The days may be getting longer, but the weather is getting colder. Winter can be difficult for horses and their owners. Rescues typically receive the most calls this time of year because the grass is long gone and hay prices in many parts of the country remain high.
Although we encourage prospective owners to be aware of the costs of horse ownership before taking on the responsibility, the reality of winter care costs can still come as a surprise to some.
Just before the New Year, the local ABC affiliate in Jonesboro, Arkansas, aired a story about the increasing numbers of equine abuse and neglect cases being reported (http://www.kait8.com/story/34110719/horse-abuse-cases-are-up). I have not seen data to indicate that this trend is occurring nationwide, but the amount of media coverage certainly seems to be on the rise.
Whether numbers are truly increasing or not, it is important of find solutions to help the at-risk horses we hear about almost every day, whether it be through seizures and rehabilitation, one-day open shelters, owner education, or safety net programs.
What I particularly liked about the article is the notion that these cases are rarely intentional. As Margaret Shepherd, Director of the Northeast Arkansas Humane Society pointed out, a donation of hay or simply scheduling a vet visit can often address the problem.
So, this month, I wanted to write about safety net programs. It only seems logical that we can decrease the number of horses that become unwanted by helping owners keep their horses through the winter or other periods of hardship. These programs can potentially help a horse, an owner, a rescue, and another horse that the rescue can care for in its place; so it sounds like a four-time win to me!
But, will supporting these programs really make a difference? I’m on a mission to find out.
I can’t reveal the source just yet, but I learned there was a national survey of owners who recently relinquished their horse. Forty-five percent (45%) of respondents reported that they would have been able to keep their horses had they known about safety net programs. Hopefully, we’ll see an official publication soon.
In the meantime, the UHC is in the process of contacting several organizations around the country to learn about their programs, the owners that utilize them, and overall effectiveness. Although far from scientific, we hope to collect enough meaningful data to make some decisions about future fundraising efforts and programmatic goals.
If you have received safety net assistance, or know someone who has, we’d love to hear from you. Tell us if receiving financial help made the difference between keeping the horse or giving him up, and tell us if the horse was still relinquished despite the help.
If you offer safety net assistance, we are eager to hear your results.
For owners who need help now, the UHC maintains a list of organizations that offer safety net programs (http://www.unwantedhorsecoalition.org/resources-for-owners/). These include feed and hay programs in 14 states, as well as castration programs, veterinary and euthanasia assistance. New resources are always being added.
This time of year, feed and hay assistance should make a difference between a horse staying at home or becoming unwanted. The mission of the UHC is to reduce the number of unwanted horses and improve their welfare… Please help us find out if funding safety net programs is an effective way to do that!
Contact me with your safety net stories at email@example.com.
Each year, hundreds of thousands of horses are transitioned from career or ownership. A growing number of these horses end up at risk of inhumane treatment. The Right Horse Initiative, led by the WaterShed Animal Fund, has been developed to unify horse industry professionals, equine welfare advocates, and the broader horse loving public to improve the lives of horses in transition.
When I first heard a presentation by staff at the WaterShed Animal Fund, I was so very excited. They talked about how there aren’t enough resources for owners or low-cost options for end-of-life. They talked about the need for strong collaboration among members of industry and better marketing. They discussed the need to steer away from divisive issues and create a more optimistic language around horses in transition. They talked about the need to share positive stories… to think outside of the box… to invest in programs… and to become a unified voice for the horse.
Yes. A resounding yes!
Since coming on board at the UHC almost a year ago, I’ve seen the coalition focus on the positive, to identify what is working, and encourage industry-related groups to find a model that works for them. The new UHC Roundup and Join the Effort publication are just two examples. Every owner and horse lover is part of the solution, and together we can find and fund ways to help every horse have a purpose and to live a healthy life until they cross the rainbow bridge peacefully.
There are thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of people who would like to own and care for a horse. We want to help new owners know what it means to “own responsibly” and to help them find the right horse. This is why I was ecstatic when the UHC was invited to join The Right Horse Initiative.
The Right Horse Initiative promotes horse adoption as one of the preferred methods of finding your next (or first) horse. This unique partnership will commit the time, talent, and resources to promote horse adoption through education, training, and public awareness on a national level. Together we are working to achieve our goal to massively increase the number of horse adoptions nationwide.
