Responsible Horse Ownership

Responsible Horse Ownership – October 2016
By Trish Dingle

 

One of the challenges of working for an equine rescue/rehabilitation facility is finding suitable homes for the horses in our care. There are so many unwanted horses in the world, and so many quality horses available, that there just doesn’t seem to be enough homes for each of them. And the more time a horse stays in one of these facilities, the less space the rescue has to help other horses in need. As a professional trainer for the past twenty years, I’ve spent a lot of time matching my clients with the right horse, and I’ll admit that “rescues” weren’t usually the first place I turned to when looking. But now that I’m on the other side of the equation I’ve realized that they are the first place I will turn to when looking for a student or myself. Yet here at Race2Ring we still struggle with getting people to look at our horses, and I know many other programs have similar problems. I put the question out to a few Facebook groups: “Have you ever, or would you ever consider, adopting a horse from a rescue?” The responses were quite varied and informative, and while many people do have legitimate reasons for foregoing the “rescue route”, there is also a severe lack of understanding when it comes to “rescue” horses. So for this month’s blog I’m going to take a look at some reasons why people won’t look at a rescue horse, and hopefully dispel some myths and inaccuracies.

1. “I’ve had friends get burned by rescues before”. Not all “rescues” are created equal, and some bad eggs have given the good ones a bad name.  Unfortunately, just like there are many unscrupulous trainers and sellers out there, the same can be said for a lot of rescues. So before you go and adopt a horse from one, be sure to check it out first. Some questions to ask: does the rescue provide proof of its 501c-3 non-profit status? Is it GFAS (Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries) verified?  Does it have positive feedback on social media? Is its website professional, and does it have testimonials from happy adopters? Do you know other people who’ve adopted from them? Is their adoption process professional and in depth? When you go to visit are the animals happy and in good health (the ones being adopted, that is) and do their employees/volunteers behave in a professional manner? This is one area where you can usually trust your gut – if something about the process doesn’t feel right, or there are any red-flags to the above questions, its best to move on to a different organization.

2. “I don’t want someone else’s problem”. One of the main concerns people have about adopting a rescue is they don’t want a “damaged” or “broken” horse.  And while this is a valid concern, as a horse owner for the past 25 years I can honestly say the only horses I’ve had who didn’t come with some sort of physical or emotional baggage were the ones I’ve bred and trained myself! Even when purchasing a horse chances are there is some “problem” in the horse’s history, be it physical or mental.  Nearly every competitive horse I’ve purchased or found for clients at some point needs some sort of retraining and/or physical maintenance – body work, joint care, special shoeing. Another thing to keep in mind is that not all “rescues” are focused on helping starving abused animals. There are a number of facilities that actually take in healthy sound horses, many who need a change in career, or who’s owners have had an extreme life event and just can’t care for them anymore. Many of these horses are “marketable”, its just their owners want to ensure they go to a very good home and/or they can’t put the time and money into selling them. For this reason for the rest of this article I’ll be using the term “rehoming facility” as opposed to “rescue”, as the latter often has a negative connotation associated with it.

darcy w500 h500

"Darcy" - Regal Captive, or "Darcy", is a registered AQHA with pleasure miles who was rehomed through Race2Ring with Amanda C. Darcy had no health or soundness issues
but had previously been in a bad home, so his owners sought help from a rehoming organization with finding him the perfect match for him, rather than go the sales route.

 

3. “I don’t want to ‘lease’ a horse, I want to own it”. Another concern people have is the “lifetime lease” clause in many facilities’ contracts. I’ll let you in on a little rehoming secret – we don’t’ want these horses back! For every horse that gets returned to a facility, that’s at least one more horse in need that gets turned away. Many facilities do officially sign over full ownership on a horse (often after a certain period of time), and you can do with your horse what you’d like. Some do have “no sale” clauses on their contracts, and many do a “lifetime lease”. But again these organizations aren’t looking to take your horse away from you – the point of these types of contracts is to ensure that the adopted horse is well cared for and doesn’t end up back “in the system” or worse, at auction and possible slaughter. Also the majority of organizations are truly looking for one-owner lifetime homes for their horses, and don’t want to see a horse sold after just a few years. Yes, if you fail to care for your horse properly, the organization will (and should!) repossess the horse. But generally speaking this horse is yours for life, and the main reason for choice in terminology is to ensure that the horse has a safe place to land if and when you can no longer care for him. Yes, this does mean that if you adopt a horse for $500, put five years and thousands of dollars of training and care into a horse, you cannot sell the horse for a profit. But if that is your intention with your horse, then you are better off purchasing an inexpensive training project, and not adopting.

