Is a Christmas Gift Horse a Good Idea?
Posted: December 9, 2011
By Helene McKernan, Clinton County Extension
I’m always amazed by the number of people who enjoy Christmas shopping and those who by Thanksgiving have purchased everything on their list. You can probably guess from my opening sentence that I am not one of those people who enjoy touring the malls and stores searching for that unique gift. It doesn’t change the fact that duty calls, so recently I started my search only to find that I was distracted by advertisements stating “give a pet for the perfect gift.” As I stood in front of the carousel watching the children smile and laugh I remembered all those years that the only item on my list was the words---HORSE OF MY OWN.
My parents are not around for me to thank for never fulfilling my dream of rushing down the stairs Christmas morning and seeing under the tree a note that said “go into the back yard and find your gift.” Of course I always dreamed that note would lead to a real live horse standing in the middle of our yard with a big red bow and my name tag on its halter. So why after all these years do I want to thank my parents for not giving me a horse? Shouldn’t I be reminding them that every Christmas the stuffed horses, model horses, horse shirts, and all the other horsey gifts I received did not fulfill that dream of a real live one? Ahh…my parents were way wiser than I ever knew.
Why not a gift horse? The obvious reply is: Where will the horse be stabled? If you are able to have your own place to keep a horse then you are one of the lucky ones. More often than not the horse would have to be boarded, which means that someone else will be paid to feed and supply a suitable stall or pasture for the horse at a monthly fee. Horse boarding fees today range from $150 to $500 per month. Wow, back in my days I thought $40 was a lot! Keeping a horse in the back yard can do serious damage to the lawn (two acres are needed per horse to maintain a useable pasture environment). Not to mention zoning restrictions, neighbor’s reactions, fencing, veterinarian care, supplies, feed, supplements, tack, manure management and odor regulations that all have to be considered or purchased. The list of needs to properly take care of a horse can add up quickly. Whether you have your own place or will have to board there is enormous financial cost and responsibility in owning a horse.
Considering all these things and determining that the means can be met, buying a horse as a gift for someone else is not the most brilliant idea. Horses have behaviors, temperaments and personalities that differ immensely. What happens if the person receiving the horse doesn’t get along with it, or doesn’t know how to ride or take care of it? Who will do it? Often a gift horse finds itself quickly sold and the search begins for a more suitable mount or to the heartbroken child the denial to ever purchase a horse again.
Today, good horses are not cheap to purchase. The saying goes, “You will only get what you pay for.” There is always that special bargain, but for the most part a safe, healthy horse will range around at least a $1000. Did I forget to mention that a quality registered show horse may be in the thousands!? It always seems that when you are selling a horse you can’t find anyone to pay your asking price, but when you are buying a horse the only one that fits your needs cost a fortune.
Yet, today we hear about so many “Unwanted Horses.” There is even a horse coalition that has been formed to address the issue of the surplus of horses. You may think I’m contradicting myself by saying that a horse will cost you and yet there is a surplus, but there are many complex reasons why a surplus exists. For years too many people bred horses as a business or hobby and when the cost of keeping a horse sky-rocketed the market dropped. Training and raising a riding horse takes a few years, which during this time still requires care and feeding. These breeders are left with the care of multiple horses and lack the means of taking care of them. Taking them to a sale will be a financial loss on their profits for sale horses are often relatively cheap. Often, this is what is happening, along with abandoning them, giving them away, letting them run wild in our communities or euthanizing them.
The horse slaughter business in the USA today is non-existence, whereas for many years it was an option for the injured, old or unwanted horse. Is that good or bad? I guess the horse would be excited to know that most slaughter houses in the USA have been closed down, but just when they feel safe from that destination, they find out that many horses are transported across USA boundaries to Canada and Mexico to the slaughter houses still operating. Whether we Americans like it or not many countries consider horse meat a delicacy. These slaughter locations and the transportation methods to get the horse there are often not humane. The debate goes on and on…..what do we do with all these extra horses, whether young and healthy or old and injured? It’s too expensive to have them, not a market to sell them and a huge loss in giving them away. Horse rescue operations and retirement homes are feeling the stress in accommodating all the horses that need a place to reside. Parents are finding that the horse-owner children grow up, move out, get married and leave the parents the financial burden and care taking of that gift they wanted so many years before. By the way, did you know the life expectancy of a horse can reach 40 years?
That is why my parents were wise. They knew they did not have the resources to keep a horse for me. They knew I did not have the knowledge to properly take care of that type of gift. It took me many years to understand this. I was eventually knowledgeable and financially able to personally purchase my first horse with my own money. I kept that horse with money I earned by babysitting and odd jobs through my college years. It has been many years since then, but I have and probably will continue to own a horse until my last breath. Marriage and an income eventually made horse ownership a constant. Once you get “bit” by horse fever it seldom extinguishes. My advice to anyone that is contemplating giving a “gift horse,” is to think deeply of the commitment it will take. Better yet, give the child riding lessons or opportunities to learn about horses so they can be as prepared as I was when finally obtaining the horse of my dreams. If you do decide to purchase a horse your County Extension Office has information that can help in your decision. So…let’s get on with that shopping, remembering to own horses responsibly.