As a partner in The Right Horse Initiative, we’re proud to support a national movement reframing the conversation about equine adoption and emphasize the bond between horses and humans. We are good people for good horses, and everyone who loves horses has ownership in this movement.
To learn more about The Right Horse Initiative, visit the righthorse.org.
Tuesday was another great day in the office.
As usual, I logged into the UHC email account to find about 40 articles related to horses. Google Alerts sure makes the search easier. While skimming through the good, the bad, and the ugly to find articles about the programs and people making a difference in the lives of unwanted horses, I ran across an article published on January 5, 2017, in the Sentinel-Standard.
The author was reporting on the status of a seizure in Ionia County, Michigan, that occurred back in December. The title made the point: 8 rescued horses still need homes.
So, I skim… “We did a search warrant… the association helped with transporting… 16 horses and all 10 goats have gone to homes… some had bad teeth… of the eight left, there are five stallions and three mares.”
There is no need for those stallions to be stallions, and there was something we could do to help. I immediately sent a message to Ionia County Animal Control (ICAC). They responded within three hours, and an hour later they had submitted the Operation Gelding voucher application. Approval in hand, the vet performed the procedures yesterday. The ICAC Manager was then able to fund vaccinations so that the rescue organization taking over the horses’ care wouldn’t have to. Like paying it forward. Now, these boys can find new homes.
What made the day even better was knowing that because the UHC has very generous donors, I could spend less time pounding the pavement to solicit funds and more time proactively searching for horses and organizations that we can help.
So, THANK YOU to the amazing donors from the DeWitt Fund of the Community Foundation for Monterey County, the American Association of Equine Practitioners Foundation, the Noah Foundation, and the National Horseman’s Benevolent and Protective Association, plus the individuals who support our work. Our youngest donor’s lemonade stand earnings are just as valuable to the horses!
I learned something else on Tuesday as well. We obviously need to do a better job of advertising the Operation Gelding program. But, for now, I’ll continue to monitor the news and reach out when we can help.
If you know an individual or organization that needs gelding assistance, please have them contact me, or just check out the information at http://www.unwantedhorsecoalition.org/operation-gelding/.
P.S. See the photo slide show below.
I was recently reminded why I did not pursue medical or veterinary school. Let’s just say that I don’t do well with needles, knives, and blood. So, when I decided to attend an Operation Gelding clinic last month, it didn’t take long to realize I could only view the most graphic tasks from behind the lens of my camera. Thankfully, Dr. Freeny didn’t have to treat me from collapsing after a vasovagal response. But, I digress.
After nine months at the office, it was definitely time to visit a clinic and see the process first-hand. There was no better opportunity than to be in Flower Mound, Texas, to celebrate 100 castrations for long-time Operation Gelding participants Lacey Edge and Kaye Garrison.
Crash and Lacey pose with the volunteer team before surgery. Photo by: Cathy Threadgill
Lacey hosted her first clinic in 2010. She had learned about the UHC and the Operation Gelding program through the AQHA while doing research for a school project. At the tender age of 13, Lacey decided that she needed to help fill a need in her area by hosting a no-cost clinic. After gelding 20 horses (the UHC’s limit for funding) that first year, she couldn’t be stopped. Now in college, Lacey returned home for last month’s clinic and has plans to offer one nearer her school in the spring.
Although Lacey was the driving force behind the clinics, it takes a village to make them successful. Her mom, Kaye Garrison, has the registration tasks down to a science. She says that advertising is easy at this point – they almost always have a waiting list – and the rest of the process includes good communication and follow up with participants.
Many organizers say that finding a vet is often the challenging part, but Lacey and Kaye have been lucky to find two amazing vets over the years! For their first four clinics, 4-H Veterinary Science Club parent and local vet, Dr. Shepard volunteered his time. After the girls completed 4-H, Kaye was again on the search for a vet and was referred to Dr. Freeny, a local vet who had participated in an Operation Gelding clinic during her junior year at Texas A&M University. Once Dr. Freeny was on board, she found another vet willing to donate clinic space and convinced her medical supply company to provide syringes, gauze, and other necessary supplies. This is her third year as lead vet with Operation Gelding, and she is truly committed to the cause, not only donating her services, but creating a dynamic learning experience for students who volunteer.