4. “I want a horse I can compete with”.  Many people forgo looking at adoption because they have certain competitive goals for themselves and their horses, and they don’t feel they will find what they need at a “rescue”.  This was my main issue as a public trainer – my clients and I were looking for sound, broke horses (often with registration papers) to compete. It wasn’t until I started working for Race2Ring that I realized there are a number of rehoming organizations that do have sound, broke, registered horses available for adoption. Some of these horses have no training or soundness issues whatsoever; some are older horses that may need some maintenance and/or to drop down a level or two of competition, and some may just need a change in career. I’ve personally helped rehome some very nice and well-trained dressage horses, a handful of registered Arabs and Half-Arabs (with show records and no limitations), and some very nice talented warmbloods (and yes, I’ve had to refrain from adopting a few myself!).  These programs are out there, you just need to do a little bit of exploring, and you’ll be amazed at the number of quality horses there are available for adoption, at a fraction of the cost of purchasing a horse! And the plus side: these reputable rehoming organizations do their homework, and will provide you with as complete a history of the horse as possible, which is a lot more than I can say for most sellers out there.

pickles kathryn w500 h500

 

Pickles-Kathryn: Pickle Me Pink is an unregistered paint pony with eventing experience who's original owner had rescued her as a yearling from an auction. When she outgrew Pickles she sought out Race2Ring rather than sell the mare, as she felt the rescue would be better able to find her a perfect home, which we did with junior rider Kathryn J.

 

5. “I’d rather rescue one myself”. That is a very noble thought, and for experienced horse owners it can be a great way to acquire a “diamond in the rough”. However rescuing on your own is not advisable for the average horse owner. If you followed this blog through the spring you saw how in depth and expensive rescuing a horse actually is. Rehabilitating a starved and/or abused horse is not something that can be done overnight, and frankly the average horse owner just doesn’t have the experience to do it correctly.  In general you will spend more money on veterinary care and feed than you will if you purchased a well-trained healthy horse, not to mention additional training costs if you can’t do the work on your own. Chances are it will be months, possibly years, before the horse is rideable, if at all. And I’m sorry, but nothing angers me more than to see an individual go out and “rescue” a horse, and then immediately set up a “Go Fund Me” account asking for help paying for it! This takes money and support away from the legitimate rescues who are experienced in equine rehabilitation, and to me its akin to me purchasing a horse who may need retraining or have been fed incorrectly and asking the public to help me pay for my personal horse. In addition, all one needs to do is peruse Facebook to see numerous ads for horses that have been “rescued” and are now up for “adoption” just a month or two later, and all the individual wants is a few hundred dollars to “recoup the money I put into him”. So please, if you are an experienced horse owner – or at least have an experienced team of professionals (vet, farrier, trainer) to advise you – please leave the rescuing to the programs that are experienced and capable of doing so. Instead why not adopt an already rehabilitated (or mostly rehabilitated horse) from a program who has done all the homework on the horse – this then opens up a spot for the facility to take in another rescue, so in affect you are rescuing two horses by adopting!

6. “I want the option of breeding my mare someday”.  As a stallion owner myself, I can relate to this issue (and have actually turned down a few really nice mares for this reason). This of course is an individual decision, but something you should really give some thought to before turning down adoption for this primary reason. First, keep in mind that a “maiden mare” (never had a foal) becomes less likely to conceive the older it gets. While there are incidences of teenage maidens getting in and producing a healthy foal, the majority of experienced vets and breeders will tell you its safest to breed a mare for the first time before the age of ten. And chances are any mare you purchase/adopt you are going to want to ride for a few years before breeding, so unless you are looking at a younger mare, the “no-breeding clause” that rehoming programs have is a moot point. The other option to weigh is how badly would you really want to breed: if you board your horse, this means finding a suitable facility for foaling out as well as pre and post-foaling care (caring for a pregnant and nursing mare is not something the average boarding facility is capable of doing). Most facilities will charge more for a pregnant/nursing mare, as more specialized care is required as well as an increase in feed and hay. Not to mention come weaning time you’ll be paying for two horses. If you keep your horses at home, are you really knowledgeable enough to care for a mare and foal at home? Is your facility “baby proof”? Do you have a knowledgeable support team to advise you on mare/foal care if you don’t have the experience? And what will you do with the foal – keeping in mind that it will be a good 3-4 years before you can ride it yourself. After thinking strongly about these questions you may find that the breeding option isn’t as important as you may have thought, making adoption a viable alternative to purchasing.   

