“Leftovers.”

Blog post 4. “Leftovers.” Camp horses, part 4.  

The view from “The other side of the fence.”

 

(Please note, the numbers in this blog are not meant to be representative for all camp horses or all sales)

“At the end of the season, returning camp horses are available for sale. Some of them will ring a bell, so to speak, a $2000 horse might bring $4000, if he or she is a bit ‘special’. A special horse might have a bit of color or unique markings, extra tolerance or maybe, just that special look in their eye- the horse that looks back at you when you look at him. When resale time begins the public’s focus is going to be on these horses, the ‘better’ end horses.

Just because they all did the same job and we got paid the same for the use of them, does not mean they are the same horses. Many of them do not have the same future, nor will they fetch the same price. There are always some horses, a few, that slip through the cracks. These horses may be a little plainer or a little older but are just as safe. They are dependable, good horses that often have more value to use than to sell. We might loose a little money on them They are cheaper horses, possibly horses who are quite plain, with a few lumps and bumps, but safe horses that people will walk past looking for something a bit more eye catching. Kind, genuine horses who are the victim of age and color. They are not so memorable- the pawns, so to speak, they go, they do their job and they are the first to be “taken down”. Odds are, 15-1 they are the plain red horses that the public just gets tired of looking at -they are awful common and often, the least likely to be sought after. 

These horses, the plainer ones, are most likely to be leftovers. ‘ ‘Someone’ will purchase them because they are cheap enough, they will buy a price and there is very little investment. Unfortunately, the people who have little invested in something they purchase may not take the best care of it. Maybe not providing enough food or hoof care. Owning a horse is a responsibility, it is a privilege, but it is a responsibility.

The cruelest thing someone can do to a horse at that stage, when they have slipped through the cracks, is abandon them. But, it costs to board them and it costs the same to feed, to properly care for a rideable, attractive, sound, mannerly horse as it does one who isn’t. 

Only so many can be retired, rescued or re-homed. I have to look at each one and ask myself if this is a horse I can continue to support. It is a matter of timing. This individual may have everything but timing because at the end of the season the horse world can’t absorb them all. If a dealer comes in, I am going to wholesale them. Usually I can only fill up the fingers on one hand with those horses, but in the industry as a whole , it is a very different ratio. Even with all these things, the good things I like to think I am to these horses, I am still in business. They will have a good home while they are here but a horse can’t pick his owners. I try not to focus on that.”

(Please remember these are merely informational posts designed to educate and promote thought. They are the result of an open dialogue between two people sharing their experiences in hopes of finding common ground and making a difference. They are of course, only two people’s experiences and not meant, in any way, to speak for every person or every horse. There is no every. 

While I understand that this is a potentially controversial series, I ask that all comments be courteous even if you disagree. I welcome everyone’s opinions on our page but as always, remind all to please be respectful to us as individuals and the path we are attempting to take.) 

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“It is not a perfect world.”

Blog post 3. “It is not a perfect world.”, Camp horses, part 3.

The view from “The other side of the fence.”

“At the end of the camp season, horses become a victim of supply and demand. We have done our job and spent Spring selecting, purchasing, gathering, polishing, sorting and resorting the camp horses we have picked and have established our camp groups. The ‘camp horse’ expression in itself, implies tried and true and we feel confident that given proper supervision, these horses will remain the same safe horses we take pride in providing. Ideally they could even improve just by virtue of a routine and non-demanding attention by caring children.

The camp staff can make or break the program, and the horses. Every year we send horses with our fingers crossed that the staff is as good as last years was. At the very least, better than the year before that. It seems the staff, a transient variable in the camp world, can all buy boots and britches at the same store, yet be light years apart in the knowledge of a working horses mind.
Our horses are partially a product (or a victim) influenced positively or negatively by THEIR camp experience. Proper circumstances should ensure a horse’s good performance during the season. This; 1. Keeps the relationship with the camp positive. 2. Increases the odds of a ‘better’ horse returning 3. Allows us to offer a genuine, quality horse to the public at Summer’s end which should enable us to receive a better price. Yes- more money. It is not a bad thing providing the horse is not misrepresented. There is a difference between selling the horse based on what he is, not than selling him on what he did. Just because they went to camp doesn’t mean they are ‘the’ horse’ for everybody.  