The weather couldn’t have been better the day of the clinic… sunny with a high of 72 degrees, not normal for mid-December. Kaye picked me up at the hotel and we drove to the site. Dr. Freeny outlined how the day would proceed and we were ready for the first patient. I watched and photographed the procedure (taking upwards of 300 photos), but as fascinating as it was, it was just as interesting to talk with the owners and hear stories about their horses.
The 100th stallion, Crash, was aptly named after busting through several fences to be with the herd even though he was just a few weeks old. The nurse mare foal, now two, also survived a bout of strangles, but has experienced a full recovery. Because of his calm demeanor and standing only 12.3hh, he will grow up to be the grandkids’ pony.
We also met a mini whose owners chuckled when they claimed he was there for “brain surgery.” True to form, he was a little spitfire both before and after the procedure. The little guy had been through a lot, being rescued only a few months ago after being attacked viciously by a pack of dogs.
Both owners realized the importance of gelding and were grateful to participate in the program.
Ten volunteers participated on the day of the event: Lacey, Kaye, Dr. Freeney, her husband, three veterinary students, a college sophomore, the supply company rep, and a professional photographer. Total volunteer time, including pre- and post-event tasks… 116 hours.
I’ve always felt a sense of fulfillment when fundraising and writing grants so that the UHC can support no- and low-cost clinics. It feels good to do good. But even more so, I feel an extreme sense of gratitude for the amazing people who make these clinics happen…the organizers, the veterinarians, the facility owners, the husbands, the horse owners, the students, and everyone else who donates their time and expertise.
These volunteers are the village that makes a gelding!
P.S. We’re also excited to announce that Hope in the Valley Equine Rescue will hit 100 stallions gelded at their clinic this month!
The first snow has fallen.
Well, okay, the white fluffy stuff hasn’t coated the streets here in D.C. just yet (and it would turn grey within hours), but snow has already covered more than a third of the country as far south as northern New Mexico.
Veteran horse owners know that the beauty of a snowfall is only so deep; underneath the snow lies the challenges of winter, which can have negative impacts on our horses’ health and wellbeing. Newer owners, however, may not be aware of the many issues that winter brings, or how to deal with them. For those of you who have weathered more winters than you care to count, consider reaching out to those new to the industry to help ensure they and their horses are prepared so everyone can enjoy the snowy season.
There are many articles available online about keeping horses healthy through the winter months. I’m including four of them here. They all focus on the importance of water intake, shelter, and increased forage, especially when the mercury takes a dive. They also remind us that foot care and exercise remain important all year round.
Just for fun: Take a moment to see if you can answer the following questions.
Horses in good body condition with a long winter coat can withstand temperatures down to _____ (without wind or rain).
Which of the following will keep horses from drinking enough water?
Did you know the answers?
It never hurts to review the recommendations and guidelines about winter care. Again, please share them with those who are new to horse ownership because proper winter care is part of owning responsibly.
Have a happy, healthy holiday season and keep those horses happy too!
Winter Weather Care, by Dr. Tom Lenz, American Association of Equine Practitioners
Cold Weather Colic, by Dr. Scott Leibsle, American Association of Equine Practioners
Equine Winter Care, Marcia Hathaway, PhD and Krishona Martinson, PhD, University of Minnesota
Winter Horse Care Tips for Owners, Kentucky Horse Council
For how many years have children been putting “a pony” on their Christmas lists? Thankfully, I didn’t get my wish until just over a year ago, but many kids do. Don’t get me wrong. Horses and ponies do wonderful things for kids; kids learn responsibility, build confidence, learn trust and patience, as well as the importance of preparation, goal-setting, and follow-through. Plus, they are outside and away from phone screens, TV screens, and computer screens getting fresh air and exercise. There is indisputable evidence that horses can be good for kids.
But, owning a pony is a big responsibility, literally and figuratively. Consider these questions: What happens to the pony if the child loses interest? What happens to the pony when your child goes to college? What happens if the pony gets injured and is no longer rideable? Even if we could have afforded a pony, my parents would have never kept it after I left for school.
