Gift-Giver Beware

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Finding a free horse is rarely a problem. Word of mouth usually turns up a horse sound enough for light trail riding, a companion animal or an older horse for an older adult who also needs to “slow down.” Plus, there are horse-rescue operations and retired racehorse homes overflowing with horses who need to be loved and cared for.

The problem with free horses is with the person giving the horse away: the emotional tear of letting go of a loved animal and working to be certain the person receiving him is prepared to care for him. Horse-rescue organizations know how difficult this is, which is why they hold onto those horses for so long.

The give-away horse’s value is sentimental or he would have been sold to the highest bidder in the first place. It may seem noble to set aside monetary concerns and concentrate on finding a place where the horse will be cared for and appreciated for what he is, but it may not end up that way.

Tales abound of horses placed with willing, but less-than-knowledgeable, horse owners that end up foundered, colicked or worse. People sometimes accept a free horse because they could not afford to buy one, raising the touchy question, “If you can’t afford to buy one, how can you afford to feed and care for one'”

Other times, a horse is accepted for free and later sold by the new owner to someone else when he is no longer needed or develops problems the owner can’t or won’t deal with, raising an “ethical” question. And, unfortunately, we all know there are disgusting people who accept free horses, only to sell them to the nearest rendering plant.

If you have a horse to give away, the most important thing to do is to take your time. Tell friends and trusted peers about it. Explain why you no longer want the horse. Maybe you don’t have room anymore, or he’s having trouble keeping up with the rest of the herd. Maybe you simply can’t afford the horse, don’t have time, or health is an issue (yours or his). After all, if you can no longer properly care for the horse yourself, the best thing to do is find him a good home that can and will.

Get the word out not only about the horse but about what you expect in return. Explain honestly why you aren’t selling the horse, what you believe his potential is and why.

If you want the horse back if they no longer need or want him, say so. If you want to know when he’s given away again, put it in writing. This may make a difference to some people who simply don’t want that additional obligation.

But be reasonable in the demands you place on the new owners. It’s unfair to expect them to give you weekly updates, especially if you aren’t normally social with them, or to insist on being informed of every change in the horse’s health, situation or rider.

Remember that the most important criterion is to find a legitimate, caring owner who understands and accepts the horse’s limitations. When you do, place the horse and leave him. Treat it as a sale, so the new owner will, too. It’s only natural to take better care of what’s “yours.”

’Til Next Month,

-Cynthia Foley