When I lived in Georgia, I fostered for a horse rescue. I loved it; it’s the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. I got a reputation for taking unwanted horses, so I had a couple given to me as well. I rehabbed them and found them good homes. When I first moved to the island, I didn’t think fostering would be an option because having a horse here is difficult and can be expensive. In the past 9 months, I’ve been able to figure out my hay supply (the biggest headache for horse owners here) and fix up the barn to accommodate more horses. It’s feasible now for me to have a foster horse.
The horse market is very high right now. There aren’t any $500 horses on Craigslist. Skinny project horses are going for $1500 to $2000. It reminds me of the market when I bought Baron. Just because it was a horse, it was $2500. I won’t be finding any cheap horses to rehab, and I won’t have any horses given to me. Maybe if I still lived in Georgia and had all my old connections, but not here- I don’t have the same network here (although I’m working on it!).
Even though the horse market is high, the auctions are still flooded with unwanted, used up horses, particularly up north. If I’m going to rescue something, it’s probably going to be from a kill pen because that’s where the rescues are right now.
I follow all the kill pen pages, and there are currently 29 Standardbreds at the Rotz kill pen in Pennsylvania. Rotz is a real deal horse killer. He has a contract with a Canadian slaughterhouse and he ships about 90 horses a week to Canada to be slaughtered for meat. He will ship 90 horses whether I buy one from him or not. It won’t make a difference in the total number of horses slaughtered, but it sure will make a difference to the one that ends up on my trailer and not on the truck to Canada.
I used to be totally against buying from a kill pen because it puts money in the pockets of the kill buyers to go to the auctions and buy more horses. The more research I’ve done though, the more I’ve realized there’s a real gray area in the ethics of horse rescue. Kill buyers need a certain number of pounds of horse flesh to make up a load. It makes no difference to them whether the horses that make up that load are sound and rideable or lame and crazy. Once he slaps a USDA sticker onto their rump, they are meat. Rescuers go into the kill pens and try to get horses out, usually the ones that could have a useful life ahead of them. Some rescues target certain breeds, like the Standardbred Retirement Foundation.
Standardbreds are raced up north with sulkies (little carriages). I don’t know much about it; I’ve always been into thoroughbreds who race with a rider. I do know that Stbs are tattooed, and their tattoos are easily looked up in a database that tells you their birthday (and by extension how old they are), where they were born, how many times they raced and how much money they won. It would blow your mind how many of them won thousands of dollars on the racetrack and still find themselves awaiting slaughter.
Many standardbreds go on to work for the Amish after their racing careers. Most of the ones in the kill pen are coming from the Amish. You can tell because they are usually thin and beat up, and their manes have been trimmed in a distinctive way. Amish horses work HARD. Many of them pull carts on pavement, and have a lot of hoof and leg issues from the years of pounding. But Standardbreds are tough and many of them go on to have lives as pleasure horses after the Amish are through with them.
Standardbreds are also known for having a calm, sensible demeanor and being easily adaptable to new training, which is why they make good horses for the Amish. They just go with the flow, and they’re sturdy and hold up to the work longer than a more delicate type of horse, like a thoroughbred. My thoroughbred wouldn’t last 5 minutes with the Amish. The one good thing about horses that have been with the Amish is that they are usually broke as can be; they’ve been exposed to all kinds of things.
My current goal is to find and rehab a standardbred. I don’t intend to keep it forever; I like to rehab a horse and then find it a home, and then start over with a new horse. I love the horses while they’re with me, but I don’t get attached. Nothing makes me happier than to see them thriving in their new homes.
I look for a horse that is sound first and foremost. “Sound” can be tricky- sound for what? Sound for jumping or sound for a trail ride a couple times a week? Let’s just say I look for one that can hold up to light work- jumping a small course or going on trail rides.
I’ve been watching the kill pens and I may have found one that fits the bill. He walks and trots sound in his riding video and he is very calm. He doesn’t pin his ears or seem irritated by being ridden. He does what he’s asked and seems curious about his environment. Out of all the Standardbreds in the pen, only he and one other mare were both calm and sound enough to be ridden.
It’s funny; sometimes I see a picture of a horse and have an instant emotional connection. There’s just something about him that appeals to me, kind of like an instant attraction. I don’t feel that for this particular horse. He just seems like he would be a good, practical choice for a project.
He is currently in the Rotz kill pen. By some coincidence or miracle (I don’t really believe in coincidences), I got hooked up with a woman who is driving to that same pen today (this very day!) to pick up a load of horses and bring them back to her barn which is only 2 hours from me. When you live on an island 25 miles off the coast, that sort of thing is very serendipitous.
So now I have about 12 hours to decide if I want to buy a horse out of a kill pen. Pray for me! I want to rehab a horse, but I have usually gone through a rescue and had the financial backing of the rescue in case the vet bills got crazy. I wouldn’t have that in this situation. I actually applied to foster through a legit rescue but I was turned down because of my location. I’m too remote and they’re worried that I’ll flake out and they’ll have to pay to have the horse shipped back to them.
So if I bail a horse out of a kill pen, this would just be me trusting that God led me to the right horse, a horse that I can successfully rehab and re-home, a horse I can handle, a horse I’m equipped to deal with.
I know that what I’m put on earth to do is take care of horses. It gives me more joy than anything else, and a lot of people on my blog and Facebook page also get joy in seeing the horses happy and healthy. But should I jump in feet first, pay the ransom to the kill pen and bring it home? I was up all night agonizing over this decision. I will let you know how it turns out!