(This blog is in response to a small volley of attacks I received from some vegans who believe they know the “solution” to horses. I know for a fact they do not, because for the past 17 years I have been in the thick of active horse rescue as well as providing sanctuary for those animals deemed “useless” to society. Even so, I don’t know the solution to horses . . .)
First, here’s the quote that everyone is having so much fun twisting around in which I’m clearly talking about me. “Judge me when you have the option of living a cushy life of restaurants and Broadway plays but instead choose to spend $10,000 a month on hay and grain, $2,000 a month on farrier bills, who knows how much on vet bills (anywhere from $500 to $5,000.)” This was our choice. My husband had expected a lifestyle of restaurants and Broadway plays and perhaps nice furniture with no teeth/claw marks. We make a lot of money, more than most people. This is little more than a fact. My husband didn’t expect to have to work from before dawn ‘til after dusk and seldom have a nickel for entertainment. He didn’t expect to spend every dime on hay, grain, worm paste, farriers, fencing, etc. But I made my choice, told him that’s what came with me, and he came along for the rocky ride and fell in love with it, and with the animals. (He claims he’d already fallen in love with me, and for that he has paid dearly.)
I really don’t know if you get to go to Broadway plays, but if you do, you lucky sot and I feel small pangs of envy.
The truth is, I’m human. I miss going to plays. I miss concerts. I miss NYC. I miss travel. I miss living in a nice house, and by that I mean one with no holes or mold. But I know the difference I make and I will never choose to take anything away from the animals in favor of something for myself. I’ve been this way for all of my 57 years and I can’t change. Contort my words to try to make me an elitist of me if it makes you feel better, I actually don’t care. I have too much work to do and not enough of an ego to worry about anyone’s opinion of me.
Second: Horses are a distinct problem that most people can’t fathom. You can argue semantics on paper all you want, but I live in the real world and in this world horses die horrible deaths, terrified, knowing what’s coming, hit in the head with a bolt gun that sometimes stuns them, sometimes doesn’t. Hanging upside down with a hook through a back leg, desperate and screaming, watching as the horses ahead of them in line are killed. THIS IS MY REALITY. THIS IS THEIR REALITY. It sucks.
The majority of the horses who die in this manner are unable to work anymore and are sent to auction, which more often than not means slaughter. Here’s a miniscule list of some we’ve rescued from this fate:
Amigo, a retired police horse (even men in uniform are not safe!)
Hero, a horse who got bored with being attached to a live merry-go-round
Lucille, a PMU mare who didn’t get pregnant
Captain (and dozens of other males from the PMU industry) a PMU foal from Canada who was clearly useless, as males can’t be bred to supply estrogen-rich urine for the Premarin industry
Annie, a 10-month pregnant mustang who was seconds away from being loaded onto a double-decker tractor-trailer with a one-way ticket to Canada
And several hundred more. Aside from a few exceptions, they were all going to die because they were useless to humanity as anything but meat.
This is reality. Most of them couldn’t be ridden so their only fate was a gruesome, painful, terrifying death.
If I am being realistic (and being a Capricorn, it’s all I know,) I realize that we are one of the few facilities that will keep horses that can’t be ridden. We have a LOT of them. I also know that even a well-trained horse will go to slaughter and all it takes is a reversal in fortune to send a horse to auction. In 2015 the USA provided more than 125,000 horses to the meat industry. In 1991, that number was 345,700. These are the statistics that crush my heart and soul. What can we realistically do about this?
Currently, we have to work within the concrete realm of reality. Untrained horses are meat. Period. Like dogs, horses have been bred to be human-dependent. The damage is done, and it’s too late to fix it. THEY HAVE BEEN BRED TO ENJOY HUMAN INTERACTION AND YES, THEY HAVE BEEN BRED SO THAT THE VAST MAJORITY OF THEM LOVE THE CONNECTION OF RIDING WITH HUMANS. Over tens of thousands of years, humans chose the horses best suited to this activity and bred them to make lots more just like them. When treated well, they are enjoying the activity as much as the humans riding them. Sorry, to a “vegan” it’s an ugly truth, but it’s humanity’s own fault. Also like dogs, an untrained horse is a deadly dangerous thing. We bred them to need training, and now we have to train them so they don’t hurt anyone and therefore, be killed for meat. It’s a classic catch 22; you can’t break these rules.