7. “There is too much red tape involved with adoption”. One final issue that keeps people from considering adoption is the actual application process. Depending on the organization this process can be quite intense, and it’s understandable why it can be a turnoff. What you have to remember is that rehoming organizations have been entrusted with ensuring the continued care and well being of their charges, so it is up to them to be responsible in regards to where they place each horse. In addition, as I stated above once a horse leaves the program they really don’t want the horse back – both for the sake of the program as well as trying to limit horses from being bounced from home to home. And of course the last thing anyone wants is to place a horse in a home where it will be neglected or abused. So it behooves the group to be sure they are extensive in their research of the prospective home. Just like there are unscrupulous sellers and rescues, there are unscrupulous buyers who are looking for cheap horses to flip, and yes some of these people do prey on rescues, hoping they are too busy with new horses to follow what happens to those they adopt out. Additionally, there are many “tire kickers” out there on the internet, and as rehoming programs tend to be short staffed as it is, they really don’t need to be wasting time on people who really aren’t interested in adopting. So yes, the process may be a little more intense than purchasing a horse, but it is well worth it.

If you’ve ever turned down the option of adoption due to any of the above reasons, I hope that you now have a better understanding of the Rescue/Rehoming/Adoption world, and will consider giving a home to one of the many horses in need in one of these facilities!


By Trisha Dingle
Race2Ring

It's September, and that means for us southerners its hurricane season! Now's the time of year that you'll start seeing articles, blogs, and Facebook posts all concerning how to prepare for a weather emergency. And this got me to thinking: how many people truly are prepared for an equine emergency on an everyday basis? Having been a barn manager of up to fifty horses at a time for over the past 20 years I've seen my fair share of mishaps, and I've learned valuable lessons along the way. Emotions run high when accidents happen, so it's always best to be prepared ahead of time to ensure the best possible outcome for your horse. There are many things that this involves, from having a well-stocked first aid kit (located where everyone can access it) to having a readily available list of veterinary phone numbers. However what I wish to share with you in this blog are some easy to implement practices that are often overlooked, as well as some secrets I've picked up along the way. 

My first recommendation for every horse owner is to think about each horse on your farm and decide just how far you are willing to proceed if a medical emergency occurs. As an example, my personal “cut off” age for colic surgery is age 18 on up – at that point I feel for my own horses that I am not willing to put them through the anesthesia and difficult recovery. I also have a young stallion who is a chronic colicker that I will not put through surgery. As for injuries again the older retirees I will treat for anything that they can comfortably be rehabbed from, but anything that is going to require expensive surgery or an extremely long stall rest rehabilitation I will not put them through. On the other hand I’ll go above and beyond for my two younger geldings, even if it means they will just become “pasture pets”. These are extremely hard decisions to make and are definitely not set in stone, but they are decisions that should be thought of before an injury or illness occurs, when you are able to think more clearly. If you are a barn owner, manager, or trainer, you should discuss this question with each of your clients and keep notes, so that if the unexpected happens you know what measures your client is willing to take – financially, physically, and emotionally. Once you have this plan in place, think about the following:

1. Transportation

It is my opinion that every farm owner should have their own truck and horse trailer suitable for transporting horses in an emergency. This is especially true if you are running a boarding operation, as not all horse owners will have their own transportation. This rig doesn't necessarily have to be new and state of the art - I personally drive a twenty-five year old F-250 diesel - but it should always be kept in working order (tire pressure kept up and tires checked regularly, fluids checked, battery checked and replaced accordingly, trailer cleaned after every use, floors checked, wasp nests removed, etc). This is especially important if you don't use your trailer often or drive your truck regularly - there's nothing worse then scrambling to get a severely ill horse to a vet and realize you have a dry rotted tire or your truck battery is dead.

Of course, I realize that rigs are expensive and not every stable is financially in a position to keep a truck and trailer, especially if you or your clients don't often travel off property. In this case it is important to have a list of friends and local trainers/farms who are willing to lend you their rig or be available in an emergency to haul horses for you. Keep in mind that very few people are comfortable lending out their vehicles, but are often more than happy to assist in hauling the horse for you. Don't just assume that your neighbor will do this though - speak with your contacts ahead of time so if the time comes you can comfortably call on them, and know what to expect in the way of charges. Keep a current list of possible rigs to use with your other emergency numbers. As an aside: this is a good idea even if you have your own truck and trailer. It would figure that the day my stallion needed to be rushed to VA Tech for an emergency colic my truck was in the shop with failed brakes and I was left calling everyone I knew at 7pm to find a truck.