A horse that is attractive, has everything someone looks for and is kid tested will be a valuable commodity regardless of how many other horses are on the market at the time. The reason for this being this relatively small percentage of horses are horses that have been started right and handled correctly since they were young, staying in the hands of knowledgeable horse people most of their lives. 

As the end of the summer arrives we find ourselves looking forward to the return of many of these horses. They are our ‘harvest’ and we wonder who will like them and how valuable they may be for resale. We know these horses, they are names to us, not numbers, but unfortunately there are horses that we look forward to returning more than others.

Not all camp horses are leased and sold during the late summer/early fall sales. There are the college horses who have gone from college, to camp and back to college again. It is assumed, that camp is a bit of R&R for these horses. A summer break type of thing and it probably is to one degree or another. However, those horses shouldn’t be expected to do this 52 weeks a year- I think that’s a fact of life but it’s somewhat unfair to one degree or another. Eventually they will burn out. When they burnout they will not have a value to whomever owns them and when this happens, they becomes a throw away, a by-product of the program. Unfortunately, this could have been avoided. 

There are also a handful of people who have the capacity to winter some-they have the land, the feed and so forth. But, each year both groups still cull. They sell the ones with less of a future, those that are burnt out or possibly getting on in age. Those horses, the culls, become a by-product of the industry and a by product has value. Whoever owns that horse hopes to receive that value. The truth is horses have a base value and the salvage value of a horse is their slaughter value. 

We don’t have the acreage, the feed etc. to let a horse sit for 8 -10 months and take them back out for two. It’s impractical-they have to earn their keep and I have to earn a livelihood. I don’t have the answer. If there was a way to take these horses and freeze them until next Spring I would do it. We buy what we think are good brained animals, they get a bit of a program and individual handling over the summer and a lot of them become a more special horse than they may have been in the spring. We like to think that we find them, make them better, find them a home, find another and do it again. Often this will work in everyone’s favor- the camp, the future owner, the horse and especially the children, who will quite possibly, remember that horse for the rest of their life. 

This is my idea of the perfect camp horse situation. Unfortunately, it is not a perfect world.   

The Days of the Disposable Horse.

Blog post 2. “The Days of the Disposable Horse”, Camp Horses, Part 2.

The view from the “Other side of the fence”:

Like it or not, most camp suppliers are ‘dealers’ to one extent or another, so when we are selecting camp prospects we must consider, besides suitability (temperament, training, soundness, etc), age and price, as well as the horse’s potential future after the season. Camp horses need to be tolerant and have a forgiving disposition.

I try to be fussy about the camps we lease our horses to.  We try to charge enough to eliminate camps that may be price shopping because if the camps are going for price they are very likely to skimp on feed and care. It is my investment going on that trailer for the summer and I want it, the horses, treated accordingly. Get better people is what I like to think I subscribe to. And so far it’s worked. It’s much better for the horses and just good business. Even though they are paying for use of the horses, it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be treated in a satisfactory manner. At the end of the season, these horses are going to come back to me and I prefer to have sound, useful horses for someone else to go on and enjoy.

Camps vary, some camps have “real”riding programs some “less so, as in the camps with less advanced riders”, and those horses can have a little more miles or age to them because they won’t be worked as hard. But they all, each horse, has to be safe because they are carrying children and all of our children are precious, especially to us.  

In today’s world the horses are not so easily replaceable, as they were in the past, so poor seasonal treatment cannot be tolerated. Camp staff has to be more of a horse person and less of an ‘equestrian’. The girls where we send our horses too can be real hit or miss, but as a rule, most can be pretty handy and learn how the horses want to work. We do everything we can to set the whole program up for success and give them, the camp, as much information as we can on each individual horse.

The day of the ‘disposable horse’ is gone for good. Contrary to popular belief, a good camp prospect is a very sought after item, therefore a proven one at seasons end should be desired. It is not always so.

A few words from Tomten Farm and Sanctuary:

“Not always so.” Many of us are aware that camp horses have a reputation of having a short lease on life but most of us are not aware how ‘we’, as parents, camp staff and horse lovers, impact the future of each animal. During college, I worked for two great summers at an equine camp. One year as a Barn Manager/Instructor and another year as an Assistant Director/Instructor. My days were spent teaching lessons and I spent hour after hour standing in the sunshine with beautiful horses and passionate, equine loving children. Most of the campers brought their own horses but we had several leased animals for the horse-crazy kids not lucky enough to own their own. Horse-crazy kids like I had been years ago, eager to simply be near the horses they dreamed about. These children never asked what happened to the horses at the end of the season and interestingly enough, this time, even as a young adult, neither did I. I cringe to admit, I never even asked where they came from. How is that possible? Ten years after Shannon (see previous post), I had subconsciously accepted this is how it worked and it hadn’t occurred to me change was possible. Acceptance, avoidance and denial were certainly easier paths to take than facing the grim reality that may have happened at seasons end. Now twenty five plus years later, I am ready to own the knowledge and the responsibility I wish I had accepted in the past.

