Hard knocks can be useful when we learn from them, and some lessons can only be learned through hard knocks.
Half of Swingin’ D Horse Rescue’s mission is to save at-risk horses and place them in forever homes; the other half is to share those horses’ stories as teachable moments to promote responsible horse ownership. We believe it’s the only way to permanently and completely choke off the slaughter pipeline.
If more people educated themselves about the challenges and expense of having horses, kill buyers wouldn’t find a huge selection of unwanted companions from overwhelmed owners at auctions and in the columns of Craigslist.
We can learn plenty from Kancia’s hard knocks life – the types of lessons you can only learn from experience.
Hard knocks make experts
Let me start by saying that the only people who deserve blame are those who fail or refuse to learn. Finding equine experts is like shooting fish in a barrel, but not a single expert was born with their knowledge. We all begin as beginners. The true experts are the ones who learn from their (and others’) hard knocks and don’t repeat the same mistakes. They do, however, make new ones.
So, this blog is not about blame. It’s about learning. I only know these things because of hard knocks. The following suggestions are based on Kancia’s afflictions and my experience in dealing with them. Someone else may know more or differently than I know.
1. Cow hay is not horse hay
I know, I know, “I’ve been feeding my horses cow hay for 65 years and they’re healthy as damn horses.”
Okay, but that didn’t work for Kancia, and that’s what we’re talking about here.
For one, cow hay has nutrients for cows; horse hay has nutrients for horses. Those nutrients are not the same. Horses need mostly (95-100 percent) grass while cattle can have up to 90 percent legumes, which provide too much protein and calcium for most horses. In Kancia’s case, the cow hay contained foxtails which bore into her gums, creating canker-like sores and infection.
Kancia’s mouth was raw and infected from foxtails, making every bite a choice between agony and starvation. A horse that can’t eat is a horse that loses weight.
Foxtails can look like yummy Timothy or orchard grass sprouts, but they’re a menace to horses’ mouths and digestive tracts. They may be fine for cows because cows can and will eat anything. They’re torture for horses.
Is an owner who gives a horse free access to fresh cow hay a bad person when the horse loses weight from lack of nutrients and mouth sores? No, they’re a learning person.
2. Eye injuries require immediate attention
I try really hard to treat whatever I can without immediately calling the vet. For one, veterinary care is expensive. It’s $100 just to get them to show up and look at the horse. The cost just skyrockets from there.
But there are a couple of areas where I won’t take chances – and the eyes are one of those areas.
I have no way of knowing if a horse is squinting his watery eye because of a wayward eyelash or a corneal abrasion. It takes a veterinarian with special equipment to know for sure.
No matter how benign you suspect an eye injury to be, it can rapidly evolve into a devastating injury without the proper care. If bacteria or fungi invade the abrasion, an ulcer can develop and erode the cornea to a point where the eye can’t be saved.
The sooner you involve a vet, the better your chance of preserving the eye, reducing the pain, minimizing the cost and shortening the recovery period.
With experience and confidence, you may be able to irrigate the eye with saline solution and coat it with ophthalmic antibiotic ointment while you wait for the vet; but you’re taking a huge chance if you take a “wait and see” or DIY approach.
Would you rather pay $150 for an appointment today, or $500-$1,000 to remove the eye and hospitalize the horse in a week?
3. Intestinal parasites can slowly kill a horse
According to the American Association of Equine Practitioners, “Internal parasites, or worms, can be silent thieves and killers. They can cause extensive internal damage without you even realizing your animals are heavily infected.”
Opinions vary on when, how often and with what you should de-worm your horse, but there’s total agreement on the fact that horses must be protected from intestinal parasites.
Here at Swingin’ D, we run fecal tests on our horses and treat according to our vet’s recommendations. Others rotate de-wormers on a seasonal basis. The important thing is that you understand the importance of treatment and that you have a plan.
Kancia had a high burden of intestinal parasites, which contributed to her dull, choppy coat and poor physical condition.
4. Horses are expensive and time consuming
Finally (and most importantly), Kancia is our latest reminder of the most important lesson we try to share at Swingin’ D: Horses are expensive and time consuming.
I often wonder who came up with the term, “Healthy as a Horse,” especially as I open the latest $1,500 vet bill. I joke that horses are nothing but giant, clumsy toddlers with a raging case of Attention Deficit Disorder. If it can happen to them, it will happen to them. If they can get into it, they will get into it. If they can get sick from it, they will get sick from it. And every little sniffle and boo-boo is gonna cost you.
Horse rescues offer so many alternatives to horse ownership: Fostering, leasing, volunteering give horse lovers all the exposure to horses they can hope for – without the commitment and expense.
Until you’re 100 percent confident you can provide for a horse like Kancia, we strongly encourage you to volunteer at a rescue where you can experience the needs of abandoned horses. Help us pay the veterinary bills of an injured or sick horse. Pay for a horse’s farrier care. Help us shovel their manure, pick their feet, wash and mend their blankets and dress their gnarly wounds.
Once you’ve spent 30 days mired in muck and expenses, reassess whether ownership is the right path for you. If you still want to be responsible for another life, for the rest of its life, God bless you on your journey!