2. Keep a binder of emergency information in your truck.

Unfortunately emergencies don't just happen at home - accidents can happen on the road when hauling horses or when you are away at shows, clinics, or trail rides. I keep a binder in the side picket of my door with all necessary emergency information, including:

- a current copy of each horse's Coggins test (this includes every equine on the farm, including the retirees - you just never know when you may find yourself hauling one in an emergency)

- a current copy of my health insurance card (keep copies of anyone on your farm who may be hauling or traveling with horses on a regular basis)

- a list of emergency contact numbers for me and the farm (in case I'm incapacitated in an accident). This list includes my In Case of Emergency (ICE) person - my mom, as well as the executive director of our farm (our ICE person for the horses) along with one or two others. You don't necessarily need to list every boarder on your farm, just a general person other than you (the barn manager, another trainer, etc) who can contact the correct horse owner if need be. This list is actually taped to the front of my Coggins binder

- directions to the nearest/all vet hospitals. Even if you have GPS, having a typed copy of directions handy will alleviate any stress from a dead cell phone battery or a GPS unit that decides not to work.

By keeping all this info in a binder it is easy to move from one truck to another if using someone else's rig, and if you have multiple trucks you use to haul I suggest making a binder for each truck. This binder can also be stored in a general location, like an office or tack room, where it can be grabbed before hitting the road (just remember to grab it!).

emergency binder w500 h500

3. Keep a "go bag" in the truck.

This one's for you: toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, if you wear corrective lenses like me pack extra contacts, saline solution, an extra pair of glasses. Something to sleep in and a change of clothes. I even have a small travel pack with shampoo, soap, etc.

This one I leaned when I had to make an emergency trip to the vet hospital in the middle of the night with a client's pregnant mare. Returning home that night was not an option, and I was left with nothing but the rather dirty clothes on my back and no spare contacts. While this isn't a necessity, it does help to have something clean to change into when dealing with the stress of an emergency. I keep a "go bag" in my truck at all times - it helps too if you get stuck in bad weather and need something dry to change into.

4. Keep an "Emergency Authorization Form" on hand for all horses.

This was a vital piece of my boarding contract when I ran a public barn. In addition to the horses vital statistics (name, age, registration info) and owners contact info, I asked for the following:

- anyone authorized to make decisions for the horse if the owner is unavailable, and all contact info

- insurance info (if insured) including company, policy number, contact info, limits

- credit card number, expiration date, billing address (vet hospitals WILL NOT work on a horse without a credit card deposit, and I am often not in the position to front funds for clients - I kept these forms in a secure location, and clients knew if they didn't want to leave cc info then their horse was not traveling anywhere until I could reach someone who could provide payment)

- preferred veterinarian and contact info

- preferred vet hospital and contact info

- answers to some very tough questions: if the horse was insured, up to how much? Colic insurance or major medical only? How much over the costs covered by insurance the owner was willing to go...for uninsured horses, how much money the owner was willing to spend on surgery/treatment, as well as how far they were willing to go with surgery/treatment based on the prognosis of survival, whether the horse would be rideable afterwards, what the vet thought was fair to the horse. In addition I asked preferred form of termination (in this country it's usually euthanasia), whether a necropsy should be performed, preferred method of disposal (cremation, burial).

- signed and dated by the owner

These are all incredibly tough questions, and are not ones you want to be answering in an emotional state. I still have an EAF on file for each of my personal horses, in case I am out of reach during an emergency. I know it's hard to believe in this day and age of not being able to contact an owner but believe me it happens! In the case of the pregnant mare mentioned above, her owner lived across the country and when we were rushing her to surgery he was on a yacht in the middle of the Pacific with no internet or cell service! By having this form on hand I know ahead of time what measures an owner is prepared to take, and I can make informed decisions for the horse until the owner can arrive on site or if he/she is unreachable. As I said these forms I keep in my locked office, although staff members know where to find them if I am away, and they are added to the Coggins binder if we have to transport the horse to a hospital.

EAF w500 h500

5. Consider joining an auto group such as US Rider

This is more for people who travel quite a bit with their horses, although if you own a farm and use a service like AAA anyway US Rider will cover all of your vehicles whether you are hauling horses or not, while AAA usually won’t cover tow vehicles. This service of course will help you with emergencies while traveling - from blown tires to dead batteries to auto accidents. If you do not use a service specifically for farm and horse owners, double check with your current service as to whether it will help you if you are hauling a trailer - many will not touch your truck until you unhitch the trailer. What I like about US Rider is that in the case of an accident they will help secure accommodations and transportation for you AND your horses, as well as veterinary care.

6. Keep a binder for each horse on your farm.

There are a lot of different ways to keep medical information, including online, but I've found this to be my favorite by far. All our horses have a binder that includes a copy of registration papers and pedigree, microchip ID number, and a chart containing annual health records (vaccinations, farrier, de-worming, dental, etc). This is also where I keep my EAFs for each horse. Besides being a great way to keep organized, the binder is easy to grab in case of an emergency. It is awfully helpful for attending vets to be able to look back on the horse's medical history, and helps you answer questions such as date of last tetanus shot, etc.

