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.