This has been a very eventful day with mixed results, at both the national (bad result, boo, hiss) and the personal level (good, sometimes odd results! Like my really loud and terribly funny squeaky shopping cart at WalMart today. There are some things that are not worth getting embarassed over, you just have to laugh at them!)
I also found out that my last "insider" connection to the horse rescue world, the Fugly Horse of the Day blog, is being sold. So, in celebration of of 5 years of exposing bad trainers, animal abusers, faux rescues, abusive and silly training techniques, slaughter industry evils, and (of course) some of those very shoddy breeders and the poor horses that ended up as a result of their work (or unhappy accident) AND all the happy endings and court-of-law justice that came from such unfortunate situations, I am putting up the top things Cathy Atkinson said we should learn from her blog. And believe me, ANY horse person should have these things on record. Ah, the end of a good era, although it will still continue away from the public eye! And she will still be writing the occasional article for Horse Illustrated!
Let us begin:
- Old horses are never skinny because they are old. Old horses that are skinny have a problem that can be fixed 99% of the time.
- Slaughter is never the right answer. Slaughter provides a paycheck for irresponsible ownership and irresponsible breeding. Are there more horses than homes right now? You bet. The solution is the same sort of anti-breeding campaign that has worked VERY successfully in dogs and cats.
- Stallions are never ill-behaved because they are stallions. Stallions are ill-behaved because of a human permitting them to bounce around like an orangutan on crack. Expect gelding behavior from your stallion and you will get it from most stallions, of any breed. If he’s still an idiot, that means he needs to be a gelding. Great stallions are not a threat to everyone in a 20 foot radius when led down the aisle.
- There is no miracle about birth. Mosquitos breed. A thirty year old horse that is still in a great home and receiving excellent care…THAT is a miracle and something to be heartily applauded.
- That sick feeling in your stomach is NEVER wrong. If you feel it about a trainer, barn, etc. – RUN and take your horse(s) with you.
- Breeding animals responsibly isn’t easy. It actually takes a lot of research, knowledge and money. Most people should never breed an animal.
- Horses appreciate having a kind, fair, consistent leader — not a best friend that they can plow over and push around.
- That said, temper tantrums are counterproductive in everything from horse training to the job world. Learn to have self control. Not every impulse needs to convert itself into an action. Walking away is always better than losing it.
- Every time you think “oh, I should fix that, but it’ll be fine for tonight” — it won’t be. This is like a law of nature. Fix it tonight.
- Every time you think that something might be a bad idea, it is probably a bad idea. Remember the gal who tied the lead rope to her waist…
- The reason you have to report abuse or neglect is because horses and other animals can’t type or use the telephone. You are the only chance they have. Take pictures FROM THE ROAD…NEVER trespass. Go down to animal control or the sheriff’s and file a report. Call in a few weeks and follow up. If you fear you are being ignored, and that the situation is urgent, call your local media. Post to horsey message boards and blogs with the numbers to call to demand action. Getting a prosecution is a long, difficult but very rewarding road, especially when you see the horses safe in new homes that do take care of them.
- You cannot tell a rescue is good from their web site or Facebook page. Please support GFAS Accredited Rescues or rescues that you can visit in person (ideally, on a regular basis) and verify are taking proper care of their animals. Also look for a lot of before/after pictures proving the horse improved, as well as the ability to account for the whereabouts of horses adopted out years ago.
- You will not enjoy riding and your horse more from attending clinics or watching videos. You will enjoy riding and your horse more from riding a lot and taking lessons from a good trainer so that riding becomes easier and your ability to communicate with your horse improves. The better you ride, the less equine misbehavior you will experience. If you have fear issues, the #1 most valuable thing you can do to combat them is improve your riding, because that makes scary things happen less often.
- Also, on fear issues, allow me to quote something I read on Facebook and loved: “Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self-esteem, first make sure that you are not, in fact, just surrounded by assholes. ~ William Gibson” Stop thinking you’re a shitty rider because your trainer is an insecure asshat who has to yell at and belittle students to make him/herself feel better. GET A NEW TRAINER.
- Turn-out is NOT optional. How well would you perform if you were locked in a shower stall whenever you weren’t at work? All horses need regular turn-out.
- Colic is 99% avoidable with daily turnout, regular rotational deworming (or fecals to determine what is needed), fresh and clean water available 24/7, a low stress environment, sand treatment if you’re in the sandy part of the country, and a consistent diet. If you are having colics frequently, figure out why.
- Proper conditioning is the #1 thing you can do to lower your vet bills and extend your horse’s useful life. When you do not ride all week and then go out on hilly trails for six hours on Saturday, do not come crying to me when your horse pulls a suspensory. That is like you trying to run 20 miles once a week after sitting in your recliner eating Ding Dongs the rest of the time … let’s see you do it. And folks, when your trainer is telling you in a lesson to push your horse past what YOU know your horse’s fitness level is, you have to say no. Ask yourself who will be paying the vet bill…will it be your trainer? Uh, no. So you have to have the guts to say, he’s tired, I want to quit now and cool him out. Even if he’s being bad, do something easy that he can get right, and then quit. There’s no value to making a training “point” that results in a horse that is out of commission for six months!
- It really is true…the vast majority of equine misbehavior results from pain. Before you punish, check for a sore back or neck, lameness, or dental problems. Check saddle fit, make sure the horse hasn’t been crammed into too-small shoes.
- Parents, put a helmet on your child every time they are on a horse. It is a long way down and all it takes is landing wrong to be a quadriplegic. When you are an adult, you can do as you see fit, and assume the risks you see fit, but a 5 year old cannot make those kind of adult choices. While we’re on the topic, stop overmounting your kid…the rest of us are all tired of watching in horror to see if the child will survive the parade on the jiggy horse who looks about to explode, or the hunter round on the horse who is clearly running off, or the barrel run on the horse who is bouncing off the arena walls like the meth-head stripper on “Intervention” was bouncing off her room walls.
- No one person has all the answers when it comes to horses. Any of you might come up with an amazing solution to a training or health issue (or diagnose a pesky health issue that the vet couldn’t figure out). Read, read, read, and watch the trainers in your discipline whose horses are both performing well and seem happy (i.e. bright expression, happy ears, fluid movement, a general aura of enthusiasm while performing). I highly recommend The Horse for learning more about horse health. I also highly recommend the Chronicle of the Horse message board as a resource…you’ll find excellent information there.
- Finally, when you are between that proverbial rock and a hard place, and I know those situations happen, euthanasia is (100% of the time) a better solution than the auction. Yes, it will cost a few hundred dollars, so make the call while you still can, after you have made a true good faith effort to place the horse in a checked-out, proper home, but before you are down to your last $50 and your unemployment has run out. The only one who suffers when a horse is euthanized is his owner…he just goes to sleep. I never think of euthanasia as a tragedy. I always think of a horse being shoved onto a double-decker as a tragedy.