Saving or Slaving?

Three weeks ago, my husband and I took a part-time job at a farm that gives trail rides, pony rides and riding lessons.  This place billed itself as a “rescue” and in our initial interview the owner explained how she rescued horses and used them for the events at the farm to finance other rescue attempts.  She seemed sincere, but to be honest, the farm was a dump.

At first glance, there were over 20 horses in 3 mud filled fields.  I kid you not…there wasn’t a dry patch of ground anywhere in the fields.  But all of the horses had hay in front of them and though they all wore blankets (it was about 30 degrees when we had our interview) no one looked like they were in distress.

Cut to a week or so later when we actually started work on a busy Saturday morning around 9am.  Eight horses were pulled out of the muddy fields and fed a breakfast of grain tied to a fence, trees or stakes in the ground.  Those horses would stay tied and tacked up all day until between 4 and 6 when the days rides were completed.

I won’t go into all of the specifics of everything we saw in the short time we worked there, but a few things that stood out for me and seemed almost borderline abuse were:

*Halters left on 24/7.  None were break-away, some were rope halters, most didn’t fit.

*On busy days, the horses were not given a break.  One ride was finished, the rider dismounted and another immediately mounted up to ride.

*Horses weren’t offered water while tied until my hubby and I specifically asked where to get water.

*Some unlucky horses were tied to the fence of an extremely bitchy mare who would fight with them over the fence.  Since they were tied, they had no where to go.  One actually managed somehow to break his non-breakaway halter and escape.

*There was a horse in one of the muddy fields that supposedly had an abcess in one front foot.  She was kept out there (despite the fact that the owner had access to a stall) with almost 20 other horses and mud oozing into the duct taped “boot” that was made for the hoof.  This horse could barely walk.

*Some of the horses were forced to wear medium or heavy winter blankets even though the temperature was 60-70 degrees.


In this photo you can see a horse with a heavy blanket (complete with hood) tied to the fence where a horse on the other side of the fence can mess with it.  Notice the short sleeves on the arm in the fore corner of the pic.  It was around 70 degrees when this pic was taken. Sharp eyes will notice the lead rope tying the gate closed.  Safety first!

These are just some of the things that we saw.  There were (in my opinion) worse offences that also occurred.  This woman seemed nice, if a bit overwhelmed, and professed her love for horses and her desire to save as many of them as she can.  My question is:

If you rescue a horse, and the situation isn’t that much improved, does it count as a rescue?

When I was in business, I did my fare share of rescuing horses.  I, much like this woman (I assume), had the great idea that you could rescue horses and then have them pay for themselves.  It’s a wonderful idea on paper, but in practice it doesn’t really work all that well.  At least it didn’t for me.  I know for a fact that when you care about something (like horses) and you make it your life’s work to save them, it’s hard to accept the fact that you can’t save them all.  It’s damn near impossible to turn down “just one more” when one with a sob story comes along.

Everyone has a different idea of what is acceptable care for animals.  I know some people who treat their animals like the most pampered royal children, and I know others who treat their animals like peasant subjects to be used, but taken care of at least to the bare minimum to keep them healthy to do their job, and I know yet other people who fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum.  I am one of the people in the middle.  I would never hurt any animal, I was in business so I did use them, but I viewed them as employees.  I gave my horses health care (routine and emergency vet care), I paid them a salary (they worked for treats and were paid after every ride), they were never asked to work to the point of exhaustion and they were given a minimum of 1, but usually 2 days off per week.  I always did my best to keep my horses comfortable, healthy and happy and I was rewarded with some amazing and very friendly animals who worked very hard for me for the time I was in business.

What I have seen the last 3 weeks is not acceptable to me.  It’s not obvious, in your face abuse, but in my opinion it’s borderline.  It saddens me that someone who swears they are a ‘rescue’ is treating horses this way.  And last week she took in even more (the herd count is now over 40).  I get it, it’s hard to say no.  I also get that this woman believes with all her heart that she is saving these horses from an even worse situation.  She has the best of intentions.  But they say the road to Hell is paved with good intentions…..

I have removed myself from the situation.  There is nothing that I can do there except hope and pray that she can somehow come up with the money to feed all of the horses until she finds homes for most of them (which she said she is doing).

Rescue is something that I’m convinced now you have to be crazy to do.  If you’re not crazy from the start, it will make you that way.  It’s overwhelming, it’s emotional, it’s exhausting, and it’s extremely expensive.  I tip my hat to anyone who has rescued even a single animal in need. Kudos to you for making a difference.  And to the men and women struggling to keep a larger rescue afloat, I wish you luck and sanity.  Luck because you will need it to juggle your finances to make it all work, and Sanity because yours will likely slip.  But I hope you hold onto it.  I hope that you stay sane enough to realize when to push through a tough time, and when to walk away from a sinking ship.

Shedding Shenanigans

Though you wouldn’t know it today (the blizzard of 2017 hit today), spring is less than a week away.  I have 7 shaggy ponies in the barn, all beginning to loose their winter coats and boy is it a mess!

