The Season of Goodwill

Every year I have this little argument with myself about Christmas cards. Do I send them; are they bad for the environment; are they too expensive.

And each year I come back with the following decision.

Yes, printing of Christmas cards can be seen as detrimental to the environment. But to me, they are an important part in the run up to Christmas. I love getting cards through the post(it makes a change from bills!), and I feel a room isn`t properly decorated without some cards propped up. A lot of families I know do newsletters to accompany their Christmas cards, which is a way of keeping long distance friends and family up to date with growing children. Although it can become a bit of a bragging session. Regular updates on social media is taking over from newsletters now, though.

Writing Christmas cards to family and friends is quite personal, I think. You`ve made the effort to put pen to paper, and written an individual message to them. It proves that you are thinking of them, and helps maintain that link of friendship, which despite social media is very easy to overlook.

Social media is a great way to send a mass message; be it a positive announcement, such as a baby, or a method of telling people bad news which makes it slightly less painless than retelling everyone individually and dealing with their emotion as well as your own raw pain. But it lacks that personal touch. Which I think is why I like written cards.

Many people aren`t on social media, such as grandparents or children. Or perhaps only one half of a couple is online, in which case a card is more important to show that you are thinking of them.

So I think cards definitely have a place at Christmas. Then I return to the whole environmental and economy arguments. In terms of the environment, perhaps it is wiser to verbally wish those people you see on a daily basis, colleagues, livery owners, “Merry Christmas” in the week leading up to the Big Day, and save sending cards to those who you won`t see over the festive period, such as family. As a kid, there was a lot of peer pressure to write cards to everybody in your class, but thankfully I think this trend is dying out. There`s a balance to be found. You can help the environment by not sending cards to everyone in your life, but can still spread Christmas cheer and well-wishes to those who you don`t see.

Then it`s onto the economy of cards. For a lot of charities, the sale of Christmas cards is an important form of revenue, so buying charity cards, direct from the charity if possible, is a good thing. You are giving something back, and helping those less fortunate. On this point, did you know that if you log in to instead of a donation is made on your behalf to your chosen charity with everything you buy? Even buying presents for friends (or yourself) can help others! Royal mail is always hiking up stamp prices, but again if you`re organised you can send cards second class, thus saving a significant amount. Also, if you care about someone enough to pen them a card, are you really going to quibble over the cost of a stamp?

I`ve satisfied myself, in that I think Christmas cards should be sent to family and friends far away, to show that you are thinking of them, and value having them in your life. But we should all be sensible about the number we send, and where we source them from.

Keeping with the theme of goodwill and charity, I was wondering about what to do from a business perspective. I often get cards and gifts, which are thank yous as much as anything, and I sometimes feel that I should be the one thanking my clients as much as anything. But I don`t want to send cards as I`ll see them frequently throughout December. Which led me to decide to play the Christmas spirit forward, and to make a charitable donation to an equine charity on behalf of all the clients of Starks Equitation.

Last year I donated to the RDA, but this year I decided to donate to the Society of the Welfare of Horses and Ponies, SWHP, which is a charity local to my home town. Their founding member and Chairwoman recently passed away and I know there was talk about how the society would continue. This made me feel that my donation would be put to good use securing the charity`s future and helping the equines in their care and in need. Their website is here.

Christmas is a time for spending time with family and friends, and of helping those in need, and even the laziest of us can make a difference to those less fortunate by buying charity cards and making a donation to a charity from the comfort of our sofas. And if we really want to, we can volunteer at soup kitchens or buy some extra tins in our Christmas shop for the food banks. I`ll start with taking a couple of boxes to the charity shop this week.

A Welfare Rant

I saw one of those picture-saying things on Facebook earlier today, you know what I mean, but obviously the powers that be won`t let me find that particular piece of humour again, so let me tell you what it said.

“If you can`t afford vet bills you can`t afford a pet”.

I thought it was a wise saying, as so much of the time people buy pets or animals without considering the steep vet bills should the unthinkable happen. I was gobsmacked last week when I went to feed a friends cat whilst they were on holiday. They`d had to take him to the vet the day before to have the hole in his head checked out and to be given a jab of antibiotics. Anyway, they`d left the bill so I could contact the vet should I have a problem. As I pushed the bill aside, hopeful that I wouldn`t need it, I spotted the total … over £200! For a little cut to be checked, cleaned, and then antibiotics administered! It really drove home to me how vet bills can rocket.

And horses aren`t any cheaper!

So what`s brought on this sudden musing?

Well, it`s been drifting around my head for a while now, but a tale from my Mum made me think about speaking up.

We all know that equine charities are full. They`re not seeing any reduction in cases during summer months anymore, and the number of welfare cases just keeps rising and the market is saturated with cheap, half decent horses. So why is this?

