Best Laid Plans
I’ve had a rough year. It started out with my main competition horse, Storm, tearing a ligament two weeks before our ship date to Ocala. Then Thistle, my young mustang, tore a huge chunk of hoof out and was sidelined for several months until it grew back. My newest purchase, Callie, developed laminitis in May. And just when everything started to be normal again, we had one of the hottest summers I’ve ever remembered. 105-110 degree days at the barn, with matching humidity. So I was thinking maybe it was time to buy myself a nice gift.
Back in July I started thinking maybe I needed to purchase something with a little more scope, a little younger, and ready to go show with me this winter. Storm is 21 and has had to step down in height. Thistle is adorable, and I will show him and keep him forever, but he’s really very short. And Callie is a good year or two out from being really rock solid. ( We still have daily arguments about the fact that a racing gallop is, in fact, not appropriate for doing cross rails). So I started looking. Turns out, so was everyone else. I was plopped right into one of the hottest horse markets I’ve ever seen. Think the housing market, but with 1200 pound animals, no agents to help you, and really no guarantees. Buyers were expecting me to purchase sight unseen because in the time it would take for me to go try their horse someone else would have put down the cash. Buyers were waiving PPE’s. Anything that was halfway decent had 100+ ‘interested, PM me’ messages on the advertisement.
But it turns out the universe had different plans. On a Wednesday night, at 8 PM, I got an ominous text; “You want two horses?”
I’ve made a point of trying to help horses in bad situations. I’ve taken on quite a few. Sometimes they come from downright abuse situations, sometimes it’s neglect, or just someone in way over their head when they realize a full grown horse isn’t as easy to care for as their dog. But this year, because I was really ‘at capacity’ and because I wanted to get myself a flashy youngster, I said I wouldn’t watch the craigslist pages. I wouldn’t go to the local auction where they run through half starved, half broken animals. I wouldn’t see it this year. So the worst sales of the year, the camp pony sales, had come and gone, and winter was approaching and no one had dropped off a sad animal at my doorstep yet.
But it turns out why I hadn’t gotten one yet was because there were two already out there that needed my help.
On Thursday, I drove out to see these horses. A pretty grey paint mare and a sturdy black draft cross gelding. They were in a field overgrown with horse nettle behind an empty house. The owners had left months ago and abandoned them. They had an automatic waterer, and there was still enough grass in the acre size lot that they were in good weight. But their feet. Oh my Lord, their feet.
I’ve seen bad feet in others I’ve taken on. Overgrown feet, shoes still on but so far forward that they are standing on their heels. Feet on a 9 year old that has never been trimmed. Feet on a thoroughbred where the Hoof had grown around the racing plates. But the feet on that draft horse might take the prize for the worst.
According to the previous owners, they had been done a few months back. I quickly determined that was a lie. When horses haven’t been trimmed in many months, or possibly years, they start to grow differently. The hooves widen and crack and splay out the the sides. The growth lines are distorted. The underside is covered by the bars which have folded over. And, one of the best signs is that the horse acts like it has no idea what you are doing when you try and trim it. In horses out in the wild, the feet don’t do this because they walk so much that they are naturally worn down. And even in horses confined to pasture, if the pasture has enough room and harder terrain they will still self trim to a point. But when you have two horses in a small lot on clay soil? That isn’t going to happen.
The mare had chipped off enough that her feet weren’t as terrible. But the gelding, the draft, was really bad. His toes were long enough he was rocked back in his heels as if he was wearing long slippers. He had several huge cracks and there were rough, fibrous pieces of hoof sticking out. I knew then they were coming home with me. I checked their teeth and determined the mare was pretty young, probably 5-7. The gelding was 10-12ish.
The next day my poor father, who is regularly dragged along to help his crazy daughter rescue animals of all sorts, drove out with me to load them up. They were good sports about it and got on without much trouble. I’ve found this is the case with horses I’m getting from these situations. I personally believe there’s some sort of guardian Angel who calms these horses and tells them they need to get on the scary box, because life will be better when they get off of it. The draft barely fit in my trailer, but we squeezed him in.
I then went out and turned off their automatic waterer. There was a dead rat in it.
They are home now. They are getting time to adjust. I took some time to try to clean up their feet a bit; the mare had a rock so deep in her sole I’m not actually sure how she was walking. I had to pry that sucker out of there. The gelding is in too much pain up front, but he did let me trim his back feet up a bit.
I gave them their first tiny grain meal in who knows how long; when the mare heard the sound she ran as fast as her sore feet could take her.
I will never understand how this happens. These horses were not abandoned because of a financial issue, or a health reason, or even a lack of knowledge. They were abandoned because a family decided they were moving and those horses weren’t convenient anymore. They decided those animals weren’t so much fun, and they wanted a lifestyle change, and they would just leave them in a field. Behind their empty house. They didn’t even have the decency to call me. One of their relatives, realizing there were still horses behind the house and that that probably wasn’t ok, reached out. The owners didn’t even care enough to give me a call and make sure I wasn’t a meat buyer or part of some animal sacrifice cult.
They didn’t care.
But I do.
Go hug your horse. Go tell him you love him. And make a promise that no matter what, you will do the right thing for them. You won’t leave them to suffer in a field behind an abandoned house with a dead rat in their water trough.