What Do We Owe Our Horses? Part I

I’ve been thinking about this a lot as I only have 0.5/3 functioning horses at the moment. I read Running with Scissors recent post and thought about it some more. I used to work for a rescue and am familiar with kill lot horses. I’m also sadly aware of what happens to the horses that don’t get rescued.

So what do we owe our horses? A home for life? Retirement? All of our money? Every procedure ever invented that might help?

I personally think we owe our horses the best that we can. I know that’s vague, so I’ll cover some details, but outside of a few “wrong answers,” I don’t think there is one right answer.

First of all, I am 100% in favor of someone selling a horse. I think dogs get a home for life, but horses are working animals. If a horse isn’t working out for you and you want to sell it, go ahead. I haven’t been posting for a very long, but I’ve been reading horse blogs for years and I have read so many stories of bloggers apologizing for selling their horse because the horse wasn’t working out for them. Don’t apologize. I think we’re all familiar with that person who buys and sells horses every time something happens or they don’t win because they think they can buy happiness, but they’re the exception. Don’t be that person. But you also shouldn’t keep a horse that’s wrong for you just because you think you owe it to that horse.

What do you owe a horse you’re selling? Again, the best that you can. There’s no one right answer, but here are some wrong answers:

1. Sending Your Horse to an Auction House
There is no way this ends well. Even if they don’t go straight to a kill buyer, they’re not going anywhere good. And they’re very likely to get sick or injured at an auction house.

2. Selling it for Less than Slaughter Price 
Ask a reputable rescue in your area what price kill buyers are paying. They should know what meat prices are travel expenses and what local kill buyers are paying. Sell above this amount. This includes not giving your horse away for free. Even to a “good home only.” Kill buyers aren’t just skeezy old men. They’re sometimes women and they sometimes come with kids. They may even have a farm with a few of their own horses that they keep for themselves. The mom looking for a nice, older horse for her kid who even lets you visit her farm to see for yourself how good a home it is could still be a kill buyer. They can even have a good vet reference. Unless you actually know the person you’re giving your horse to, the only way to ensure they’re not being purchased for slaughter is to sell them for more than the buyer could make in reselling them. And, usually, this price is pretty low (e.g.: <$500). If anyone tells you they can’t afford $500 for a horses, please ask yourself how they’re going to afford vet visits for this horse in the future. They’re not. So, even if they aren’t kill buyers, this is not a good home for your horse. I personally wouldn’t trust anyone who can’t afford at least $1,000. (If your horse is not worth this much, then consider non sale options, which I’ll cover in another post).

3. Lying to Sell your Horse

If you need to lie to sell your horse, your horse will not end up in a good place. If your horse has an injury or any other condition that limits them, don’t lie about it when selling them. Dijon is a great example of this. He’s technically sound. He’d even pass a vet check. I could sell him for a lot. I’d just have to not mention that he has previously bowed his back tendons (one of them twice) and is very likely to do so again if used in any heavy work. I could just lie and sell him “as is. He’s a gorgeous palomino gaited horse; I would easily sell him for a few thousand dollars to an individual so that would easily cross off #1 and #2 on this list. But his new owners would probably injure him pretty quickly since they don’t know his limitations and then they’ll probably re-sell him and he’ll end up in a #1 or #2 situation. This goes for training issues too. If your horse bucks/rears/has training issues, don’t lie about them. The next owner will eventually discover them and they too may decide to sell the horse to avoid those issues. And when that horse ends up selling down the line and ending up at a slaughterhouse, you’re just as responsible as if you sent them there yourself.
If you’re going to sell a horse, you owe them this much. If you want to, go ahead and put a buy-back clause in your sale contract. But do so knowing these are notoriously not enforceable. You maybe be able to go to court after the fact, but if the horse is already dead or gone, going to court won’t satisfy you. If you don’t want the horse back, don’t bother. I know some people will disagree with me here, but I don’t think you need to have a life-time commitment to a horse. You have to do the best you can for them, but you do not need to commit yourself to them forever.

I do have a few exceptions. I think you’re an asshole if you sell an old broodmare that can’t breed anymore. She worked for you; she deserves a decent retirement. Same thing for any other horse that earned you money. If you profited off that horse, some of those profits should go towards that horse having a good life.

I’ll talk about what I think we owe our horses when we can’t sell them (injury, old age, etc) tomorrow.

If you have a horse selling horror story or success story, please share. A lot of what I know, I learned from working with a reputable rescue, but I’ve also learned from listening to those around me.

16 thoughts on “What Do We Owe Our Horses? Part I

  1. L.Williams

    Ramone will be the first horse I am selling ever. It's not because he won't work for me, he'd probably work for me just fine into infinite, but because I bought him as a resale project, period. That being said, I always felt I owed him good health, a safe and dry home, and life skills that anyone would appreciate or want in a horse.

