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Horse Speak…Human Listen

If I could identify one “goal” in equine rescue and adoption, it would be horse well-being. But it has to start with the human – listening to, learning from and understanding horses.  That is the challenge – advancing human understanding of the horse, driven by common sense and not the mighty dollar.

A recent experience inspired this blog.  When a person chooses the wrong horse or a horse seller, sells the wrong horse to the wrong person, in most cases, the horse suffers. People are hurt physically and emotionally and usually, they take it out on the horse.

A family new to horses came to us for horses.  We had heard that they wanted horses but weren’t sure where to go to find them.  They claimed to have experience but laid out the must haves and the “deal breakers.”  As a family they had decided, no mares and no babies.  The child in the family had almost no experience, limited horse interest and not much confidence.  In fact, no one had much experience with horses, despite their claims to the contrary.  There is nothing wrong with that whatsoever; many of us start out with little to no horse experience.  We must be ready and willing to learn.

Based on what we heard and observed and many years now of experience with adoption and horse ownership, we recommended older horses, the “been there/done that” type of horse; or, because we work with the government agencies with equine programs, we also recommended retired agency horses because of their extensive and broad experience.  We suggested that the family meet a number of horses and get a feel for what would really fit their needs and abilities.  Do you have hay yet we asked?  No, they did not. Do you have shelter? No, not yet.  In other words, not a rush.

I’m sure you know the punchline by now – what did they buy, not adopt immediately?  Young, pregnant broodmares.  When we asked if they (the mares) had any training, the new owners said, “oh yes, a few hours.”  Translation:  Pregnant broodmares, almost no training going to people with no experience A recipe for disaster?  Sadly, probably so, for the horses and for the humans.

It’s a clear case of the mighty dollar winning out over common sense.  Where the color of the horse drives the decision.  And the line that we hear over and over again with an almost always poor outcome – ” we want the horses to grow up with us.”  If experience and history are any guide, this won’t have a happy ending.  As we watched the family members trying to halter one of the horses we introduced them to, or commenting on how the hooves of a horse needed a trim (he had been trimmed the past week), we knew that our worst fears were coming true – an unrealistic vision of what you do and don’t know about horses.  As they handed the horses back to us, we fixed their halters and put them away.  The family had already left for their next motorized adventure.

What all of this emphasized is that when the dollar outweighs ethical and humane considerations for horses and people, everyone can suffer.  Untrained horses are put into the hands of humans with almost no experience, which leads to poor training, horses becoming confused and developing behavior that no human wants in a horse. The humans who own the horse or horses are frustrated, angry, and often call us to take their horses off their hands.

No problem should be without a solution, right?  Perhaps a Better Horse Business Bureau (or something like that).  Just as there are associations and organizations that accredit businesses, zoos, teachers, and in France, you have to be certified to hang out a training shingle, perhaps we need something similar in the U.S. – some kind of certification that says your horse business practices are ethical and humane.  You have knowledge and you share it with others before you take their money.  Education equals knowledge equals well-being for horse and human.

When people ask us, as they very often do, why are there so many abused, neglected, abandoned, homeless, no longer wanted horses?  We have to say, there are many reasons but chief among them is the wrong horse for the wrong person.  There are plenty of great horses for great people, whether they are learning, training or starting out.  Know thy horse, know thy person.  Horses do speak, if only humans will listen.

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10th Anniversary – New Beginnings

Ten years ago the first call came for help.  A horse had been  abandoned on a nearby ranch and  they didn’t want her.  She was a handful and beautiful.  Could we help find her a home?  Fast forward a decade and not only did Lucky get a good home but hard to believe, hundreds of others and mules as well  Over the years, we became a legally registered not for profit organization (501c3), included among our partners, with whom we worked, some of the federal agencies with equine programs, including the USFS and Border Patrol.  We worked with private guest and dude ranches and were able to place horses in homes, rather than their owners taking them to the auction and most certainly slaughter.  Some were rideable, some were not, some were old and some were young.  But our philosophy then which continues today, “there is the right home for every horse and the right horse for every person.”

Since that first horse a decade ago, we launched the EQUUS INTERNATIONAL Film Festival as an outreach and education event of Horse Haven Montana and the next festival and conference is coming up this September in Missoula – “Icon of the American West, the Global Impact of the Horse” is our theme.

But there’s something else that that’s new and we’re in the planning and development stage – “new beginnings for horse and human.”  Over the past few years, we’ve worked informally with young people and their families and some of our rescue horses.  The outcomes were special — children who had difficulty with focus, learning or other challenges blossomed. They learned empathy, responsibility and increased their ability to communicate.  They learned about the horses and showed a great deal of care and concern for their welfare.  Winston Churchill certainly knew about the relationship we can build with a horse when he said “there’s something about the outside of a horse that’s good for the inside of a man.”  Beginning next year, we hope to launch a program that connects horses and mules with children, young adults and eventually people of all ages — good for the rescue horse and good for the person; as simple as that.

But today, on our 10th anniversary, there are still horses to find homes for, horses in need and adoptions to make.  Please be a part of Horse Haven Montana and join us for the EQUUS INTERNATIONAL Film Festival.  Together, we can all be a part of a new beginning for an equine in need.