I love spring.  I love how winter dies and everything starts to bloom, the grass starts to turn green, the days become longer and the air is warmer.  And while I love sleek, summer coated horses, I HATE the shedding process with a vengeance.  It will be weeks of hitting each and every horse with a shedding blade until I can officially declare them “shed out.” Meanwhile, the hair clings to everything.

In the last week I’ve come home every day coated in horse hair.  I’ve swallowed horse hair and I’ve inhaled horse hair.  I’ve gotten horse hair in my eyes, and I’ve even pulled some out of my ears (don’t ask).

Looking at the horses before grooming, they don’t look that fuzzy.  Sure, they’re a little more fluffy than they were last September, but they’re not wholly mammoths (well, not all of them).  After just 10 minutes with a shedding blade, it’s possible to get a mini’s worth of hair off of them, and you’re nowhere near done!  Ugh!

I’ve seriously contemplated just clipping my herd.  And perhaps in the coming weeks I will.  Clipping during shedding season gets it all done at once, in a matter of hours.  You still end up covered in horse hair, but at least then it’s done till next year (or the fall if you decide to keep your horse clipped year round).  However, today’s weather is exactly why I won’t clip the herd for a few more weeks.  The weather lately has been 70 degrees one day, then a blizzard like today.  I prefer not to blanket the horses if I can help it and clipping them means they will need blankies if it gets (or stays) cold.  So I will wait.  And continue to ingest my daily serving of horse hair.



Back to School

Spring is almost upon us.  Last night before bed the clocks jumped ahead an hour, the flowers are starting to bloom and the horses in the barn are beginning to shed like crazy!  For those of us without an indoor, all of these signs point to it almost being riding season again.

I’ve decided to do a bit of spring cleaning here at SnapDragon.  I’ve begun getting the business back in shape to start on a very small scale.  I started to clean up the SnapDragon Face Book page, and I resurrected and updated the website. I’ve learned my lessons of the past and my hope is to start teaching and training again, but keep it at a manageable level and grow slowly.  That’s the goal anyway…

Part of getting everything back into shape is getting myself (the head trainer) back in shape! I signed up to take 2 riding lessons this past week and boy was it a wake up call!  Getting old stinks and if I have any advice to offer my readers it’s this, “Don’t get old. Just don’t do it!”

My first lesson was at a Hunt Seat barn in the area.  Hunt seat is what I grew up riding, so I figured it would be a breeze. Well, after not riding for almost 8 months, I was in for a rude awakening!  My instructor picked me apart (nicely) and attempted to put me back together, while I struggled to maintain my position, breathe, keep the horse moving, and generally ignore the searing pain in my left ankle that is a constant when I’m on the back of a horse.

At the end of the lesson, I was left sore but accomplished.  I got my first ride of the season under my belt and I survived!

A couple of days later, I took a lesson at a Dressage barn in the area.  Public Service Announcement: completely changing disciplines is a great way to make you feel like you forgot how to ride!  Honestly, I didn’t do terrible, but there was quite a bit of adjustment. The way a rider sits in the saddle, how their leg hangs and how their upper body are positioned are all slightly different in Dressage than in Hunt Seat.  It was fascinating and frustrating all at the same time.  The result of that lesson is that I definitely want to work some more in Dressage.  My goal at SnapDragon is to turn out well-rounded riders and that starts with a more well-rounded instructor.

Right now, I am sore but happy.  I am excited to get myself and my horses back in shape as the weather becomes nicer.  Lessons start up again in about 3 weeks (April 1st) and I’ve already booked a few students!

Remember, everyone can benefit from riding lessons.  It doesn’t matter how long you have been riding or what your skill level is; there is always something to learn.  And even the best riders will benefit from an eye on the ground.  Trust me, all the best riding instructors have their own riding instructor to keep them on top of their game!

If you have any suggestions for topics or any questions you would like to have answered, let me know in the comments section.


Loose Horse

It’s one of every horse owner’s top nightmares:  Your horse is not where you left him.  He’s LOOSE!

This could be one of several scenarios:

  • You fell off the horse and now he’s running free
  • Your are leading, grooming, or somehow handling your horse in the barn and he somehow slips free of you.
  • You come to the barn in the morning to find that your horse is missing from his pasture or stall.

What do you do?

Continue reading “Loose Horse”

Back in the Saddle

cropped-stretchlove.jpgThe Horse World is an interesting place, and the horse business is a very rough business.  You have to be tough, dedicated, resilient and (seemingly) rich to make it in the horse world.

I have been involved with horses now for over 30 years.  I periodically take a break from it, but I always come back.  Now is one of those times.

I had my own riding lesson business (SnapDragon Stables) for almost 6 years, then about two years ago I gave up on it.  Like I said, the horse business is rough.  I was broke, exhausted and found myself starting to dislike horses.  So I took a break.

But I miss teaching.  It’s my passion.  And I love horses.  Though the work was tough, and the money was almost nothing (when you figure in overhead such as hay, vet, farrier, and barn lease costs), I’m itching to get back into business.  It’ll be different this time around.  It has to be. But luckily I’ve learned from my mistakes.  And I hope that I can help others learn from my mistakes as well.

The purpose of this blog is to share some of my knowledge.  Things I’ve learned while in business and from a lifetime with horses.  I encourage anyone reading this to ask questions, make suggestions for future posts, etc…