It is Valentine's Day weekend and I, Chloe, am feeling more empathetic than usual. Perhaps it is the 2 lbs of chocolates I consumed earlier today? Helpful tip: Close your tack trunks! Recently I have been thinking about second chances. A local friend just purchased a horse from Cranbury Sale Stable, previously known as Camelot Auction Feedlot, a sales barn that hosts weekly auctions for everything related to livestock. Reportedly many of the horses at the auction are bid on and purchased by the owner of the sales barn, where they are then held in the feed lot allegedly waiting to be shipped out to slaughter-houses once the feed lot is full, unless a buyer intervenes. Many of you probably belong to the Facebook group, "CHW Network" (previously Camelot Horse Weekly), a group that has gone viral the last few years thanks to the power of social media and animal lovers alike. Through the efforts of wonderful volunteers, the group blasts pictures and videos of horses that are at Cranbury Sale Stable, typically already in the dreaded feed lot. Thanks to CHW Network, and other online rescue groups and volunteer efforts, buyers with their credit cards have called in from all over the country and saved these horses, giving them another shot at life. Let's face it, the pictures that are posted of these abandoned horses are sad. The volunteers arrive at the auction beforehand in order to take pictures of the horses, sometimes tied up, side-by-side. Some horses come with descriptions provided by their sellers - but often they do not. The volunteers at CHW Network sit in the crowd during the auction and take their own notes (to the best of their ability) about the horses, and sometimes videos, as the horses are ridden in a small pen, often by large men, unfamiliar with the horse's discipline or ability, and in tack that by no means is perfect. Now ask yourself how YOUR horse would represent itself in this environment. You guys think I crow-hop like a champ now! Oh, you laugh, but I have seen many of you in the longeing areas at the showgrounds or have seen "Perfect Prep" in your tack trunks...so I imagine it would not go very well for your horse either.
I will let you in on a secret. Despite my beautiful physique, I can take a rather nag-like picture. The volunteers are amazing, but they don't have time to make all these horses look like they are going in the pony model at WEF. I wondered what I would look like, brought in from my turnout, with a number quickly slapped on my butt, and a picture snapped. Would that picture really represent ME? How can a well-meaning stranger that spends a few minutes with me really capture my worth? Will they know that I like to lip curl and make people laugh? Do they know that I am a loyal friend? Or that my father is Artful Move, a leading sire in the AQHA world? Will the picture have a link to my blog? Will I be given a second chance...?
Meet Chance…a horse from Cranbury Sales Stable that was given another chance this past January. Somehow Danielle and Sydney saw something in him from this picture… and Danielle quickly called in, recited his tag number from the picture and paid roughly $500 for him over the phone (Note: When including shipping and other fees, his total cost was $1600). The very next day he was on his way from NJ to NC.
On the CHW Network page, Chance, or #11 as was his tag number, was described by his seller as simply: "#11, Bay TB Gelding, 12 years old. 16 hands. Was used in lesson program. Broke packer type." He has been at Sydney's family farm for nearly a month now and she is quick to add "SWEETHEART" to that descriptive list. He gets along great with all his pasture mates and when Sydney or Danielle walk into his field, he comes right up to them and wants to be in their pocket. Sydney states "he is an absolute dream to have around". Danielle has ridden him - he was calm as a cucumber, but not very sure what her cues and aids meant. Danielle and Sydney did some research and they discovered that his description was not very accurate. His registered name is Wishing For Gold and he is a 16 year old Appendix. They could not find any show or lesson history, but he is tattooed and was raced until November 2002, only totaling around $4,000 in his racing career. Perhaps this low earnings number contributed to where he ended up? Sydney and Danielle plan to take things slow with Chance. They know that even though he is very loving, they have no idea what he has been through in his 16 years. They are sure of one thing though - they are going to provide him with a forever home.
It would not be fair if I did not mention that there are plenty of people, including horse rescue groups, that are not supportive of Cranbury Sale Stable or the work of CHW Network. They make some interesting points, such as that the owner of the auction barn is essentially making a lot of money off "bleeding hearts". They point out that the barn owner is buying these horses from other auction houses for mere dollars, bidding against himself and driving the price up tenfold. They suggest that people are getting duped into buying these unsellable horses and therefore, sound and able horses at rescue centers (those that don't have their picture blasted across the nation) are not finding homes. They also point out that the feed lot horses do not really go to slaughter-houses. Before the change in ownership, these groups allege that not a single horse was ever sold directly to slaughter and that the last horse sold to a meat dealer was in 2007. Instead, the horses simply go back to another auction house.
But, even if the owner is betting on making money playing on heartstrings, does it really matter if it means a horse was ultimately adopted? Chance looks a whole lot happier in his current pictures than he does in his #11 shot and to me that makes him the clear winner in this situation.
I will concede that there surely are buyers that make a rash decision to purchase a horse in the feed lot because they want to "save" it. These buyers may not end up with a sweetheart like Chance. They may end up with a lame horse, or a very green horse, or a horse that has been so neglected that it cannot be handled easily, or at all. The buyers may not be experienced horsewomen like Danielle and Syndney. They may not even be able to really afford, or know what it takes to care, for a horse. Unfortunately, many of the horses in these sort of situations eventually do find their way back to these auction houses, or worse, and that is a shame, but do we punish the horses for this?
Not many people know this, but I was sold at a very large horse auction in Lexington, VA many years ago. I have changed hands many, many times. It is hard not being able to pick your owner. Personally, I applaud the work of volunteer groups like CHW Network. I think their intentions are good and they can help find some lucky horses, like Chance, a new life.
Now here is the part of my blog rant where I lose some friends. Perhaps the way to really make a difference and to stop horses from even ending up in these auction barns is to encourage horse lovers to not breed or buy a horse unless they can really take care of it. And this goes for any horse…not just a rescue. Buyers should understand what a commitment we are. Horses require a lot of money. Board, feed and supplies are very expensive, but that isn't where it ends. We also like to spring unforeseen vet bills on our owners, whether it is from needing stitches after playing too hard in the field (always on a holiday) or eating plastic candy bar wrappers (see helpful hint above). Many of us require expensive supplements, routine chiropractic work and dental work to be happy. Even a monthly farrier bill can set you back a few hundred each month. We also require a lot of time and patience. Most of us require exercise and training…our entire life. You can't expect to take 2 lessons and then buy a horse. Riding is like any other sport, everyone needs to practice and everyone can benefit from regular lessons. And here is another helpful hint that really is going to get me in trouble: it isn't always our fault when we do something "bad" in the arena. Even if you are purchasing a horse to just keep at home as a pet and do not intend to ride it, you still need to know A LOT about horses. I die a little inside each time I hear a green horse owner say that they "want to find land so they can keep horses at home". In summary, let's try to encourage a focus on horsemanship at a young age. It isn't about how high we can jump or how fast we can go or how pretty we look or how many ribbons we can hang on our walls. We are a LIFETIME commitment and each of us deserves to never have a handwritten number taped to our rumps.
xo Chloe, #1