Re-homing, leasing and sales have always been a part of the equine world for many reasons.
I wish all horses could call one barn and one person home and their’s forever every single time, but it rarely works that way, and often, that ends up entirely ok for the horse. Sometimes, though, it goes horribly wrong.
In rescue work, we see a lot of bad. It can be easy to forget many owners are good people who give good care. We forget a lot of sales and leases take place where horses find good homes and new careers all of the time. Most horses do not end up headed out a slaughter truck or starving in a back field. Too many do, but most do not. I see the bad side of the horse industry. For one, I have rescue goggles on more often than not. For another, I live in the most impoverished region in the USA.
The equine world has a business component where some excellent trainers and reputable breeders produce amazing equine partners and athletes and examples of their breed(s). More often than not, these horses live good lives. Shew. It is hard to remember that with what I do daily, though.
Before I began rescuing, everyone I knew who owned horses came by them in the traditional manners, and the bulk of these horses received sufficient care. Actually, after I founded Heart of Phoenix, what I learned is many people who had heavily invested time and money in horses for decades had only seen the good side of the horse industry. While I think they really do need to see the negative side and be very aware, this confirms most folks give good care.
Under 1% of the horse population face slaughter yearly (2019). Far more face neglect and abuse. But even at that point, we are looking at a small number. While any amount is too high, we are looking at a fraction of horses in the USA. This estimated number lets us know a lot of folks are doing a good job caring for their horses.
In numbers, according to the Horse Council and the Equestrian Channel:
# of Americans Involved
# of Full-Time Jobs
# of Horses
Total Taxes Paid
“Approximately 34% of horse owners have a household income of less than $50,000 and 28% have an annual income of over $100,000. 46% of horse owners have an income of between $25,000 to $75,000.”
“Specifically, the number of horses by activity is:
Racing – 844,531
Showing – 2,718,954
Recreation – 3,906,923
Other – 1,752,439
Total – 9,222,847
“Other” activities include farm and ranch work, rodeo, carriage horses, polo, police work, informal competitions, etc.”
Beyond numbers and within the numbers, we have to remember horses are a love affair that began, for many of us, as young children who “bugged” our parents until they relented and took us to our first lessons. Eventually, we may have bought a first pony or horse.
Horses cost a lot. Who am I kidding, they cost a fortune. Thousands of dollars a year, in fact. Most incomes will not support more than one horse at a time in a person’s lifetime. If you are lucky enough to own property and have the ability to produce your own hay, you may forget how costly they can be.
A great deal of training and time goes into making a safe, successful athlete or performer or trail partner. That trained horse or pony can create a love affair with horses for many people through his lifetime, too.
Before I did rescue on a large scale, I purchased a pony named Acorn.
He was 19 years old. He had been a beloved child’s mount and show pony for a long time. The family held onto him years after their daughter outgrew him. A time came that he was bored in a stall and the family was moving to Arizona where hay was running $18 a bale. He was too small for any of the family to ride, as well. Acorn was a perfectly sound child’s mount who needed a child. He really didn’t need to continue to stand in a stall or be dragged to Arizona to make his family struggle financially. He needed a kid. A kid needed him.
We purchased Acorn and brought him to the farm. He served as my son’s 4H mount and just an all around kid’s pony here from that time on. Now he is in his late 20’s. He still has many years left to offer, and we have plenty of little boys to enjoy him. He will not be a marketable guy when they all outgrow him, and he will then, when he has to retire, be here until the end. I’m glad we can do this. But in all these years, he was a trustable, trained mount that children needed.
I appreciated the sensible call his old family made. Well trained ponies are amazing assets to families and hard to find. Confident horses blend into new homes easily. Acorn marched in like he owned our place, and he has enjoyed a lovely life. He has never looked back.
His story is like that of many others. They aren’t the lucky ones, they are the norm, which is good to remember. I have spent many years covered up in sad stories, but I overlook that many sales of horses find the horse going into a happy home.
A horse may live over 30 years. During that time, the amount of training invested can be substantial. A horse can have several fantastic people who call him “theirs” during their lives and still have a great life. They can give new riders confidence, they can be what a child needs to grow a love of horses that lasts many generations, they can be what brings a person to a sport where they excel or can be a companion that enjoys carrots in a pasture. They can be all sorts of partners through well loved lives.
Speaking as a person who has moved hundreds of horses through many foster homes, horses that have known stark sadness and abuse, during their time with us when rehabbing, they thrive on a good hand and plenty of quality food, even if the scene changes.
We should not be driven by fear because sometimes bad things happen. We simply need to empower ourselves to be educated in the ways to set horses up for success should they ever need to be rehomed because it could always happen to us, too. We need to work to help the horses that do end up disadvantaged and in need. Lastly, we need to provide information to new owners to help them understand how to ethically navigate the equine world.
#1. Please understands this one truth:
Free ads are a huge risk unless you are screening the potential homes. The first folks to chime in a typically bad news.
#2. Asking for References is invaluable:
Require vet and farrier reference name and numbers even if you are selling a horse. Check them. It isn’t something only rescues can do.
#3. It often takes time:
Quick sales aren’t usually your best bet. Look for the right fit for your horses Good homes are out there, so take the time to find them. Don’t do a first come, first serve sale ever.
#4. You can have a First Right of Refusal contract:
Contracts do not work as people hope, but they can prove a useful tool if encouraging a buyer to return a horse to you if they no longer want the horse. Contracts keeping a first right of refusal contingency is a helpful tool in safely placing a horse.
#4. Make sure you are selling a marketable horse
If the horse you have is senior, emaciated, feral or lame, untrained or blind. . .we stress that quality homes are very, very rare for these horses. It takes most rescues YEARS to place some of these horses, with many of these types being impossible to place safely. Please be prepared to spend a very long time in the process of placing horses that fall into these categories. If you find yourself with an ill, untrained or elderly horse you cannot care for, reach out to a rescue for ideas on help for your horse.
Heart of Phoenix will always offer support when we can. You need only ask. We will assist in owner placements. This is true of most equine rescue organizations. Reach out and ask for help if you’re unsure about placing a horse safely on your own.