Sunday, February 6, 2011

Planning For The Unknown

52 Thoroughbreds needed homes or were going to be sent to slaughter in Ohio....or so went the email, Facebook and Craigslist campaign that swept the internet last week.

I even received six emails from several of my huge hearted non-horse friends about this story asking if I knew anyone who could help. I had also seen it posted on Facebook a dozen times through various organizations I "like" &  my extended friend network that includes many rescuers and other equestrians (and non-equestrians too!). My first reaction was that there must be more to the story and so I didn't immediately pick up the phone and call the number listed because a) I had no way of placing them from my corner of the county & b) it did appear they were getting plenty of attention.

So as it turns out, there really was an owner who passed away recently; a breeder, owner & vet in the Ohio Thoroughbred racing industry by the name of Daniel Stearns. If you'd like to read more about the internet sensation and resulting discoveries, you can read it on the Fugly Blog. As it turns out by the time most of us heard about it, the horses were reportedly rehomed to other racing barns and that by late last week, there were no horses who needed to be placed and the plea then went out to please stop calling the real phone number that had been posted over and over and over....

So it sounds like an acceptable outcome for these horses but I saw an underlying question in this drill...

Do you have a plan on what to do with your horse(s) should you become unable to care for them? This is about to go in a few directions....but one would be the obvious first concern (to me)....if I died, what would happen to my beloved Coconut? My son, Corey, says he wants her but is he truly prepared to provide for her in the manner in which she has become accustomed? I promise anyone who cares for my horse after I am gone that I will come back and Haunt the Hell out of you if you fail her in any way shape or form, should you accept the challenge of becoming her next forever home! So, maybe the fear of me nagging him from the other side is incentive enough to make sure he'd always do the right thing by her, is it really the best thing for her? Maeve said she'd take care of Coconut until the right home could be found. I also thought about the rescue I work with, certainly through their contacts they could find a placement for her through the SAFE Assisted Adoption Program, right!? I choose to believe in my heart that there are several others who would step up for "The Nut!" and either give her a home or find the best possible one. (you KNOW who you are!!)

All that and I only have ONE HORSE!!! What if you had more than one? What if you were a racing barn, a training facility or even a rescue? What if you had 10? ...20?....100? or more??? This idiot, James Leachman, in Montana didn't die, but he did lose his property and had no where to take his 450 horses....let's spell that out... FOUR HUNDRED & FIFTY Horses....and left them there!! Unacceptable!!! If you can no longer care for them, SOMEONE has to. If you own them, breed them or have any plan to make it your income, it is YOUR responsibility to care for them until you can find a suitable/responsible placement for them. Responsible means just what it implies. They are YOUR responsibility now and will be until you die unless you get someone else to accept that responsibility for you. I can't even begin to wrap my head around trying to rehome 450 horses!

...but back to the main subject...

There are so many things to think about & I don't know how one might plan out every scenario but it's really thought provoking to consider the possibilities. We don't need to play out every scene of Black Beauty to understand what can happen in the course of a horse's long life. Some of us need only look as far as our own stalls to be reminded how close horses can come to the brink of disaster.

What would I choose if I had the ability to? Of course I'd want her to feel very loved and that she enjoyed her new home. I would want her new partner to be a good fit and that they both earn respect with one another. Much of that philosophy goes into what I do with her. If today was my last day at the barn, what would happen when the next person steps in to grab her lead rope? Would she be respectful & do as they ask? I think she would...although she's going to eventually ask them her own interview questions like "What will you do when I jump like thiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiissssssssssssss and get all four feet in the air while lunging?" "How will you protect me when horse eating alpaca's come to get me on a trail ride? me riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight now!!!!!!!!!". She'll also ask the question (while batting her beautiful white eyelashes at them) "Can you promise to love me?" I feel I've answered those questions for her and she's pretty trusting for the most part. But then again, I do feel like she chose me and that can make a difference.

I feel like what we do together is training, no matter what it is. My trainer Chrissy taught me that! Even if it's just me coming out and grooming her and having some hand grazing. There is still the element of constant behavioral expectations. When we ride, it's done with consistency. The same cues mean the same question every time. She gets to know me and what I want, I get to know her and how she'll perform. It's a dance of ever evolving dance. I've seen others ride her and it's always interesting to see how she responds to them. I watched her test people. When I think to myself, "She never does that for me!" I guess I have to understand that it's because we're a team and we know each other pretty well. She no longer has to ask me the interview questions (I'll add here that I sometimes see her bad behavior as a message she's sending me, not always as a question she's asking me).

How does that translate to the potential rehoming process, you ask?  It matters plenty to me since I need her to possess as many of the quality skills as possible so that her re-homing value grows. Not in a monetary sense, but in a behavioral sense. What happens if her lack of confidence or her intuitive interview skills unfairly portrays her as the rowdy sort? The likelihood that she'll make a good impression starts to dissipate and the odds that her future might hold drama grows. That is not the outcome I would want for her.

It becomes my job to make sure she's a good citizen, to borrow a phrase from Monica Bretherton's Blog, HorseBytes,  and to make sure that while I can't provide her full history, I can account for the history I've created for her over the last 4 1/2 years. I've also been marketing her to a point. She's certainly not my little secret pony at home. I share her story with the world mostly because I want others to feel they are not alone in their journey, whatever part of mine they might feel akin to but also because someday that story may help her in her next chapter if for some reason I can not be in it. No, I have no plans to ever part ways with Coconut. However, if it were not my choice, I think there is enough out there about her that someone would step up and say that she could be a good fit for them and vice-versa.

The next thing I think about are my friends who have large herds, horse facilities or business attached to their horses. What provisions are in place should you no longer be in a position to make decisions...or even care for them....tomorrow? Are your horses going to be advertised on Facebook, Craigslist & emailed out to the entire world? Is that how you want them dispersed or re-homed? If you don't, the time is, while you still can, to put a plan in place.

I like the model Save A Forgotten Equine (S.A.F.E.) has for placing horses. They assess the horse for it's strengths and needs, matching that up to potential adopters. There are a series of meetings between horse and adopter as well as a reference & site check. It's never done solely over the internet. A placement is the work of several people touching each aspect of the horse's well being before the word "Approved" is announced. This makes me feel confident when a rescue favorite ends up in a home I know I might never see them at again but knowing they found a great match is worth what I, as a volunteer, might give up.

There's also the SAFE Assisted Adoption Program that has been in place for many years but has been updated for 2011. We will go out and do evaluations on the horse, document their health care and photograph the horse, if needed, to help us most effectively market their horse. The goal would be to help good owners find responsible placement for their beloved equine companions through the same screening process that SAFE gives it's own herd with the additional promise to look after the horses' well being in that new home for the rest of its life. The difference is that the owner continues to care for the horse and has a say in the final adoption. The rehoming fee is then donated directly to SAFE. I've had the honor of being able to work on this program and invite anyone who might be looking to rehome their horse to check it out on the SAFE Website.

One horse that recently entered the SAFE Assisted Adoption Program is Walker, a 17 year old New Zealand  Thoroughbred with eventing experience. Check out Walker in his SAFE Thread.

I certainly don't have all the answers, especially for those with large herds but I'd like to pose the question to those of you who do....What is your plan?

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