I love my neighbor. When we first moved here a few years back, she asked if I ride horses. Well, I’ve done a little casual riding from time to time, but… let’s just say I have never owned a pair of jodhpurs. Fortunately for me, my neighbor is not part of the hoity-toity, rarified horse crowd. This is good for someone like me, and so we have had many hours of trail riding fun here. It’s also good for the horses. Her horses just don’t know how lucky they are!
Owning horses is expensive. I’m not even talking about the initial money layout to buy the horse, saddle and tack, grooming equipment, and possibly a truck and trailer to haul him around to different events; no, the expenses mount up, day after day after day. Boarding, if you don’t have your own barn; hay, grain, vitamin and mineral supplements; hoof trimming and shoes every few weeks; tooth care annually; shots and vet certificates.
This is all assuming the horse is never ill or injured. Once that happens, all bets are off; you may not be able to ride the horse for months, perhaps never, and vet bills and medications pile up on top of all the usual expenses. Too many owners are too quick to just get rid of a horse that doesn’t meet their needs, whether we’re thinking of injuries, or of multi-thousand-dollar race horses that didn’t win their owners any prize money, or just a little girl’s pony sitting idle after the little girl has grown up and left home.
If such unwanted horses are very, very lucky, they might – just might – be bought by someone who will continue to give them a home. Sadly, a lot of them are not lucky, and will end up at auction. Then their chances are slim indeed. A very likely outcome for an auction horse is the slaughterhouse, and letting an animal’s life end in fear and misery is no way to repay his service to you.
This is why I love my neighbor. Once she owns an animal, it is for life. No matter what. Her three will have their fully-funded retirements.
Her oldest horse is a cross between an Arabian and a Thoroughbred, and in his youth, he just loved to run. He eventually had a serious leg injury that kept him confined to his paddock for over a year, and after that, he was always a bit fragile. He got back to running, to trail riding, and the occasional low-level shows, but the leg was always a concern. He is now 29 and showing his age, but he still loves to get out for short, easy rides and is wonderful with children and inexperienced riders. His “retirement” is secure, and that is what makes him such a lucky horse.
That horse has given Lila quite a few miles over the past few years, so now that he is more sedentary and uncertain of himself, I have taken to walking him up and down our hills here for about 30 minutes every couple of days. He’s already walking more confidently down the hills. I figure I owe him that much.
If you ever think about buying a horse (or even taking on a free horse), be sure to tally up all of the costs in advance. It’s more than you might suspect. Be fully committed to the animal for life. And if the day comes that you really cannot handle the expense, and can’t find a good, solid buyer who will be equally committed to the horse – do the horse a final service: put him down. It may seem heartless, but it is actually a gift to end his life in familiar surroundings rather than sending him off to spend days or weeks in crowded, dirty, brutal and terrifying conditions only to eventually spend his last moments in a slaughterhouse.
As for Lila, no plans here to buy her own horse; but if it ever happens, it will be to rescue one or maybe even two from an auction.
Note from Lila: this story originally ran two summers ago. The oldest horse is now 31, well and truly retired and munching grass out in his pasture with his two pasture-mates. Still no horse for Lila, though my philosophy remains the same: if I ever decide to get a horse or two, it will be to save them from auction and keep them for life.