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Slaughterproof your horse

After saving dozens of horses from slaughter, we’ve noticed some recurring themes. Kill pens burst at the seams with horses whose owners failed to give them the one thing that could save their lives: Value.

First and foremost, horses are expensive. The purchase price, adoption fee or bail is the cheapest expense you’ll ever have as a horse owner. That bears repeating. That $1,500 you scrimped, saved and begged to collect is like a tiny crack in a dam holding back a torrent of water. Trust me, that crack won’t hold.

Imagine a cash register with the “cha-ching” button stuck. That’s what it’s like to own a horse.

Second (maybe first and second are toss-ups), horse ownership is time-consuming, back-breaking work. Kudos to the lucky people who can stick their horses on a pasture and forget about them until they die of old age. That ain’t the norm.

Horses are like giant, accident-prone, ADD-riddled toddlers. Anything they can get into, they will get into. Anything that can injure them, will injure them. And when they injure themselves, they go big. Very rarely does an emergency vet visit turn out to be nothing. It’s always something.

How horses end up on kill lots

In our experience, a major percentage of horses land in kill pens because their owners either weren’t able or weren’t willing to foot the bill for one of those routine emergencies (because with horses, emergencies are routine). While there’s never an excuse to send a horse to slaughter; as a rescue, it behooves us to analyze the reasons why an owner might have given up on a horse. Once we identify potential issues, we do our best to either fix them, or find the adopter who’s best equipped to handle them.

We have yet to meet the potential adopter who says, “I’m looking for an older, lame horse that’s not really trained, has health issues, and will cost me thousands of dollars, right off the bat. I really want to put some time and money into a big ol’ question mark.”

Most adopters are more like, “I want a perfectly healthy, dead-broke, babysitter gelding – preferably about 8 years old – that can saddle and un-saddle, bathe and groom himself, pick his own feet, yada yada. Bonus if he can give massages and pedicures. And I really don’t think I should have to pay more than $750 for a rescue.” Mm-hmm.

Call me Captain Obvious, but high-demand horses rarely end up on kill lots. Frustrated, disillusioned owners dump the damaged horses that need a little patience and TLC by the tens of thousands a year.

Our goal (and job) at Swingin’ D Horse Rescue is to add value to those horses – giving them the time, resources and care they need to get right with the world.

How Swingin’ D “slaughterproofs” horses

Sometimes all a horse needs is a little time to heal from a basic injury. Other times they may need months or years of hands-on medical attention and treatment. But every horse needs a few essential things that we hope will protect them from the threat of slaughter once they leave our protective cocoon.

Unless you have a 30-year plan to protect your horse when you’re no longer around (yay if you do!), you might want to consider making your horse slaughterproof.

  • Socialize your horse.

    No one wants a spooky horse. Spooky horses have limited usefulness and can be dangerous in the wrong hands. Expose your horse to as many sights, sounds, smells and humans as you can to ensure she’s safe under most any circumstance.

  • Condition your horse.

    Keeping your horse in good physical condition keeps its blood flowing and staves off obesity, which can lead to a host of medical issues. You don’t want a Fatty McFatterson, and you don’t want a bag of bones. Proper diet and exercise are key to a slaughterproof horse.

  • Train your horse.

    Ground work, ground work, ground work. A horse that knows how to act on the ground will rarely fail you under saddle. The more you can train and condition your horse to accept, the more valuable he will be to the world. A horse that’s easy to catch and halter, stands patiently when tied, allows you to pick up all four feet, loads on and off trailers, takes the bit without fuss, is a horse with enough value to reduce his chances of becoming a cheeseburger. If you’re not comfortable training, hire a professional to work out any issues you might think detract value from your horse. Remember, your horse’s issues are not really his issues. They’re your issues. He can’t train himself.

  • Regular pedicures.

    Healthy feet are literally the foundation of a valuable horse. A horse’s feet are growing all the time. That means they need to be trimmed regularly (every 6-8 weeks). Between farrier visits, your horse’s feet should be picked and cleaned at least a few times a week. Not only does picking give you an opportunity to clear away rocks and debris that may cause discomfort, it also conditions your horse to be handled, and lets you detect issues that might affect your horse’s health and safety. Healthy feet add value to your horse.

  • Vaccinations.

    Certain diseases and conditions can cause permanent, irreparable damage, so it’s an owner’s responsibility to safeguard our horses wherever we can. A damaged horse is a horse that’s vulnerable to slaughter. At a minimum, veterinary experts recommend Eastern/Western Equine Encephalomyelitis, Rabies, Tetanus and est Nile Virus. Your vet may have different ideas, so it’s important to consult him or her.

  • Dental care.

    Just like their feet, horses’ teeth also constantly grow. Painful hooks and jags may affect their ability to chew, which is the first vital step in a horse’s digestive system. Some horses require annual floating. Others are able to grind down problem spots on their own. The best way to know is through annual dental checkups.

  • Clean intestines.

    Managing your horse’s intestines is crucial to managing your horse’s health. An intestinal parasite overload can affect a horse’s coat, weight and overall physical condition. “Worms”, as they’re commonly called, can lead to diarrhea, colic, or even death. A skinny, bloated horse with a patchy, dull coat has little value. Talk with your vet about the latest strategies for managing intestinal parasites.

Vet, Farrier, Trainer – your best friends

I really hate it when articles advise me to consult my vet. All I keep hearing is that broken “CHA-CHING” button on the cash register in my brain. Yes, I hold several doctorates from Google University, but I’m still not a vet. Find a good one and rely on his or her expertise.

It’s important to realize that anything can happen to your horse when it’s no longer in your care. Even if you meticulously screen buyers and get them to sign in the blood of their first-born child that they’ll never let your beloved companion go to slaughter… Maybe the buyer drops dead of a heart attack and his grandkids can’t wait to sell off all his property (including your beloved companion). You just can’t know.

The one thing you can do is make your horse as valuable as possible today, and the best way to do that is to consult the experts – your farrier, your vet and a professional trainer (if you feel unqualified to train).

Your horse deserves to be slaughterproof, and he can’t do it himself.