“OH, LOOK AT that adorable little pony. Honey, wouldn’t our grandbabies just love it if we brought her home?”
OK, so perhaps, like me, you don’t have a “honey” or grandchildren, but you’d still like to bring home that pony, horse or fill-the-animal-in-the-blank with which you just fell in love. I’ve certainly given in to that emotional whim myself a time or two.
The last time I did, I brought home an adorable black and white mini-horse named Gypsy for my grandnephew Isaac, then 5.
However, a few months later, it became apparent to me I wasn’t in the right health and frame of mind to keep Gypsy healthy.
Living in her own little paddock and having her own eating area separate from the two big horses, she was gaining an unhealthy amount of weight, and I worried she’d end up with laminitis. And she was so unhappy she couldn’t roam the pasture with Lacey.
The reasons I couldn’t care for her the way she needed were valid: I live with the debilitating disease multiple sclerosis; I’d been caring for my mother, who’d suffered with Alzheimer’s and had recently passed away; and I’d been raising a very active Isaac.
It’s an understatement to say I was in a state of exhaustion. And it didn’t help that Isaac quickly lost interest in Gypsy after I brought her home.
But then, I heard a friend of a friend was looking for a new companion horse for her lonely French warmblood. I sent Gypsy to a wonderful new home (see my Feb. 10, 2019, column, When Gypsy met Porche).
Each animal takes time, work and money over the course of their lifetime. Bringing an animal, especially a horse, in to your life should be considered a lifelong commitment and one not taken lightly, considering their average lifespan is 30 years. It’s good, too, to keep in mind it takes them time to adjust to a new family, home and change in lifestyle. We all, including myself, would do well to count the costs before saying, “Yes.”
Your monthly budget needs to include feed, supplements, hoof trimming and the occasional veterinary work, such as teeth floating and vaccines.
Hopefully you won’t have to place an emergency call to an equine vet, but you better plan money, like a good credit card, for it just in case. “Hope for the best, but plan for the worst” is a good motto to adhere to for any new venture.
There’s been countless happy endings for animals that came into a home because they tugged at someone’s heartstrings, but far too frequently, the newness wears off, and the animal becomes neglected. For those who haven’t owned a horse or pony before, there’s a huge learning curve and always manure to pick up — lots of it.
A huge problem novice owners seem to have is not realizing all equines must have their hooves trimmed on a regular basis, even if they aren’t ridden or taken out of the pasture.
For that, you’ll need to hire a professional farrier to come to your home to trim the hooves — even the mini-horses and ponies need it — every seven to nine weeks depending on the time of year. Horses that are ridden on trails require shoes or hoof boots. Do not neglect this, please.
Don’t know a farrier? Ask for names at local feed stores, training stables and barns. This is a must for the health of your animal.
If you want trim the hooves yourself, learn how to do it correctly. Done wrong, it could cripple the horse or, at the very least, make it very uncomfortable to walk as well as cause a host of other problems.
Jerry Schmidt at Freedom Farms offers a class on hoof trimming I highly recommend to all owners, if only to understand the process better.
For more information, call the farm at 360-457-4897, or email [email protected]
Better yet, view its website, www.freedom-farm.net or Facebook page at www.facebook.com/freedomfarm.portangeles.
You also need to know what, how much and how often to feed your horse. A common misconception is that the animal — who, by the way, is a living, breathing, thinking and sensitive soul — can survive just by eating the grass in your backyard or pasture.
Does a good grass pasture provide all the needed nutrients for a healthy horse? Well, it depends on many factors.
In the spring and fall, the grasses on the North Olympic Peninsula can be too lush and full of sugar for the horse, and certainly for a pony, especially for a miniature horse’s sensitive stomach.
Many horses have or will develop health problems, such as insulin resistance and laminitis, the painful and sometimes deadly ailment caused by eating too much grass with a high starch content. By midsummer, most horses will have eaten the grass down to stubs, and unless its feed includes some good hay, they will start munching on weeds. Some, like ragweed, are toxic.
What types of grass hay and alfalfa are commonly sold at local feed stores, and which should you buy for your horse? Talk to the most horse- and hay-savvy person you can find at your local feed stores. Ask what their experience is with feeding your type of horse.
A low-starch hay is available that’s specifically grown and baled for miniature horses and ponies.
Locally grown hay is low in selenium. Supplement it by putting out mineral and salt blocks for the horse to lick on as needed. And, believe it or not, they instinctively know when their body needs it and when it doesn’t.
Sometimes, we are hit with unforeseen occurrences, such as right now. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, many have lost their jobs, and some are losing their homes. A few can no longer afford to feed their beloved horses. A truly tragic situation.
I strongly urge folks to not give their animals to anyone willing take them, to someone who doesn’t share the value, bond or love of your horse. Please seek out help though an organization such as Olympic Peninsula Equine Network (OPEN). Diane Royall of OPEN spends hours on the phone helping horses and their humans get through a crisis.
“I don’t know what it is about ponies, but a lot of people seem to neglect their hooves,” said Royall, vice president and co-founder with Valerie Jackson. “We’ve had so many come in with those curled-over hooves over the years. We even had one come in this year where her coffin bone was starting to come through the hoof wall.”
Thankfully, that pony recovered with the help of OPEN.
By the way, OPEN has its own tack shop filled with a multitude of gently used items in good shape and sizes for all your horse needs and then some. Please call them to check it out.
Because of the pandemic, they weren’t able to host their usual fundraisers, like the annual dinner dance, and they could greatly use the community’s financial support to keep it going. Mail donations to P.O. Box 252, Sequim, WA 98382. You can call them at 360-207-1688 or visit them online at olypenequinenet.org.
If your horse is elderly or lame, please give it a dignified and loving death by euthanizing it at home while it munches its favorite meal or treats. Do not give it away to a strange home where it might end up at an auction where there’s a good chance it will be bought and sent over the border in a trailer jammed packed with other scared horses to a slaughter house.
I share the sentiments of a great many seasoned horse lovers when I say it is a kindness to make arrangements for a veterinarian to euthanize your animal at home. Or ask around for someone who knows an experienced and expert marksman.
Avoid someone who owns a gun but lacks experience; you want the death to be instant and humane. You can always find someone with a backhoe to help bury the carcass deep on your own or, perhaps, a neighbor’s property.
In the Sequim area, we have Olympic Game Farm’s expert marksman who will come to your home, provide your beloved equine with an instant death and then haul it away to become food for the farm’s meat-eating residents. Contact them at 360-683-4295.
Karen Griffiths’ column, Peninsula Horseplay, appears the second and fourth Sunday of each month.
If you have a horse event, clinic or seminar you would like listed, please email Griffiths at [email protected] at least two weeks in advance. You can also call her at 360-460-6299.