This may seem an odd subject to address at the start of a blog about backyard horse-keeping. Having contingency plans even for your dreams is important though. The full title of this blog is, after all, The Backyard Horse Blog- Living the Dream and the Reality of Keeping Horses at Home.
To that end, I highly recommend that anyone who is considering backyard-horse ownership have an exit plan. You want to provide a safe place for your horses to land if you can no longer keep them at home. Life happens to all of us and our plans can take a nosedive at a moment’s notice.
Consider and research your options. For example, maybe you can retain ownership of your horse while it stays with friends or family, at a boarding barn, or is leased out to either an individual or a program like a therapeutic riding center, equine assisted learning program, college riding program, summer camp or trail barn. If retaining ownership is not an option, you can explore selling your horse, donating your horse to any of the above center/program options or turning ownership over to a horse rescue.
Whatever you do, I would highly recommend attempting to follow the horse for the rest of his/her life even post-ownership. If you can’t buy your horse back or otherwise care for him, you might be able to broker a better “next home” for your horse than what he would get without your intervention.
The risk of going to auction and ending up bound to slaughter is real. I realize not all horse owners are bothered by the possibility of their horse entering the slaughter pipeline, but I am, so I want to try to prevent it from happening. If you are too, you might try:
-Incorporating a “first right of refusal clause” into any sale contract
-If your horse is registered, contacting former owners who may be listed on the registration papers and/or contact the breed association directly. Some, like the American Morgan Horse Association, offer variations of “Full Circle” programs where the registry keeps a list of former owners who would be interested in helping rehome the horse.
-If you chose to sell/donate to a program, doing your research about what they do with the horse once it is no longer suitable for their program.
You will also want to consider whether finding a soft place to land for your particular horse is even realistic due to the horse’s age, medical condition or behavioral issues. I mention this because my oldest horse is turning 25 in the Spring of 2020. Bear is retired from riding, has hoof issues that require him to be trimmed every four-five weeks almost year around and is on two expensive medications to control chronic, lifetime health issues. Bear is precious to me. But he is also a financial liability. It is unlikely I will find someone else who would want to care for him if I can’t. If that times comes, my preference is to have him euthanized in my presence, on his familiar home turf and with his face stuffed in a bucket full of his favorite treats.
I would rather be able to orchestrate a quick, painless, peaceful death than risk his ending up in a new backyard possibly being neglected. Nor do I want Bear spending his last weeks suffering as a horse in the slaughter pipeline. I want to spare him from things like going through multiple auctions, being transported over long distances to strange places with strange people, housed in tight quarters with other horses and being put at big risk of injury, inconsistent access to food and water, exposure to weather, no medicine for his conditions, no foot care to help keep him sound, no one to watch out for him or advocate for his needs and a messy, frightening end in a kill box.
In thinking about what to do with your horses if you can no longer take care of them, make plans for your horse in case of your own death. Ideally, your horses will be included in your will. At the very least, you will want to let family know your wishes for your horses. Legally though, horses are treated as property which is why I would highly recommend spending some of your hard-earned money on detailing a plan for them in a will. I personally don’t want my horses as living, breathing, sentient beings treated like furniture during a property dispersal.
Make sure your family or friends know where you keep pertinent horse information and records. Make a list a horse-chore list, including what-when-how much they are fed, and keep it on your refrigerator. It will make friends/family caring for your horses that much easier in an emergency.
Hopefully you and your horses will enjoy long, healthy lives together. But if the worst should happen, your advanced planning can provide your horse(s) a hedge of protection.