The world is what it is. We can attack people over semantics or we can deal in reality and actually make a difference to these animals. As I’ve said, most horses are perfectly fine with being ridden as WE MADE THEM THAT WAY. On our farm, those who don’t want to work, don’t. We have chronically lame horses, a horse who rears, truly ancient horses and a horse named Bobby who was so abused by the Amish he suffers from PTSD and is deadly dangerous (but we know how to handle him . . . and love him to pieces . . . and so he lives.) We have a horse named Teddy who doesn’t like paddocks so he walks around loose all day. Whatever they want, they can have.
If anything happens to us, our veterinarian knows what to do. Those who can’t be ridden and have no place to go will be gently euthanized; we won’t take the chance of them going to the horror that is slaughter, and I know oh-so-well how little space there is for “useless” horses. Our lesson ponies, however, have a chance. Their new humans will be carefully and painstakingly screened to make sure they are cared for their entire lives, even after they are retired from riding.
A trained horse is a safer horse for humanity and themselves, and we work hard to not fail any of ours.
And this begs the questions for the militant vegans; what exactly are we to do with all of these horses if we can’t train them? Because THEY ARE ALREADY HERE. IT’S TOO LATE. What alternate plan is there for the 6.9 million horses in the United States alone that annually can each cost anywhere from $7,000 to, well INFINITY number of dollars to maintain? Who will fund this? Where is the land to turn them loose when we currently don’t have enough for our wild mustangs (damn those ranchers who took it all to graze cattle . . .) WHAT’S THE PLAN? My husband and I are two of the very few who will fork out over a hundred thousand bucks a year to take care of 20 retired horses (it’s another $100,000 plus for the rest of the animals.) The only “realistic” option for “true vegans” is to find a way to convince people to stop breeding them. Instead of animal lovers attacking each other over words and titles and spewing their brand of righteousness and judgment, our greatest opportunity exists in completely eliminating the animals that humanity worked so hard to create by no longer creating them (and that includes domesticated dogs who also must be trained or they will die.) All attempts to curb the breeding of domesticated animals up to this point have failed and I assume it will be the same with horses. Do I advocate annihilating horses and dogs? No. But I do advocate responsible breeding and, well, that’s another hopeless mess. If I think about it I cry, so, instead, I work . . .
And so, being a pragmatic plant-based eater, I will continue to do my absolute best and dedicate my life to working within reality. My horses will be gently trained, as they are at every reputable horse rescue aside from those for wild mustangs. (The farm animal rescues that don’t take horses make that choice because they know horses must be trained, exercised, shod and carefully monitored for health and that they are far more expensive and labor-intensive than other animals.) We will continue to have a small lesson program that, by the way, doesn’t make enough money in a year to support even a single horse, but does keep our horses fit and trained so they may possibly avoid a bolt to the head before being bled out. I will always take into account their likes, desires and dislikes and I will allow them that autonomy. This is how I raised my children, and this is how I raise my animal babies . . . we do our very best with what we have and keep striving to find a way to do more.
If being a vegan means living in a fantasyland of useless words and unattainable goals, I’m out. Titles mean nothing to me. Wordy rhetoric means nothing. Lofty and idealistic plateaus are useless if they don’t make a difference to animals in the real world. Saving animals, however, is all that I am. Providing for the needs of this collection of otherwise rejected beings is my greatest goal in life.
I haven’t eaten meat in 36 years, dairy in at least 20, and what I know about eggs is that they taste nasty . . . but if saving horses in the best possible way that currently exists precludes me from being a vegan, alas, I’m not a vegan and it doesn’t matter to me at all. Because above all else, I am an animal rescuer. It’s the essence of my being, the essence of my earthly job, and I will be among the lucky few who will die with no regrets.
So go ahead and judge me – I mean, you will no matter what I have to say. I’m not worried about your words. What I worry about is the animals, where the limited energy and resources of animal lovers is being spent, and what we can realistically do to help them right now.
(. . . That said, I return to my regularly scheduled program of shoveling, training and lamb physical therapy. I hope any ensuing conversation is productive for the animals and not divisive for the humans.)