I like to think that at that camp we provided quality care-bedded stalls, nightly turnout, good food and fair use but I’m sure we could have done better. I’m sure each of us can. This season and for the seasons to come, perhaps we can be more aware of what we support and how our dollars shape the lives of the animals we entrust our children too. Safety should flow both ways, don’t you think?  

(Please remember these are merely informational posts designed to educate and promote thought. They are the result of an open dialogue between two people sharing their experiences in hopes of finding common ground and making a difference. They are of course, only two people’s experiences and not meant, in any way, to speak for every person or every horse. There is no every. 

While I understand that this is a potentially controversial series, I ask that all comments be courteous even if you disagree. I welcome everyone’s opinions on our page but as always, remind all to please be respectful to us as individuals and the path we are attempting to take.) 

As always thanks for being here on this journey that is Tomten Farm and Sanctuary, we so appreciate your presence. 
 

Hide, Hair and Appetite. 

Blog post 1. “Hide, Hair and Appetite”. Camp Horses, Part 1.

As summer quickly approaches so does the camp season. With it comes the memory of my initial introduction to horse slaughter and the reminder of the very first horse I was unable to help. I was 10 years old and her name was Shannon, a beautiful, flea bitten, grey quarter horse mare who, for two blessed weeks, was like my very own. It is from her that I began to learn the art of listening to the horse beneath me. She taught me that love makes you get back up, wipe the dirt off your jeans and try again. She taught me that horses sometimes get a raw deal and an undeserved reputation. I don’t know what made me ask what happened to the horses after the summer but an honest counselor filled me in. We couldn’t afford to purchase her. I don’t know how my parents even afforded camp and I cried the whole way home. While I didn’t realize it at the time, she was the very first horse I left behind.

In light of the season, camp horses were a natural topic of discussion recently and with open ears, I heard these words-slowly spoken reflections from a professional horseman.

The view from the “Other side of the fence”:

Camps are not always the best caretakers. In the past, horses would come to sale all owned by one individual, twenty, thirty of them, all hide, hair and appetite- ill fated at seasons end. “Canners”, they went for dog food, priced by the pound. Back then those horses were always replaceable-good, honest broke geldings, horses that had a lot left in them had they received better care. When they were done in the west they came east and often went to hack stables, camps, etc. depending on the season. Many times, these were horses that went out hour after hour, tied to a fence between uses, waiting for someone to walk in with their money and go out and ride. These were good horses, that did their job.

Their world changed from what they had growing up and with that change they maybe had one or two years left. They may have worked harder before but they were more appreciated then. Very often the best horses were used the most and a saddle that fit in the Spring didn’t always fit them in the fall. The condition of horses at seasons end was a large factor in people’s perception of them. We bought what we could afford to doctor and feed. We cut out pads to accommodate horses with sore backs, fistulas and more. They improved and returned to the horse they should never have deteriorated from, which in turn, improved their value and everything about them including the general public’s perception.

Now, 40 years later, some things remain unchanged. There are still thousands of horses leased for summer use and certainly just as many horse crazy girls heading to weeks of camp to ride them. There is still a surplus at seasons end and there are still late Summer and early Fall auctions, the camp horse sales that “absorb” them. Today, as it was years ago, it is still the public who determines the fate of these animals because, “it is the public that sets the price” and it is their perception that matters.

(Please remember these are merely informational posts designed to educate and promote thought. They are the result of an open dialogue between two people sharing their experiences in hopes of finding common ground and making a difference. They are of course, only two people’s experiences and not meant, in any way, to speak for every person or every horse. There is no every. 

While I understand that this is a potentially controversial series, I ask that all comments be courteous even if you disagree. I welcome everyone’s opinions on our page but as always, remind all to please be respectful to us as individuals and the path we are attempting to take.) 

As always thanks for being here on this journey that is Tomten Farm and Sanctuary, we so appreciate your presence. 

  

the view from the "other side of the fence."