Horses Are Like Chocolates…

“Horses are like chocolates, you can never have just one” is a saying that periodically does the rounds on social media. But it’s so true.

Most people who own a horse at some point own a second, whether it’s a project, the next size up, a youngster, the elderly retired horse. But can we go a little bit crazy and end up hoarding horses?

Of course, this is fine if you want to, but I always remember an excellent piece of advice given to me when training for my stage four exam. My instructor told us that when you have your own yard it is important to have your private horse (for me, Otis) and if you want a project then you should limit yourself to just one, and aim to have it for only six weeks. This was followed by a lot of maths, highlighting how the costs of caring for a project pony rapidly outweigh any profit.

The biggest thing I took away from that lecture was that if you had an empty stable and filled it with a livery, you immediately start getting an income. However, if that stable is filled by a project pony and you are approached by a potential livery then you are missing out on an income. After all, the project pony is not bringing in weekly revenue. Even if a stable stands empty for a month it is not actually costing you anything, unlike a project horse.

So perhaps we horse owners and yard owners should just take a moment to think about whether we really need that extra horse. 

Have you ever thought about how much a “spare” horse costs?

For the owner, you have to consider monthly livery costs, farrier, vet, insurance, and feed for starters. That’s not even taking into account dentistry or rugs and the myriad of other costs involved.

A yard owner may not have the incurring livery costs, but I think so many yards struggle financially because their extra horses, which are so easily accumulated because there is no large monthly livery fee, take up field and stable space thus reducing the number of liveries that can be taken. Indirectly they put pressure on the land, which means that forage needs subsidising earlier in autumn until later in spring, generating an extra cost which is often swallowed up and goes unnoticed by the rest of the yard, which has also increased it’s forage requirements.

Although we love our horses, and all equines really, I think it’s so important to consider the direct and indirect costs, pressures on time and relationships (due to less free time at home or fewer days away from the yard) before allowing ourselves to accumulate numerous horses.

I think if the equestrian industry thought more about these incurring costs there would be less indiscriminate breeding and fewer unwanted animals and welfare cases. I’ve put a lot of thought into things, especially after seeing so many articles by the BHS on welfare, and I think if I was ever in a position to need a companion for Otis I would seriously consider a rescue case. I’d be happy with a youngster to socialise and play with; a pony who couldn’t be ridden; or even one with a few quirks which I’d aim to iron out so they could have a more useful life. I feel so sad that there is still, despite years of raising awareness and the horse meat scandal, more and more foals born each year who are of mediocre quality or temperament who will end up discarded in favour of imported horses, or those with more talent, looks, or breed lines. If we were short of equines then I’m sure these foals would have perfectly content and fulfilled lives, but are currently at risk of being neglected. Unfortunately, as a saturated equine country we need to think really carefully about whether breeding from our much loved mare is necessary, or could you go out and buy a suitable horse  – who’s sales fee is probably less than the stud fee and vets costs needed to bring a foal into the world, let alone care for it through foalhood.

Just a thought anyway.

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!