The newspaper articles appealed to emotion. Two-year-old horses, 40 in all, had been collected and trucked 19 hours to a local rescue. They were the disposable offspring of Canadian PMU (Pregnant Mare Urine used to manufacture Premarin) mares and if not for their rescue would likely have been sent to slaughter.
My wife and I stood in blistering heat that day some 10 years ago, watching the horses mill about, stirring up a cloud of choking yellow dust and scrambling for a meager offering of corn spread in a thin line on the ground.
A muscular bay paint filly with a long “horsey” face that I named Wyatt, pushed, shoved and kicked horses that stood between her and the small amount of grain on the ground. And when she did, the dark bay paint that trailed her ate as well.
My suspicions were already aroused by the pitifully small amount of grain given this large herd and by the fact that several of the horses were clearly immature, underweight and obviously not two years of age as advertised, including the dark bay paint we named Callie. Little that followed did anything to relieve my nagging concerns.
Once we agreed to purchase Wyatt and Callie, whose ribs showed prominently, they were moved to a new paddock with access to hay. There they joined a scarecrow-thin horse that had been unable to get enough feed while in the herd.
After eating hungrily our horses were moved to a round pen in an adjoining arena where the resident horse wrangler tried in vain to halter one or the other of the horses until all three were soaked in perspiration. Either the wrangler knew nothing about horses or the horses had never been handled. As it turned out, both were true. My wife and I watched the rodeo taking shape in the round pen, and I, for one, began to doubt the wisdom of buying these horses. They were so wild and frenzied that we were unable to even touch them.
The purchase seemed to take hours. There were contracts to be signed with many stipulations required by the sponsoring foundation. Wyatt was not registered and Callie’s papers were still in the Canadian rancher’s possession (Callie’s registration, despite many promises, never materialized).
More than a year later I called the rancher and asked him to forward Callie’s papers. His answer was “no”, because “none of the horses had been paid for.” He had lost nearly $40,000.00. It was becoming clear that this operation was less about rescue than profit.
Full service boarding was available at a low price and included bedding and hay as well as turn-out for up to twelve hours per day as specified by the foundation’s contract. But soon things began to unravel. There was hay, but no bedding, bedding but no hay. Sometimes neither were available. We learned the horses were not being turned out because there was not enough staff to do so. The end came for us when Wyatt and most of the barn’s residents developed shipping fever, a form of pneumonia. Not one of the owners was notified.
We moved the horses as soon as Wyatt recovered and a short time later the rescue collapsed under its own weight, the just victim of its own actions.
There are many well meaning and respected horse rescues throughout the country. They offer buyers the opportunity to own horses, often registered, many with experience at a manageable price. But the old saw about green horses and green riders, like my wife and me, still holds true. Occasionally rescues, in their zeal to place horses, allow bad matches of horse and rider to occur. Often these matches are driven by the buyer’s desire for an “unbroken” two-year-old red roan instead of an older and more experienced horse. In the wake of an emotional decision there is often disillusionment, injuries to both horse and rider, and discarded animals that never escape an undeserved reputation.
Due diligence is necessary when selecting a horse rescue. Ask questions. How long has the rescue been in operation? Who are its principals? What experience do they have? Who are the board of directors and what is the source of the organization’s funding?
Visit more than one rescue if possible and when you find a horse that you are interested in purchasing, visit several times. If you are unsure about your decision, take someone with you whose opinion you value—a horse owner or trainer—and be sure to have the horse of your dreams examined for its fitness by an equine veterinarian. While your heart may be set on a flashy young colt, the mousey-brown gelding with years of experience may be the right choice for your level of experience.
We’ve learned quite a bit in the nearly 10 years since we first rescued Wyatt and Callie. The disappointments have at times been overwhelming and the successes hard won. By every measure we should have failed. We should have given up. But we haven’t and neither have Wyatt and Callie.
About the Author
Loren Schumacher is a small business/horse owner in Southwestern Ohio. He competes in competitive trail events and publishes the blog Nip & Duck, where he talks about almost anything horse.