  2. Stephanie

    This is a great post! Like you, I don't have a problem with selling a horse. But I agree that there are things we owe our horses when we sell them, which is why I don't feel comfortable selling either Gina or Moe. I can't imagine either of them ending up in a great place, because they're old and Gina is kind of wacky.

  3. Sarah Fowler

    This is one of the many reasons I'm so grateful to have acreage. My mares will be with for their entire lives, the donkeys too. Copper is still youngish, so if life gets in the way, I can see him getting leased out or sold to someone with a buyback clause, but that would still be really hard and only because he has so many good competitive years left. That's the only reason I was okay with breeding, because I'm comfortable hanging onto a horse that I may not be able to find a home for, otherwise breeding makes me uncomfortable.

    I did sell a gelding back in college that I've considered doing a more in depth post about, mainly because I've seen him come up for sale since then and find it entertaining. He was an asshole though. I told the people he was near impossible to catch and not to try to canter him in wide open places. They bought him anyway. *shrugs*

  4. Olivia

    This is exactly my point. You should totally get to sell him. And you've done everything right to make him sellable. He'll certainly get a good home.

  5. Olivia

    Yeah, this is why I haven't sold Dijon even though I think he'd honestly be better off with another owner who lives in a flat place and he cold get out more often. he's bored being semi-retired.

  6. Olivia

    You are lucky. I do wish I had the land to keep my horses on. It's so much harder to plan for retirement of horses when you don't have the space.
    I haven't seen my own sale horses resurface for sale, but I have seen horses pop up for sale that were for sale before. I always figure the seller lied about that horse, but you're right: you can be totally honest as a seller and the buyer can be delusional.

  7. Olivia

    I just feel like so many people do. I see it on the internet and it see it in real life too. And then people judge themselves and hold on to a horse that isn't right for them out of some misplaced sense of responsibility.

  8. emma

    very thoughtful post – thanks for sharing (and i'm looking forward to tomorrow's post too). i've never owned so i don't feel comfortable making blanket statements about 'having a horse for life' etc, but feeling like i need to make that type of commitment is part of why i haven't plunged into ownership yet.

    we really *do* have certain responsibilities to our horses – but i think my own inclinations will lean in the direction you wrote above – giving the horse a good home while it's with me, and taking meaningful honest steps to make sure it's provided for should it cease to belong to me. i also love L's point about making sure the horse has the kind of manners/skills that make it a good citizen and thus more likely to keep a home.

  9. Olivia

    I do hope you don't let the buying and selling hold you back from owning a horse. Leasing is great – I did it for years – but there's something even better about owning your own horse. But you should totally do what makes you happy. If you wouldn't be happy selling a horse, then don't. Just don't let the outside world convince you you're responsible for a horse for life.

    And yes, we are responsible for the horses we own. The worst are the people who try to sell horses who aren't even halter broke. You have to give them all of the skills possible to give them a chance at having a good home.

  10. Megan

    Totally agree with you! I'm also training my guy to sell. He's got the perfect adult amateur brain and once as he's had enough life experience and training, he's going to make an ammy sooo happy. I know that once as he knows what his job is, he'll be a lot happier toting an amateur around than helping me claw my way back to the Grand Prix ring. I have some plans laid out based on every situation- what if he goes lame while I have him, what if he can't do dressage anymore, etc. It's definitely something that occupies my mind while I'm training him- how do I create a horse who is extremely sellable so he won't end up somewhere bad (like L was saying), and what to do if for some reason he isn't sellable.

    Super curious to read your next piece on this! Interesting topic 🙂

  11. Annette Mickelson

    I agree with your post and your comments about kill lots/auctions are exactly why we are selling Mufasa, not giving him away. There are some horses that we will have for life: Brett's retired mounted patrol horse because you don't sell your partner; Jackson who is not sound but gave me his best when he was; Lucy who will be my last horse and my "best" horse in terms of ability and temperament. I've had no qualms about selling talented horses, who weren't right for me, to homes where they can be successful. I agree the Mufasa will be hard to sell; we may not be successful — but I don't want him to end up in a kill pen.

  12. Olivia

    I'm really glad you're making him so sensible. I've met dressage horses that can't leave the ring. Then, if they get injured and can't do dressage anymore, they're doomed. I'm curious what your backup plan would be for him if he were unsellable?

  13. Olivia

    I agree with you about Jackson and Flash. A police horse deserves retirement. I guess I should reward my statement about making a profit. It's not just a profit, but if a horse worked for you it deserves a retirement. Police horses, carriage horses, plow horses, etc all fall under that for me. I hope you can sell Mufasa and I'm sure you'll do best by him no matter what.

    And a horse that gave you his all, also deserves a decent

  14. TeresaA

    Nice post. We owe horses good care and a good end. I think selling horse that isn't right for you is fine and is no one sold horses I wouldn't have horses. 🙂

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