Forevever horse homes – kind or cruel?

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Sunday’s Opinion

It’s amazing how quickly people grab popular concepts associated with “saving” a horse and call them golden. Bandwagon convictions get embraced in a one-sided fashion by people who have no first-hand experience with the remedies prescribed. Unfortunately, while most of these ideals start with good intentions, few people bother to explore the downside in the clamor to influence the behavior of others. It’s the horses that often wind up suffering.

The big emotional campaign of late seems to be pushing for forever homes for horses – even better if this means a pastoral setting where they’re virtually untouched by human hands. At the same time, these prognosticators (many have never had the opportunity spend an extended period of time with any horses, let alone one) admonish those who would be so cruel to sell or place a horse with another. Is a forever home really the kindest decision for a horse’s happiness and welfare? Sometimes. Sadly, putting this mandate on horse and human partnerships doesn’t always work as planned.

Do rescues provide the best life for a horse?

Recent headlines concerning an over-zealous OTTB adoption agency have been hard to miss. Horses are starving, dying and left to languish because selected caretakers (apparently many chosen for their day rate rather than the quality of care) haven’t been paid for care costs as promised. The recues will argue the occasional shocking disgrace gets all the coverage, but that’s not an accurate assessment. Horses generally fall in the good news category when reporters seek an angle, so even questionable organizations tend to see a positive spin involving volunteer efforts and the successful placement spotlight. There are a lot of rescues doing good things for the horses and the people they place them with. Others, not so much.

Increasingly, we’re seeing situations where horses are either collected or placed in an unsuitable home with the proclamation these horses are being “saved”. Individuals claim to be rescuing horses, and some even call themselves “rescues”, yet some lack the space, time, financial resources and/or knowledge to properly care for the equine(s). Is it really saving a horse when you collect more than thirty on a small-acreage property, don’t provide shelter and feed them bread (true story)?

For the recues that guarantee a lifetime home on their dime, or require adopters to do the same, is this really the best solution for the horse?

Idyllic permanent pasture time may seem kind to a human but for a young domesticated horse that’s healthy, sound and looking for opportunities to have his brain engaged, this might be a life-sentence to boredom.

People adopting horses rarely know what they’re in for as they get swept in the emotional feel good of “saving” a horse. Many equines aren’t ready or able to do the job they’re intended for or are too much for their “savior” to handle. Often, first-time horse caretakers (most seasoned equestrians recognize the value in paying a purchase price for a suitable mount and pass on the adoption “donation” fees) are ill-equipped to handle the time and financial burden, yet get stubborn about hanging on. Even though horses are known to appreciate consistency, locking in a partnership that doesn’t work for either horse or human probably isn’t the kind of predictable scenario most horses seek. Kindness sometimes means giving the horse a different opportunity to be great. Things change, and sometimes a horse simply wants a different job challenge and living style. Contract terms that stipulate a forever home for any horse can be cruel. We’ve even had horses figured as permanent residents at Halcyon Acres® that have let us know they want a change. Being kind to the horse may mean letting go.

Does wild make a horse happy?

Last year, we heard public outcry about attempts to round up domesticated horses that had been turned loose in Florida. Anyone who’s spent a good deal of time seriously observing horses accustomed to interacting with humans realizes the “horses want to be free” rallying cry doesn’t ring true if you consider the horse in the conversation.  Yet, people reacted to the images of these horses “in the wild” (in Florida – really?) and were aghast that anyone would be so cruel as to try to help them back to a life that included human care, shelter and adequate feed.

Horses with generations of instincts and survival in the wild are wired to be free. Most equines bred by humans want to be fed, sheltered and engaged in a job. Right early handling sets the stage for wonderful and mutually enriching partnerships in the future, but even troubled horses can light up when they find a human who understands. Humans have been domesticating horses for millenniums.  Like it or not, we’ve changed their nature.

Who’s kind and who’s cruel to horses?

You really can’t assess what a horse needs from a distance (or a headline, or a rallying cry). Every horse is different. Sometimes it’s cruel to mandate a care, placement or environment solution without considering what the horse wants. That can only be gathered from direct contact with the particular equine. Often, it’s kind to give an equine a variety of opportunities for work (and horses do change with age – both in their physical abilities and psychological needs) that may mean new homes along the way. Others bond so deeply with a human or horse(s), it’s cruel to sever the partnership(s). One thing’s for sure, though, a contract, policy or mandate that’s inflexible doesn’t ensure a horse a happy life.

Know of any organizations or individuals that include the horse in the conversation as they seek out solutions for the horse’s happiness? Have ideas for encouraging others to consider individualized decisions on horse placement, care and career direction? Please share in the comments below. Let’s call out those who are making a difference with the horse’s viewpoint in mind, one horse at a time.

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Horses aren’t just recreational vehicles to be sold off as commodities when times are tough. They’re pets and partners representing ‘me time,’ emotional bonds, spiritual enrichment, psychological stabilizers and confidants. Before you decide you can’t afford a horse anymore, consider the real costs – and try to get creative about how you may be able to hold on.