If you believe that your child is ready for a Christmas Pony, please pledge to be responsible owners.
First, do your homework and ask for professional help to find the right pony for your child’s experience. Purchasing a pony that isn’t a good match for your child’s goals and experience usually ends up with an unwanted pony. They don’t come with gift receipts and 180-day return policies (although many reputable sellers will agree to take a horse back after a short trial period).
Second, understand the costs of ownership. To help you consider all costs, including some you may not have thought of, the UHC has created a Cost of Ownership resource sheet, which is available on the website.
Third, plan to work with a trainer or experienced horse person if this is your first horse. It is worth the investment. Finally, have plans in place to deal with specific circumstances such as the questions posed above. Expect the unexpected to guarantee the welfare of your new equine partner.
In an ideal world, owners would keep (or at least provide for) their horses until they cross the rainbow bridge, but it may not be realistic to keep a pony for 30 years. Let’s face it, things happen. Responsible owners, however, know what options exist for their horses before they become unwanted.
So, are you absolutely, positively sure you are ready to jump in so your young one can jump on?
You might consider having your child unwrap some other options first to ensure his/her interest is long-term. Great gifts include riding lessons or monthly trail rides. Partial and full leases are also excellent options to learn the responsibility of ownership without the long term commitment. Volunteering at a local stable or rescue is another option, which can be a gift to both your child and the rescue.
Thinking back on my childhood, volunteering at a rental stable was the best thing I could have done. I had fun, I was out of my parents’ hair, it didn’t cost us anything except some good laundry detergent, and I learned all those things that I mentioned above. Plus, it kept me out of trouble!
It might have taken 25 years, but I was finally ready for my Christmas pony.
November is a time to give thanks for what we have and to give help to those who don’t. It feels good to give back, and there are so many ways to do it.
Every non-profit organization ramps up their fundraising activities this time of year, and programs such as #GivingTuesday, which conveniently follows Black Friday and Cyber Monday, have made it easy for people to get into the end-of-year giving spirit. Maybe the UHC version of #GivingTuesday should be #GeldingTuesday! I’ll have to work on that.
Yes, the season of giving is on my mind, and I didn’t want to just talk the talk, so last weekend I decided to walk the walk.
My family hosts an annual Halloween party. Rather than just revel with ghouls and goblins, and the hornet’s nest I happened to discover along the haunted trail, we asked guests to purchase eyeballs for $5 each and donate them to one of three causes. We had a personal connection to each cause and, obviously, found a creepy or graphic photo to represent each one. The first was the high school theatre program represented with images of zombies from last year’s production of Zombieland. The next image was of a pancreatic surgery for the great work being done at the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. Can you guess what the third image was for the final cause? Well, the extraction of testicles, of course!
Thanks to the generosity of our guests, we were able to turn a regular party into a giving party (fundraising really does have the word “fun” in it), and raise a couple hundred dollars for the three causes. I was happy to write a check to support the Operation Gelding program and hope to do so again next year.
I invite you to get out there and have some fun while raising funds for a cause important to you. For the equine enthusiast, there is no shortage of organizations to which you can donate cash, items, or time. And no gift is too small.
Although we work year-round to find solutions to reduce the number of unwanted horses, this time of year just seems to be the time we work hardest. Not only are organizations focusing on fundraising, but as most of you know, the actual need for these funds increases as winter arrives. One can never go wrong with a gift of feed and hay.
So, what am I thankful for? So many things. A good job, a great family, an old horse that thinks he’s all that… too much to list here. I’m also thankful for the many organizations that better the lives of humans and horses, and I’m grateful for each and every person who supports causes important to them.
This Thanksgiving, thank you for giving!
