“Do you care if Saintly Neighbor and I go to Fort Worth tomorrow to look at a horse?” Darling Husband casually asked me one evening. I stared blankly at him. I wasn’t aware we were in the market for anymore horses. At this point the Gardner Farm current residents included Beau Pony, Apple Jack, Odessa, Comanche, Battle, and our boarder Denim, max. capacity when only one person was working any of these animals and that person had a day job. It’s a resource problem, too many horses, not enough butts.
Darling Husband ensured me he had mentioned this horse before. (My mistake, I hadn’t taken his late night Facebook marketplace scrolling seriously.) He pulled out his phone and produced photos (Appaloosa, spotted butt, rat tail, no mane). Bomb proof, kid-safe, experienced trail horse the ad proclaimed. I had given up any illusions of putting up a fight regarding unsuitable horses my husband fell in love with (how can you argue when a total stranger had declared the animal bomb-proof?). So I said, “Whatever you want honey.”
An hour later he was hooking up the horse trailer. I immediately resigned myself to the fact that our farm population would be growing. If Darling Husband was towing a trailer all the way to Fort Worth, even if the horse in question did not make the trip home, something would (goat, sheep, donkey, cow) It’s inevitable, if you hook the trailer up you will be putting something in it.
The next morning I headed to work, while Darling Husband, Saintly Neighbor, and Offspring took a road trip to Fort Worth. I mentally reviewed the life decisions that had led me to this point for a nanosecond, and then turned my focus to the corporation that funded all of this equine insanity. Around 1:00 pm Darling Husband called me with the news. He was indeed bringing the horse home. “It was awful. He’s fresh out of a kill pen, and he looks horrible. I just couldn’t leave the horse there even if we don’t keep him in the end.” came streaming out of Darling Husband’s mouth.
For those of you reading that may not be familiar with the dirty underbelly (necessary evil) of the horse world, kill pens are holding lots for unwanted horses (sick, lame, crazy, past their useful life, slow thoroughbreds, or perfectly wonderful animals with owners that can no longer care for them) that are being collected for shipment to slaughter houses. Many kill buyers will sell the horses to private buyers prior to shipment if the buyers are willing to pay more than meat market prices. For experienced horse people kill pens can be a great place to find decent animals at a low cost and feel great about yourself (like rescuing a dog from a shelter). Buying from a kill pen is a gamble, not unlike Russian roulette. The cost may not be your life, but subsequent vet bills of a bad selection may make you consider selling a kidney to cover the cost.
In this case the horse was purchased from a kill pen by a horse trader that recognized the horse. His color is unique and Horse Trader recognized the horse as one his friend had owned a few years prior. When Darling Husband arrived, Horse Trader was riding the horse around a dirt lot to prove the animal was safe and rideable.
Once Horse Trader removed his saddle, it became obvious the horse may have narrowly escaped the slaughter house, but was still at death’s doorstep. Every rib showed, hip bones protruded, and the dull eyes belied the horrors of his life. Darling Husband (dear sweet man) could not leave the horse to a fate that would most definitely lead straight back to slaughter. So Skinny, as I began calling him, (Darling Husband takes FOR-EV-ER to name his horses) became the fourth hard luck case to call the Gardner Farm home.
By this time we knew the drill, and had become experts at safely and quickly putting weight on horses. The jury was out on whether Skinny would amount to more than a pasture pet. We quarantined him from the other horses and hoped for the best. Within a month he had put on about 100 lbs, still extremely underweight but making progress. Things were looking up for Skinny so that is when he decided to end it all.
The details of exactly what happened are sketchy, but in the two hours between checking on Skinny when I got home from work and nightly feed, he managed to rip a basketball size flap of skin and muscle off his shoulder. We’re guessing it happened on one of the sage bushes in the pasture. For some reason he liked to stand in the middle of them, and rabbits tend to hide in them. A sure recipe for disaster since nothing is as scary to 1200 lb animals than plastic bags and cute little balls of fluff. We couldn’t find anything else in the pasture capable of inflicting the damage. As luck would have it, we weren’t the only people with suicidal livestock that night, and were fortunate our vet was in the office dealing with someone else’s emergency. Twenty seven stitches later, Skinny was put back together and happily munching on his hay in the barn.
Skinny’s injury increased his rehabilitation time significantly, and approximately one year after he joined the farm, we finally felt he was ready to go into training (so much for an almost ready to ride animal). Darling Husband started ground work with the horse, but after mentioning that Skinny was reluctant to travel on a right circle I began to pay more attention. Instincts told me we were not dealing with a training issue. It’s difficult to analyze a horse’s gait in my pasture, but it appeared he had some issues in the hind end.
Another trip to the vet and multiple X-rays ($$$) later we knew the reason Skinny (now named Gunner, Darling Husband refused to call him Skinny) had ended up in the kill pen. Along with some stiffness issues in his stifle and hocks, he had significant changes in his navicular bone (a small bone inside the hoof). While the hocks and stifle could be easily managed with cortisone injections ($$), the navicular changes were a whole other issue. The condition is not something you can cure, and it can be quite expensive ($$$$$) to manage.
Gunner will never be sound to ride. Our best hope will be to keep him comfortable through corrective shoeing ($$) and medication ($$$$). Eventually we’ll come to a point where the condition has progressed past the point of our ability to keep him comfortable, and then some tough decisions will need to made. In the meantime for probably the first time in his life, Gunner has friends, plenty of food, and a life of leisure.
Shortly after Gunner’s arrival, we began calling our little slice of Texas paradise The Gardner Hard Luck Horse Farm, no sense in fighting our rescue farm status any longer. I once held the equestrian dream of owning a Gypsy Vanner and an Icelandic Pony. Those breeds are expensive due to their limited populations in the United States. It’s hard for me to justify spending that much money on breeds that will never end up in a slaughter situation when there are 100,000 horses sent to slaughter every year, and 55,000 excess mustangs in danger of starvation. We have the opportunity to make a difference for some of these hard luck cases, and I can’t imagine anything more rewarding than providing these animals with a loving home.