Horse ownership is a commitment that people should be discouraged from undertaking except when they have the persistence, passion and means to carry out that decision throughout the lifetime of the horse – which means for at least thirty years. There are so many ways to participate in the life of horses and the world of riding: lesson stables, part leases, full leases… you really don’t have to own a horse to enjoy them, and you can help stop the trajectory that leads horses to the auction floor and potential death.
If you are a horse owner, and even if you have made the “all-in commitment”, you need to make sure your horse is “safe” by ensuring it is and remains well trained, experienced with people and easy to handle. It needs to at least be safe and quiet at walk, trot and canter, to back up and stop easily,be able to be groomed, to have its feet handled and shod, to stand for the vet and his procedures and to be able to handle being ridden on trails. Horses with these qualities can almost always find someone to love them and care for them. But nearly feral horses with a history of bucking riders to the ground, horses with lousy ground manners or which can barely be mounted before running off are at risk if they ever have to enter the market.
If your horse has problems, find a compassionate trainer and spend the money and time to get that horse’s handling and capabilities up to at least the baseline the market will require. If something happens to you, that action will help make sure your horse can still have a future and the potential for a forever home.
In terms of health, every horse owner should have major medical insurance (this is part of having the “means”) – many horses end up having to find new careers as a result of injuries that owners couldn’t afford to treat. Insurance helps to avoid that risk and is one more thing that can save a horse from ending up on a sad trajectory. For the price of a month of board per year, you can be sure you can treat potentially career ending injuries with the certainty of being able to afford it. I use and recommend Markel, but there are many good companies that can help you and your horse.
There are also things you can do as a rider to help reduce your horse’s tendency to be spooky, worried, tense and to exhibit unwanted behaviors. Don’t set up conflicts with the aids. Don’t follow the very poor advice of “pushing the horse into the bit” to achieve collection – it doesn’t work that way and all you do is generate conflict behaviors, degrade the stop and degrade the horse’s willingness to go forward. Don’t be confusing, listen to your horse as it moves with you and beneath you, and be compassionate for its complex situation.
Think about your horse like a person – don’t anthropomorphize, but realize that like people, horses need to earn their living – and to do that, they need to be able to get and keep a job. It’s your responsibility to keep your horse employable, and if you are constantly working to perfect your horse’s thinking and behavior while also keeping them in good health and fitness, you have done what you need to do to keep your horse safe.
If everyone just does these basic things, the horses who get lost in the market and lose their lives as a result of degraded / non-existent training or poor care and fitness will be fewer and fewer. That’s true compassion, and it’s what our horses deserve.