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"FREE TO GOOD HOME"
- THE PLIGHT OF THE PASTURE ORNAMENT

Several times a week I get emails from folks asking me to help them place their no-longer-wanted Mustang - "Free to a good home." I do post their notice on the appropriate websites that I can, but it's starting to get to me. Or maybe they've priced the horse just above the meat price (which I do commend!) but the text is the same: older horse, no training.

Even in bad times, a well-trained horse of any breed has value, and is always the last to be sold or given away, and is the most likely to find a good home.

That's almost never what people want to give away or sell dirt cheap. What people want to give away is the Pasture Ornament.

Perhaps they adopted this horse on impulse, or perhaps they jumped in with romantic zeal after reading Monty Roberts or The Horse Whisperer... but it turned out to be harder than they expected and after awhile they lost interest... Perhaps the horse gentled down just fine, but they thought they could just "get on and ride" and it didn't work out... Or perhaps they misguidedly thought they were "saving" the horse...Or maybe their initial enthusiasm as adopters devolved into Collector Syndrome, with too many mouths to feed and too many hooves to trim...

 

Warning to people offering a free horse: Free horses are at great risk of going to slaughter. Kill buyers (or takers, in the case of free) often pose as nice people who love horses. They can make great promises about how much love the horse will get with them, etc. Unwary owners are often conned into believing the horse is going to a great new home, only to find out later that the horse was given a one-way ticket to a cruel Mexican slaughter house.

Here's a typical ad:

"Free to Good Home: Beautiful Mustang Mare: Sally was originally adopted along with 3 other mares and a stallion and put out to pasture. She had many babies but was not really handled much. I got her 2 years ago and she had a foal 2 weeks later. I have worked with her but she needs someone with time and patience. 12 years old"

Regardless of the reason, the reality is that the adopter failed to make a real commitment to the animal, and did not choose to seek - and if necessary, budget to pay for - appropriate help.

Now they have a horse - often in its prime adult years between 6 and 14, that may be "friendly, curious, affectionate and sweet" but hard to catch, impossible to administer veterinary care or to trim its hooves without sedation, and dangerous to handle.

At 8 or 10 or 12 years it is no longer a matter of "potential." Most horses that age are seasoned animals in their prime.

Not that older horses aren't capable of being saddle trained. Certainly they are. They tend to take much longer, require even more commitment on the part of the adopter, and sometimes need different training techniques.

In today's market, people looking for a green or untrained horse have a choice: They can choose from a huge pool of healthy "blank slate" youngsters with their lives ahead of them. Or, there are these older horses - animals who may already have spent half their lives, and may have suffered neglect in the hoof care and nutritional departments. Both types of horses will need equal amounts of training - which would you choose?

WHAT'S WRONG WITH A PASTURE ORNAMENT?

Absolutely nothing really. The law does not require that a horse be trained, and BLM adoption regulations do not require it, either - just good care. To provide good care, an animal needs to be able to be safely handled, at a minimum.

Keeping a mustang as an untrained pasture ornament would be fine if you could guarantee that you will provide for the animal for its entire life, but how many people can honestly do that? And when the time comes that you either no longer can keep it - or no longer want to keep it - the mature untrained horse usually has no future - through no fault of its own.

Folks, if you are thinking of adopting a Mustang - PLEASE - MAKE A COMMITMENT TO GET YOUR ANIMAL TRAINED in a timely manner. For most of us, that means budgeting the money to hire a trainer - or - if part of the reason for adopting is for our own growth and education - hiring someone to teach us how to train. (If you can't afford to get it trained, can you afford a horse at all? Can you provide feed, vet care, worming, vaccinations, hoof care, fencing, housing, and tack? Even a free horse is not cheap!)

Most people can, if they make a commitment and put in the time, successfully gentle a horse to the point that it is no longer terribly afraid of people. But to become a good, reliable riding horse, the horse needs training, and training takes skill and experience. For most adopters, it is not a good "Do-It-Yourself" Project. Do not adopt without considering training!

Volunteer mentors can be helpful to get you get off to a good start, and to work through an occasional "bump" along the way, but you will need to accept responsibility for getting yourself and your horse the solid, in-depth professional training that your horse deserves. And that usually means paying for it.

THINK TWICE BEFORE RESCUING:

Unfortunately, more and more horses are finding themselves in need of rescue. But what good is being rescued if later on, the horse needs to be rescued from the rescuer? People often "rescue" with the best intentions, but find themselves in over their heads - the horse may be too hard to handle, or the person may find themselves with too many mouths to feed, too many hooves to trim, etc. and become overwhelmed.

Never, ever take on the responsibility for a horse unless you...yourself...personally can support the horse(s). If a hardship happens, and you can no longer support the horses, please have a back-up plan! It is especially risky to "start a rescue" with the intention of asking for donations to pay the bills. Relying on the willingness of the public to pay for your horses is a very shaky business model!

If you do find yourself needing to re-home a horse or burro, here are some good resources:

Facebook:
Adopt A Living Legend

The Modern Mustanger

WWW:
The Modern Mustanger (Blog)

Bay Area Equestrian Network Rescue/Re-Home Listings