight.

I watched a very nicely broke, flashy dun 4-year-old gelding go for $190. A ’97 registered bay mare who had been the family gymkhana horse and thrown four healthy babies was being sold because “the kids had out grown her.” She brought $220.

A white mare came in. She was eight-years-old, had good straight legs and a sharp handle on her. She was only about 14 hh and she wasn’t very pretty. But she was calm and solid. She sold for $50.

Then a big, flashy, breeding stock black gelding with lots of chrome sold for $230. He was dead lame, but it didn’t matter.

All of these horses were picked up by the kill buyer (KB), the man who is in the business of trucking horses out of the country for slaughter.

Some of the horses were bought up, either for private use or resale, but there were some really nice horses leaving the ring for very little money.

A 24-year-old paint gelding was ridden in by a young teen. He had been a reserve grand champion in 4H the year before but now he was in the auction ring. His owner no-saled him at $150. She later sold him for $225to a man who promised he wouldn’t go to kill. He was a lucky boy.

I have no bone to pick with the KB’s who operate in this area. They’re simply cleaning up somebody else’s mess. They buy the castoffs, the horses labeled unwanted, and sell them for a profit. Kind of like a turkey vulture, not too pretty to look at, but necessary to the environment.

The green-broke horses went for $150 and less. The loose horses sold for between $50 to $100.

There were two foals, so scraggly and stunted they looked to only be three to four months old, they sold for $25.

The one which broke my heart was the ’85 AQHA gelding who went straight to the KB for $150. The description the auctioneer read to the audience said he was well broke and had been with the same family for years. Now he was here.

I saw a mare bred by the Quarter Horse ranch I used to ride for. I didn't know the mare, but I recognized the look and when her bloodlines were read it turned out I was right. She was very sharp and broke. She lucked out and was picked up by a private buyer for $495.00

I can’t help but think the way to crawl out of this current mess is for each current or potential horse owner to take responsibility for each horse they own.

Understand these are animals who can easily live into their 30’s. Decide how you are going to do with your horse as they age or if they are injured and made unrideable.

I don't think for a minute horse owners shouldn't have the option to sell their horse. I’m not even saying there isn’t a time when a horse might have to go to a sale. Let’s just start being honest with ourselves about what’s going to happen to our horse once he’s there.

The mare who raised my daughter and worked as a school horse for me for the 20 plus years I owned her came from an auction. She turned up lame off-and-on, which gave me the opportunity to get my hands on her. Annie was never 100% sound, but she was good enough and ended up being a wonderful horse.

With a little research I found she was a T-cross bred mare, had been shown in halter at the stock show as a yearling and was the horse of a top Colorado reining trainer when he was a teen.

When she was too old and sore to be a lesson horse she enjoyed a few years of well cared for retirement. When it was time I had her put down.

For me, this was the right way to respect a horse who had been my friend for so many years. Our relationship was one of the longest and probably the most solid of my life.

I am not my fellow horseman’s judge. I can’t wade through the right and wrong of each person’s decision when it comes to their animals. I do strongly believe each animal we own deserves to be treated with kindness and respect.

I can’t believe selling a horse destined for a long, painful, terrifying journey on a slaughter truck and then killed in a unregulated slaughterhouse is right.

I won’t even denounce taking a horse to a sale. I don’t know what other peoples circumstances are. Things happen.

But take responsibility. Admit there is a high chance your horse will be on the KB truck. Do what you can to prevent it.

Finding a new home for a horse you no longer want can be tough. But it can be done. Be realistic about the current value of your horse. Be willing to take a reduced price to place him appropriately.

The horses at the sale who sold to the private owners had a few consistencies.

They were well trained and mannerly. They were ridden in the arena. They were clean, well-fed and good looking. They were gentle. What saved the 24-year-old paint was his wonderful, kind manner. His wise eyes showed he could babysit the grandkids anytime.

They were broke, broke, broke. If there were papers, they came with the sale. There was a written history by the owners about the horse. With only a few exceptions they were under 15-years-old.

Where I stand now is I will protect the horses I have as best I can. I absolutely will not breed any of my horses. I will geld any stud colts which come my way. If my horse is permanently injured or too old to keep I will put her down.

The cost of euthanizing your horse is not prohibitive, especially when you can get assistance from the Front Range Equine Rescue (http://www.frontrangeequinerescue.org/ ) "End of the Trail" program. They’ll pay up to 50% of your expenses. They also help with gelding costs too, so there are no excuses for unplanned, unwanted babies hitting the ground. Check out "Stop the Backyard Breeder" on their website.

I’m going to make sure my horses are healthy, broke, and understand their life as a service animal. Each one will be a pleasure to be around and a light and responsive ride. If I don’t know how to make these things happen I’m going to get some help.

Having a plan and accepting responsibility for the lives of the horses we value is the only way I can see of ending this mess.


Whywudyabreedit said...

Amen, sorry you had to experience that. I have yet to go to a sale myself, and I don't expect it would be an easy time. Thanks for the dose of reality.

Reddunappy said...

((stands up)) ((claps))
poignant and truthful. I wish that everyone could read this!

gtyyup said...

Yes, every horse owner, or potential horse owner should read this. The hammer hit the nail numerous times...well done Mugs.

horsegenes said...

Absolutely - Positively right on.

nagonmom said...

From reading Fugly, I knew how bad it is. Also know I could not go to one of those sales. My heart would try to overrule my head, and the results would not be good either way. Thanks for speaking out. I hope you don't get alot of flack for what you wrote, very respectfully I might add.(Unlike Fugly;)

Shoofly said...

Good post. Hope every horseman who reads this takes it to heart.

Shanster said...

Hard to read... honest but hard. Wish I could have more.

AareneX said...