  1. People are breeding indiscriminately. Don`t even get me started on this one. I feel that people have been breeding average horses with average horses, or worse – faulty horses who have no other job except to bring another faulty horse into the world – and I believe this is linked to the recent fad of “coloured cobs”. Unfortunately many purebreds, natives as well, are being bred with horses of a different breed, and I feel this lowers the standards of our native breeds. We are diluting the correct, true to type conformation, which means that the quality is decreasing and I think this will lead to them becoming unpopular because people associate a certain breed with the poor example they see in the field next door. Let`s move swiftly on before my head explodes …
  2. People are buying a horse, and then buying another, and then buying an excess of tack/accessories/fashion items which are put in front of our noses by the likes of magazines and celebrities. This is fine, if you can afford it. But how many of these people are putting the same amount away in order to pay for vet bills, or farrier bills? Or even dental or back checks? When you buy a horse you almost need to enter into a savings account to ensure that your horse can be cared for should you have a change in circumstance, loss of income, etc. Otis has his own savings account which I`ve built up over the last five years which means that I am confident that I can continue to feed/shoe/vet him if I was to lose my job. After all, I can cut back on my disposable income, but it is difficult for him to cut back on his food!
  3. The racing industry has found a new sucker. When race horses break down, become too old, or are excess to requirement, they used to send them off for slaughter. Not a nice thought, no. So a few years ago some bright spark realised that they could sell these “ex-racers” to the general public for a similar fee to that of the slaughter house – winner! I understand this, don`t get me wrong, if the horse is genuinely not suitable for racing then it is unnecessary to kill them when they could have a perfectly active, healthy life as a leisure horse. But not all horses who come out of the industry are like this. This means that the gullible public buys a horse thinking it`s cheap, gets lumbered with huge vet bills when the tendon goes again, or the horse develops kissing spines due to no topline, or the public get injured because they aren`t good enough riders to ride something that is used to going at speed. An injury or fright to the owner means that the horse is back on the market, and an injury to the horse means financial ruin for the owner. It`s a catch-22 situation. Don`t forget too, that whilst these ex-racers have flooded the market, there are also some very sensible, all round, well educated riding horses looking for homes who are sounder, physically and mentally, and better educated. However, because they are in the region of £2000-3000 they are overlooked by the public who want something for nothing.

I`d better stop here before I put both feet in it.

So with the market saturated and equine charities full, surely we must go back to basics to improve the welfare of future equines. The BHS is having a push for castration of horses, but should we look at grading purebred horses? I know sports horses are graded, as are PRE horses, but if we graded native horses, and non-sporting horses we would encourage a better quality of horse to be bred. Then of course you could be very revolutionary and enforce castration to all males who fail to make the cut. Or perhaps the equine charities themselves need to be really quite brutal when cases come to them. We`ve all seen the case of Gizmo, the little colt who arrived near death and is making a miraculous recovery. He has been great for promoting horse welfare and the work of charities, but at what cost? I`ve heard of charities having to put healthy, or near healthy horses down because of oversubscription at their yards. Surely, a relatively healthy horse who has been abandoned can be put right, and rehomed into a suitable home much more easily than the sickly horse who needs a year of veterinary care to become stable and then due to the ongoing health problems can never have a full working life.

Yes, I`m sorry for being the devil`s advocate, but I`m just trying to make you all think. Can we begin to make progress and reduce the number of abandoned horses by improving our own standards, both of what we breed, and the quality of life we expect to give a horse after their visit to a charity. Or perhaps we should look at doing what my Mum`s friend has done.

At my Mum`s yard a lady has basically abandoned her horses, giving them very little food all summer and not tending to their feet or anything. Hints have been made to her, but she remaining negligent until a fortnight ago a friend of my Mum`s had had enough. She marched up the field, well she didn`t have to go far as the horse barely left the gate in the hope someone would feed him, caught this horse and started feeding him hay from her own hay bales, and food from her own feed bins. When the horse`s owner arrived and felt her nose was put out of place, Mum`s friend immediately offered to buy the horse. Which she has done, and now she is enjoying watching him thrive as she feeds, grooms, and loves him. Now, we don`t know what his future is, but I`m sure she`ll make the correct decision when the time comes (back him, sell him, keep him, etc) but in the meantime this lady is helping the RSPCA and other charities by not letting this horse go into the system. Yes, charities do good work, but they are also overburdened, so a way to help them and subsequently help improve the lives of equines, is for the public to take a step and become responsible for a needy horse. I`m sure there are laws and regulations to follow, but I`m fairly convinced if you went up to a person who was neglecting their horse and offered them £100 they`d bite your hand off and then you can nurture them with guidance from charity experts, instead of lumping the charities with another case and another huge vet bill.

I`m sorry if I`ve offended anyone, but I`ve been thinking a lot about the overpopulation of horses in the UK and how many are simply unwanted. I`m sure we can all work together in different ways to help charities and promote thoughtful breeding, as well as improving the quality of working horses available for the public – any thoughts, I`d be interested in a calm, friendly debate!