We hear it every time a prospective adopter comes to meet our horses: “How did this horse end up on a kill lot?” We know they’re not asking what the horse did to deserve slaughter, because that’s not even possible. But how could such a seemingly sound and well-behaved horse get condemned to slaughter?
It’s one of the first questions we ask when we rescue a kill pen horse – not because we need to justify the evil humans do; but because we want to ameliorate the issue as best we can to minimize the possibility of anyone else ever giving up on it again.
Most of the time, we can imagine why a horse wound up at Swingin’ D Horse Rescue. And if we know, you can be certain prospective adopters will know. But with some horses, like Ella, it’s truly a mystery.
Lying liars lie
Nothing moves faster than an unwanted horse. When someone is desperate to get out from under the responsibility and expense of horse ownership, some of them will say and do anything to get you to take the burden off their hands. To them, all that matters is the sale.
Lying liars will hide ailments, drug crazy horses, intentionally fudge abilities and ages (like telling you a horse is 17 when he knows damn well it’s closer to 30), and tell all manner of little white lies to move that horse. And lying liars never look back. In their view, it’s your fault for being stupid enough to believe them.
We know from experience, when expectations exceed reality, horses go to slaughter; and that’s the fault of humans – not horses. That’s why we do our dead-level best to scare the living biscuits out of prospective adopters with the “what ifs” regarding our horses. Only the hearty survive.
We obviously can’t know everything in the 60-plus days we have to rehabilitate and evaluate a horse; but before you sign a contract to keep that horse forever, you deserve to know exactly what you’re getting into. If you don’t, and you get that horse home and it disappoints you, that’s partially our fault. Our goal is successful adoption – not just adoption.
The typical Swingin' D rescue
When we take in a horse from a kill pen, that horse has generally been passed over by buyers through multiple imminent shipping deadlines. Desirable horses that are obviously generating interest don’t need us.Truly unwanted horses do. We know that either they’re going to starve to death on the kill lot, or they’re taking that haul to hell.
Once we save a horse, we keep it for a minimum of 45 days (more often, we keep them for 6 months or more) to ensure they’re healthy and sound; so we have plenty of time to observe and evaluate. After saving dozens of kill pen horses, you start to recognize patterns. If we created one horse with the characteristics we most often see, it would look like this:
- Under 3 or 12-17 years old
- Very well trained or not handled at all
- Abused and/or neglected
- Treatable (but expensive) medical issue
Without being able to talk with the horses about their past lives, we do our best to guess, so we can make sure they never end up in the same predicament.
Our best guess, based on the dozens of kill pen horses we’ve rescued and rehabilitated, is that most of their backgrounds looked something like this:
- High performing or heavily used
- No longer able to perform at highest levels – either due to age or wear and tear on ligaments, muscles and joints
- Owner’s circumstances changed (found a younger horse, divorce, death, illness, financial strain, lost interest)
The horse did nothing to reduce its value to zero. He was simply no long appropriate for that particular owner.
Who sends a horse to slaughter?
So, why on earth would anyone choose to send the horse to slaughter rather than sell it or give it away? Again, all we can do is guess, but here’s what we’ve come up with:
- You don’t have to lie to a kill buyer. They pay cash for a horse “as is,” right now.
- The owner has no idea she’s selling to a kill buyer and would never intend for her horse to go to slaughter. (See Lying liars lie)
- There’s only so much land, so when an owner gets to where he has more land than horses, refer to number 1.
- The horse has a condition the owner can no longer afford. Refer to number 1.
Swingin' D - the Great Equalizer
Swingin’ D Horse Rescue is the Great Equalizer. Once a horse arrives here, his slate is wiped clean and his future is an open book. We determine for ourselves the horse’s age, abilities, temperament, soundness and future prospects. We’re not stuck with the word of lying liars, because we’re starting from scratch.
Just because a horse is no longer a prize-winning [whatever], doesn’t mean it’s not still the perfect companion for someone with lighter needs. The 60-something retired teacher doesn’t care to jump fences and ditches. The 12-year-old new rider doesn’t need a horse that breaks track records. The 80-something rancher just needs an easy-breezy horse to check fences.
To start filling out the horse’s clean slate, our vet performs an overall checkup, a lameness exam and dental exam to determine health, age and soundness. Our farriers examine their feet and put them on a treatment plan. If we detect issues, we run diagnostics and treat accordingly. Everything we learn goes into the horse’s health records.
We’ve taken in so many horses that just required the tiniest treatments to return to riding form. That lame-looking horse everyone passed up on the kill pen page? Had a rock in his sole, and just needed a good cleaning and trim to be good as new. The skin-and-bones horse with the gnarly coat? She just had a bad case of worms. A few doses of wormer and the right diet, and she’s a gorgeous, well-trained beauty with endless potential. The gelding with the stilted gait? She just needed a little stretching and rest to be fit for light riding. And don’t even talk to me about the babies that were discarded like trash before anyone even considered their potential. All they needed was a little time, training and love.
Our goal is to get every horse to the point where we can hand all of our findings over to the right adopter who can help the horse fill out the rest of its clean slate.
Of course our horses are not perfect. No one is. Most of them have lived full lives with successful first careers. But we believe every one of our horses is perfect for someone who can give them a second career. That’s why it’s incumbent on us to let adopters get to know the real horse – the good, bad and ugly – so the real love affair can begin.