In 35 years of being around horses I have been through way more medical emergencies than I ever cared to see, and I have learned a lot. I hope that you find the above tips helpful, and if you are interested in the format I use for my Emergency Authorization Forms please feel free to email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or private message me on Facebook!

horse binder w500 h500

 

My intention when starting this blog six months ago was to follow our rescued Arabian mare, Snow Angel, as we nursed her back to good health. Rehabbing an emaciated horse is a challenge, and my hopes were that by detailing what Race2Ring did with Snowy that I could educate the general public on both proper rehabbing of a neglected horse as well as general care for the older equine. In my six-month review I was happy to report that Snowy not only was doing great in her foster home, but also had been adopted by her foster parents. She continues to do well, and her energy, attitude, and overall health are increasing daily!

raja-w500-h500

In an effort to continue on with my goal of educating horse owners, the focus of this blog will be changing over the next few months. My topics will still concern proper equine care as it relates to rehabilitating horses who are both mentally and physically broken, as well as ways to prevent abuse/neglect from happening in the first place (because not all “abuse” is actually intentional).  Subjects will include how to choose your trainer/boarding barn, what to look for in a vet & farrier, how to ensure you are selling/leasing your horse to a good home, etc.

raja-author-w500-h500

To start off, this month I want to review an incredibly good book that I feel should be mandatory reading for anyone involved in the equine industry. When I first started at Race2Ring, I found a copy of “Raja, Story of a Racehorse” by Anne Hambleton among some items we had for sale for fundraising. Working with horses full time, I tend to prefer reading non-equine related fiction in my off time as a way of escaping, so “Raja” sat on my bookshelf for a couple of years. Recently I felt like a change and decided to pick it up, and boy am I glad I did! From the title I assumed it was a biography of a real OTTB, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover it is actually a fictional novel, whose author is extremely well versed in both the racing and retirement side of the Thoroughbred injury.

Told from the horse’s point of view, Raja’s story starts off idyllic; he has good breeders and trainers in his life who take great care of their charges. Raja was on the road to becoming a Triple Crown winner, but an unfortunate accident as a foal left him with a deathly fear of thunder and lightning, resulting in an accident cutting his bid for the roses short.

Unsuitable for racing, Raja is given to an Olympic show jumper who feels he will be her next Grand Prix mount. So far Raja has lived a charmed life, not knowing pain or abuse, a horse who’s always been loved. Then a tragic life changing accident unrelated to horses forces the show jumper to sell all of her horses, and thus begins a roller coaster ride for Raja that left me in tears through some chapters and relieved in others.

Most people feel that all TB’s are abused on the track and retire broken. This is not often the case – having been involved in the TB industry both on the track, at the breeding farm, and in post-racing careers, I know there are just as many good trainers as there are in the show and pleasure worlds. Oftentimes it is one or two homes AFTER a horse comes off the track where he runs into trouble, and Anne is a master at explaining this to the reader from the horse’s point of view. Raja survives the dreaded New Holland auction not just once but twice; he has abusive show horse owners as well as kind but ignorant pleasure owners. He does a stint as a NY city police horse, and spends some time with the son of an old Olympic level master. I won’t give away the ending, but I will say after numerous homes Raja’s story ends well….

Or does it? The book ends with Raja in a happy home, but he is only ten years old. As the author has shown us throughout the book, life tends to through us curveballs, and as still a young horse there is no guarantee that Raja has found his “forever home”.

As someone who has always rehabilitated horses, even before I started working for Race2Ring, this was an extremely hard book for me to read. While it is fictional, and does have a happy ending, this book could have been the story of any of the horses at our rescue, or my own OTTB’s Fate & Bates, or even Snowy’s story. So often horses are born into good homes, and sold to good owners, but throughout their 20-30 year lifespan things change. Young owners grow up and go to college, get married, get divorced. People lose jobs, suffer illness and accidents, lose interest in horses. People die. Our horses are at the mercy of our choices – we make a commitment to them when we breed or purchase them, and so many are just thrown away when their owners are done with them. And for the owners who do care, but suffer an extreme life event, there are so few options for rehoming their loved ones. It is a problem we deal with every day at Race2Ring, and something I hope to address in future blogs. Until them, I HIGHLY recommend picking up a copy of “Raja, Story of a Racehorse” – I promise it will give you a whole new outlook on horse ownership.  http://rajaracehorse.com/