The UHC Blog: Guest Column
By: Lisa Schadt, President
Manito Life Center
Many years ago, I opened my riding school and needed a few horses with the correct temperament for teaching children to ride. This was more difficult than I expected it to be. One of my searches took me to a “dealer barn” where there were hundreds of horses to choose from. But I again thought I would be leaving without finding a prospective school horse. Then, a little blue roan Mustang caught my eye and I asked to see this horse. The owner stated that he was a nice horse, somewhat green, but possessing of the temperament I was looking for. The horse had no name, only a freeze brand. I put a deposit on the horse and needed to wait for the veterinary exam in a few days. During this time I decided to call the horse “Joe”, after a horse my family owned during my childhood. It turned out that “Joe” was a “Josie”- I had not questioned the statements of the owner but was equally as delighted to take the little mare home. This part of her story is mentioned only because it affirms that in addition to having no name and no home, no one really knew her at all.
Josie was aloof and seemed lost, with no apparent interest in getting to know any of the horses or humans on my farm. The dealer had purchased her at auction, and I wondered how many auctions she had been to, how many “homes” she had been tossed in and out of. She appeared to be depressed, and I hoped that time and some TLC would change her outlook on life.
Josie was relatively easy to train and after a few years, one of our students wanted to buy her and take her home to her farm. I agreed, believing that Josie would love all of the one-on-one attention. However, the buyers would need to agree that in the event things did not work out, I would buy Josie back. And, as it turned out, they could not keep her for the long term, so I did bring her back home.
By this time, we had new instructors at the farm, and they had very impressive credentials, particularly in regards to the horse show world. When I brought Josie off of the trailer, they reacted by demanding that I take her right back to the barn she just came from, or take her to the next auction. They pointed out her short neck, compact body and unrefined head, stating she was an embarrassment and they would never consider using her in the program. They had previously made it clear that they wanted thoroughbreds or warmbloods for the school and taking this horse to a show was unthinkable. I kept Josie, and worked with her until the inevitable point in time when these instructors moved on to further pursue their personal goals and dreams.
The instructor who took their place also liked Thoroughbreds, but she was open to teaching on this little mare. Shortly thereafter, a little girl in our program went to her first horse show, with Josie as her mount. They won the reserve championship of the show. At Josie’s second show, she and her rider won the reserve championship, and at her third show, Josie and her rider won the championship. Suddenly I was getting offers from other barns wanting to buy Josie. But this time, she was not going anywhere.
Josie became our most popular school horse. Whenever a show was in the planning, there would be a line-up of people wanting to show Josie. Her smooth sitting trot, her sweet, kind demeanor and adorable presentation- she was always winning the blue ribbons. By now, Josie had a large fan club.
Well, she has now been with us for 22 years, and, with a special group of young men in our program, we finally shaved her freezebrand to learn more about her past. She is 29 and from Nevada. Josie’s stall is adjacent to the front door of our barn, and through her Dutch door window, she greets visitors every day.
She is now a valuable partner in our equine assisted therapy program, where children and adults find healing through exercises with our horses. Children in the foster care system are especially drawn to Josie. She captures their interest, engages with them, and when they eventually hear her story, she provides them with hope, such an important feeling for those who need to heal.
I don’t know how long we will be blessed to have Josie with us, but I am exceptionally happy to have found her so many years ago. This beautiful mare has helped to change the lives of so many people, and I cannot imagine our school without her.
Imagine arriving to work at 6:45 a.m., coffee in hand, not quite awake after snoozing on the bus. There is a letter on your desk. You look quickly at the return address and see “Foundation” among other words, so figured it was that $1,000 check you were waiting for. You turn on the computer, swap out walking shoes for heels (remember, I work in DC), and open the envelope. Yep, it was $1,000. But, wait.
I’m in my forties and my eyesight is starting to remind me of that fact. It was only March of this year that I finally broke down and bought reading glasses. Blurry vision stinks. So, blame it on that or the fact that it was still before 7 a.m., but I thought I saw too many zeros. I looked closer and there were, in fact, five zeros, a decimal point, and two more zeros. My head cocked to the left like when my dog sees a hummingbird or something that piques his interest. I looked at the accompanying letter. Again, the same number of zeros. I double checked to be sure my name was on the letter.
Then, I took a deep breath and smiled the most satisfying smile ever. I didn’t know that smiles could be satisfying.