Here, here. I with you all the way.

Anonymous said...

Get soapboxy on this, too many people have to read it. Thank goodness I have an ounce (but no more...) of control and a husband who has many more ounces. I'd have rescued every one of those horses and then they, my current horses, and me would all end up in the soup kitchen line. Off to find the Kleenex box...

Bif said...

As someone with a young but unusable horse, waiting until he is ready to euth before I can own another... as much as I see horses needing good homes, I know what I can financially handle. At times I resent the money pouring out with nothing to ride in return, but I can take pleasure in knowing he is well cared for, loved and comfortable and healthy. If my finances change, I would euth rather than let him go elsewhere.

Not many people want a pasture puff that requires expensive supplements to stay comfortably pasture sound. I do wish more people would accept the right thing, and make the sacrifices to keep them, or find a quality home, or euth. Euth sure beats a truck to Mexico.

cdncowgirl said...

"I can’t help but think the way to crawl out of this current mess is for each current or potential horse owner to take responsibility for each horse they own."

I don't know if that is enough to change the situation... but hopefully it's something people remember when the tides do turn. Good times or bad people need to be responsible for their critters.

My 30 y/o mare is living out her retirement as a pasture ornament and will continue to do so until she tells me that she wants to leave this earth, at which time she will be humanely put down.

KittensRUs said...

Fantastic article. I still regularly go to auctions. I don't always stay that long, but I want to see it. Keeps me fired up and angry, which I need to be to write what I do...

I always wonder how many horses would not be in that kill pen if the owner had the cojones to post to their Facebook wall and honestly say, hey, our family's had a tough year, we literally cannot afford to feed this horse anymore, can any of you adopt him? But most people will not humble themselves in that way. They do not want their friends to know they are having financial difficulties. So they quietly take the old horse to the sale...to save face.

Jen said...

So very, very true. We go to the auction periodically for tack, but I usually leave before they start selling horses (it hurts my feelings to watch).
It always made me crazy to see those *cough* Ranchers pull up and unload a semi stuffed full of unhandled weanlings into a pen.
Idiots abound *sigh*.

strivingforsavvy said...

Right on!!

Half Dozen Farm said...

Can I repost this and spread it around? With credit given to you and a link to your blog, of course.

Heidi the Hick said...

I pretty much agree with you 100%.

Ten years ago I took a young gelding to an auction. He was not solid broke but he was gentle pretty and healthy. And clean. He sold for 900 which I thought was fair, but the horse market wasn't as bad back then. I talked to his new owner a week after to hear how he was doing. She might have lied about his good new life but I assume he was okay. I mean, I did what I could for him when he wasn't needed anymore. I tried, at least.

Our appy mare broke a bone as a yearling, leaving us with a tough decision! Well she is 10 now, sound and much loved. But. She will never ever be sold. That was out 3 generation agreement. If she is ever in pain we'd put her down instead of selling her. Some people think that's cruel and selfish but I want to always know she has a good life. I'll defend that decision.

Anyways. All 3 I have now are keepers. And I don't think I want any more.

Janet thanks for writing this article. You worded it so well.

weegeegoil said...

Ditto here, I would love to re-post this piece, credited of course to you Mugwump. We need this out there where more horse people can see it...

Shoofly said...

I have two who are in their teens, planning to keep them forever. I've set aside a few hundred per head for euthanasia as the last money I will spend on them.

What are your views on euthanizing a good usable horse to keep him falling into hands of the KB? I've known that to be done. I would say it is the lesser of two evils, but with enough effort and searching there are possibly other --better-- choices for getting out from under the cost of keeping a horse.

Another thing sellers are doing these days, because of the KB risk, is to put a lot of stipulations on the sale of a horse. I understand 'why', but I think that diminishes a horse's chance of finding a good new home if there are lots of strings attached. Others' thoughts?

CurtsBooks said...

Well said. Sadly, the ones who need to read it and pay attention, will not be doing so.

mugwump said...

You guys can spread this around anywhere you want to.

As far as euthing a healthy horse? I just don't know.

I have enough connections to give them away or pasture them for free if I was up against the ropes.
I can sell a horse too, I just need to know where they're going.

Would I euth one if they were going on the truck? Yes.

As far as too many strings attached, well that can drive people off. But reasonable restrictions? You bet,especially in a rescue situation.

For my own personal horses, I don't give away or sell unless I know exactly where they're headed.

Can I guarantee their life will stay perfect? No more than I can make those guarantees for my family or myself. But I do the best I can.

Bif said...


I went with the "name and address, phone number, email address on the back of the registration with a promise to provide a home for the horse if any owner no longer wanted him" method for a horse I sold a few years ago.

He's distinctive enough and branded, so even if his papers get lost, the registry would be able to track me, too, if someone looked in to him that way. There's only so much you can do, sadly.

Analise said...

Hey mugs, I posted about this over here: http://fhotd64476.yuku.com/topic/59475/master/1/

flyin'horse said...

Thanks as always for your voice of sanity and reason. I wish all horse owners would read this.

Anonymous said...

So well said. Thank you. I too agree that sending a horse to the terror of slaughter is not the answer. They deserve better. Gelding horses and responsible breeding, including in the racing industry needs to be done. A heartbreaking situation for sure. Thank you for your thoughtful words.

Anonymous said...

I do blame the owners. Owning horses is a huge commitment and responsibility, and if you can't assure a decent home or euthanasia when you can no longer keep them, you should never own one in the first place. The difference, financially, between those prices and putting the horse down would be less than $500. A horse that has done its best for us deserves at least that.

Sarah said...

I've been reading through all your old stuff ( ALL of it ) and I've loved it, and I love your writing.

This would be great to re post over at fugly I think.....just a suggestion??

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