Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Most Difficult Decisions

I have always had a bleeding heart for animals and children. Seeing abuse or mistreatment of either gets my hackles up immediately. So it was, of course, with consternation that I read a recent conversation on regarding a reader who had opted to turn the family horse (and dog) loose rather than continue to pay its bills or deliver it to an adoption facility. Many readers wrote in responding that it was downright dangerous to do such a thing, both for the animal's welfare (as it would surely starve) and for human welfare in the vicinity, because the occupants of a car colliding with a loose, scared horse would likely suffer significant injuries. Many others, however, argued very reasonably that if it came down to a choice between feeding the horse and feeding the children, it would not be so difficult to make such a decision.

This got me to thinking about our current economic crisis and how it is affecting those who own, train, breed and sell horses. Numerous articles have been written about the difficulties of supporting an equine passion during a bear market, but I think it's nearly impossible to investigate the myriad angles from which this situation is squeezing the horse owner (both middle income and wealthy). There is already horse overpopulation and economic fallout wrought on America's equine economy by the current ban on equine slaughter. The price of hay, fuel, feed and bedding have all risen meteorically in the last year, making boarding and caring for a horse suddenly out of the economic reach of many American families. Horse purchases are down across industries for horses that lack top conformation and pedigrees, as evidenced by less than stunning figures brought recently at the Kentucky Fasig-Tipton sale and the Ocala Breeder's Sale (thoroughbreds). This confluence of elements is creating a horse industry that is strapped for cash but flush with horses. When top level professionals who make lucrative livings with equines are opting to show less, breed less, and buy less, how is the middle-income horse owner expected to curb the effects of the dampening?

As evidenced by the discussion above, the answer can be quite difficult. I am incredibly lucky to have my retired QH gelding tucked safely away on a friend's farm, but the farm's owner has been gracious enough to keep him basically at cost for his board. Many who own horses aren't afforded the same luxury, and are now being faced with difficult decisions. It is a good time to keep in mind that there are options for your horse if he or she has become too much of a financial burden. Turning a horse out onto the back nine to fend for itself is likely only a death sentence. At least inquire with adoption, rescue and rehab facilities as to whether your horse is a possible candidate for their programs.

And as a final and related note, I recently watched (part of) a documentary on HBO called "Running for Their Lives" about the pipeline that exists in this country to funnel to area auction houses racehorses that get injured or never find success . Here they are kept, traumatized and frightened in small pens with little food or water, and either die or are eventually sold to Mexican slaughter plants. I could only watch about 3 minutes of the video before I began crying and demanded it be turned off. Luckily it appears I am not the only one appalled, and that the racing industry is stepping up to investigate.

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