Fundraising can be difficult; anyone in non-profit work knows that. Raising resources to care for rescue horses is exceptionally challenging, and rehabbing neglected horses doesn’t come cheap. The UHC has always wanted to take a more proactive approach to addressing the issue of unwanted horses and started Operation Gelding back in 2010. Just this past June, three months into starting work at the UHC, the members decided to expand the program, offering more guidance, more financial assistance, and a voucher program for owners who are unable to transport their horses. I had suggested a goal to raise $50,000 for 2017, lofty indeed as the UHC never had a significant fundraising effort in the past.
Ask and you shall receive. I have to believe that when we work for a noble purpose that good things come our way.
I am so extremely grateful that the donors recognize the multiple benefits of gelding horses and chose to play a huge role in the effort to make it happen! The results will be significant, not only for the horses themselves, their owners, and the equine-community, but think about the cost savings to rescues that might have to care for the unwanted foals that 1000 stallions could potentially produce. Those dollars can go to helping other horses in need.
Just because the UHC received this very generous contribution, it doesn’t mean that we stop fundraising for the cause. I’m looking ahead to 2018 because there will be more stallions to geld!
But, I can truly smile knowing the huge impact this gift will have on preventing unwanted horses in the first place. I hope the donors are smiling too.
Let’s get gelding!
P.S. We’ll reveal the name of the Foundation in a press release and on our website very soon.
UPDATE: September 27, 2016 - I'm thrilled to share the news! Donor advisers to the DeWitt Fund of the Community Foundation for Monterey County made the fabulous gift to Operation Gelding to help reduce the number of unwanted horses. I wish I could thank each donor personally. For now, THANK YOU from the top, bottom, and all sides of my heart! Now, it's time to start gelding!
I’m an educator at heart and by training. So, when I read about the Take the Reins program in last week’s Lexington Herald Leader, I was intrigued. Meg Leavitt rescued a 10-year-old Belgian she named Mercy and brought the mare to her home at Walnut Hall Stock Farm. After restorative farrier care and some groceries, Mercy is now ready to be a rescue ambassador to students at Julius Marks Elementary School. I’ve heard of minis being used in school presentations, but a draft horse? This will be grand! No doubt Mercy’s sheer size will get the kids’ attention.
The purpose of this program is even bigger. Take the Reins has two goals: 1) to teach youth about the horse industry, proper horse care, and “compassionate service,” and 2) to raise funds for the Kentucky Equine Humane Center (KyEHC), for which Leavitt sits on the Board of Directors. The KyEHC is one of the largest all breed horse rescues in central Kentucky, handling 100 to 120 horses per year. They take horses that are abused, abandoned, and neglected, or whose owners can no longer care for them, and once rehabilitated, horses receive training with the ultimate goal of adoption. You can learn more at www.kyehc.org.
Programs like Take the Reins happen with a lot of ingenuity, but also community and corporate support. The program organizers are grateful to Alltech for supporting Julius Marks in this innovative effort. So, what exactly will students do and learn?
They will not only meet Mercy, but the students will foster Patrick’s Bullseye (pictured above), an orphaned 5-month-old colt at KYEHC, by raising money for his care. In addition, they will write stories about him in English classes, calculate how much hay he should eat and how much it will cost, plus grow carrots for him in the school garden. Experiential learning at its best. As learners, we often retain little from simply reading a book or watching a demonstration, but by creating relevant tasks to a meaningful story and a bit of external motivation – like feeding carrots to the school’s foster horse – and you might have the recipe for success. I will eagerly await to see the results of this project.
A school-based education program for youth is just one example of how organizations related to the horse industry are working to reduce the number of unwanted horses. Many successful programs and events already exist. Organizations small and large have hosted charity horse shows, donated advertising space, given time and money to non-profit re-training or re-homing facilities, hosted training challenges, or built tracking databases and full circle programs to name a few.
Just last week, the UHC published an online resource listing model programs and hopes to become a clearinghouse where people interested in helping unwanted horses can take a look at what others are doing. Take a peek at http://www.unwantedhorsecoalition.org/join-the-effort/.
Sure, it is difficult to say if any one program is better than another, but the beauty in having such breadth of ideas is that 1) we don’t have to recreate the wheel, and 2) there is a model that can fit the human and financial resources of ANY group or organization with an interest in helping horses.
My hope is to identify and share as many programs as possible, and surely one will inspire you to Join the Effort!