Your Turn: The gift of life for one horse at Christmas time

Three weeks ago, Lynn Howland rescued a slaughter-bound Arabian gelding. She reflects on the experience.

From Lynn:

It’s a cold day in December when I pull up to the livestock auction with my truck and trailer. I keep telling myself, You’re crazy, you don’t need another horse. And you certainly don’t need an Arab. And you certainly don’t need an Arab from here! But somehow I am driven to remove this small horse from the kill pen.

I reluctantly get out and go in the office to pay. It isn’t a friendly place. I guess if they were cheerful people when they started the job they couldn’t be for long. No one speaks to me when I walk in and say a cheerful “Hello!” I take the hint and stand under the cardboard “pay here” sign. Eventually the cashier decides to acknowledge me and I pay my $350 for lot number 11. The receipt blandly states he is an 8-year-old chestnut Arab gelding with the unfortunate name of “Wild Thang.” My hunter/jumper trainer would probably keel over on the spot over that name. I ask where to go. I get some vague instructions and pointing so I say “Thank you very much” and go out to get my halter and open my trailer.

Halter in hand I walk in the direction pointed. The gate is blocked by a large manure-caked slaughter cow. You might wonder if I meant a steer but it is indeed a cow, one who can no longer produce milk and is now being sent to slaughter. The cow shakes her horns at me so there is no going in there. The other gates don’t lead to the horses so I reluctantly go back to the unfriendly office. I pass a group of men. I hear one say, “What’s that, one of those horse gals?” They all stare at me. The cashier is no more friendly than the first time but says she will call an employee to help me. I wait for 20 minutes. Is it just me or does everyone feel like a fool standing around with a halter and lead rope in hand with nary a horse in sight?

My surly guide is surrounded by a 20-foot halo of third-hand cigarette smoke. I try to be friendly and am gruffly rebuffed. We get to the gate and she says, “I had to move the cows.” I say “thank you” and she gives me a look like I have fallen so low in her opinion that I have started digging a hole. Apparently manners are not valued here. I fall silent.

The yard is covered in concrete. At first there wasn’t very much manure but after the first 10 feet I hesitate. Now it’s not like I haven’t walked across manure before. Most of the time I really don’t much notice. But this, this isn’t just any ordinary manure. This is a solid, two-inch deep mat of wet, greasy, oozing yellowy pestilent looking manure from cows and horses combined. My guide gives me a withering look. I start thinking about burning my boots after this is over.

Finally the horses come into view. To add insult to injury my chosen steed is the least interested in me of the herd. The auction employee feels I can do no right at this point. The horse isn’t interested in being caught. The employee has a plan but isn’t going to tell me what it is. Finally she barks out for me to get out of the way of the gate. It becomes apparent she wants to drive them into a small building and catch him in there. I manage to catch my purchase. He leads nicely until a cow bellows and he tries to jump into my arms for protection.

As you can imagine loading isn’t easy either but the auction employee helps drive him forward surprisingly gently and we get him in. I thank her again. She gives me a look like I am hopeless and wanders off.

I manage to arrange to quarantine my new steed at an eventer barn. This heightens the disparity between what my brain tells me to buy and what my conscience tells me. I want an Irish Draught sport horse, but I can’t feel good about buying one with so many good horses falling on hard times.

My new horse rides in the trailer well. In fact he’s so quiet I end up stopping to take a look. For some reason I was sure he would be a scrambler but he proves me wrong. As he steps out of the trailer I am really impressed by how pretty he is.

Now three weeks later my little Arab is a delight. He seems to know I saved him. I am lucky because he is a very well mannered and kind horse. He has a stifle issue but with a little care from the vet he should become a nice trail horse. I knew about the stifle before I took him home.

I was leading him around the farm where I board him and one of the riders asked, “8-month-old warmblood?’ I said, “No, 8-year-old Arab.” A few minutes later my new horse looked me fondly in the eye, reached out and patted my cheek with his lip. I know I did the right thing.

Lynn Howland has a riding experience that includes riding at the Fulmer School of Equitation and show jumping lessons with the Olivers in England all grounded by a foundation of six months of no reins and no stirrups on lungeline as a 6 year old. Lynn has ridden open jumpers and evented up to preliminary level. She isn’t sure if she has retired from the show ring for good or is just currently on a long sabbatical.

Her herd currently consists of a Connemara/thoroughbred, a rescued thoroughbred gelding, another thoroughbred mare, a rescued donkey and now an Arab gelding. She firmly believes that horse owners and riders must evolve to become wholly aware of the reality of how horses are dumped when they become lame or old. We must encourage and support the humane and least stressful ending of a horse’s life which is euthanasia in a horse’s home stable. As the horse gives its life to us we must give our best effort to their welfare.

Lynn resides in Washington state.

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