The Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region reports they got 4200 abuse calls last year–that’s 11 ½ a day. Some are about horses that are a bit ribby and some are horror stories of blood and fear, whole herds starved or victims of cruelty. How do we even approach this overwhelming problem with our limited resources?
To begin with, it’s a huge, complicated issue. I’m just going to chew on one corner of it here. Can we agree that not all “abusers” are created equal?
This is Captain. Members of the Colorado Horse Rescue Network got him at the Calhan auction last weekend, and Ruby Ranch Horse Rescue took on his re-feeding program. First, humor me and go watch a short video (here) of him eating mush. I want to nominate him for the Academy Award for Sound Effects. It’s the first day of the rest of his life, and long or short–he will be safe.
The Colorado Horse Rescue Network is a state-wide organization of 1500 horse people with a founding board of 13. They come from all different horse worlds with one common goal–horse rescue. They are very creative thinkers, but more on that later.
CHRN goes to horse auctions. Most of the horses are healthy and fairly sound, says Carrie Terroux-Barrett, CHRN board member and rancher. She says 90% of the horses at these auctions have behavioral problems. (I will almost stifle my rant about riders who should take a few lessons and get their horses help before it comes to this.) The Kill Buyers come to auctions, of course. Like every other occupation, there are some real monsters who prey on rescuers by doubling the price of the horse in question. This contemptible bottom-feeding behavior is a huge problem, but none were in Calhan that day and Captain caught a break.
He has a bit of charm even now, doesn’t he? It seemed he had been handled, even brushed recently. His feet were not badly neglected and he was not overly fearful.
I’m sure a few of you are ready to lynch his owner about now.
Carrie has a theory about Captain’s history. She thinks he was probably a ranch horse, trained and loved. But maybe his owner died and he passed hands. He looked good in the summer and worse in the winter, at first it was normal. Maybe his keepers lost employment or had a debilitating health crisis. Captain just got a bit thinner one day at a time and then one day he was nearly a skeleton and his owner didn’t know that old horses don’t need to be thin. Maybe they called a rescue to relinquish him, but there was no room that day and they lost courage for another call. So the owner got nervous about then. Would a vet even be able to help? Sometimes it starts to seem like euthanizing might be the only answer and owners just can’t face it. Could they get in legal trouble even after all that? Not all of us are good at asking for help, especially in complicated situations.
Is there such a thing as benign neglect? How much revenge do we need?
This is Carrie’s opinion: “Honestly it’s a double edged sword to hold them accountable. Being sold at the sale was far better than the fate that awaited him if they had left him where he was. No one knew about him, I’ve never seen him before, he would have died and no one would have noticed. They got rid of him before he died thankfully. You start nailing owners and they will just leave them to rot in a pasture instead.”
I agree with Carrie’s view of the big picture. When people ask how someone could starve a horse, I wonder how frequently mental health issues come into play. It’s no fun to have compassion for bad owners, but sometimes we should, right after we save the horses. Save your rage for someone who deserves it–like kill buyers who prey on rescuers as well as horses.
Because it is my flip-flopping superpower to see both sides, I understand the need to post hate towards owners like Captain’s. There, but for providence, go any of us. If I lost my life in a car wreck tomorrow, would my horses and dogs fall through the cracks? It’s such a gut-wrenching thought that I want to distance myself from it, push that fear as far from me as I can. And it’s only human nature to blame others we think are guilty of our deepest fear. To heal our potential wound by ripping into someone else, so we can be better-than, and maybe escape the same fate.
But no one knows the future. Rather than leaving a legacy of hate, how about paying compassion forward. It will take some discernment, but really, ask yourself who you are. Abuse is the enemy and joining in the behavior demeans our ideals.
And then CHRN had an idea. They instigated a buy-out program, paying $100 for any horse with a brand inspection, regardless of condition, age, or sex. No questions, no blame, and they pick-up. The idea was to intercept the horse before he got to auction and the kill buyer’s bidding war. I can’t imagine how much debate went on when this idea first came up in a meeting, but they agreed to risk a try. At 30 days in, they’ve taken 6 horses in, with negotiations going on another 3 or 4.
In this world of overwhelming nastiness, here is a bright light of an idea–a brilliant shortcut to a bucket of mash or re-training with a second chance. Hooray for CHRN pushing through the muck to a positive result for horses. They deserve a cheer, and a donation towards a better way to rescue. Find them at Colorado Horse Rescue Network.
And smile when you remember the sloshing, blissful sound of Captain eating. We can turn this thing around.
–Anna Blake for Horse Advocates of Colorado.