Napping on noses

Could there be a more beautiful animal than a horse? Even old ones who nap on their noses like this pair? Maybe my training has brainwashed my eye to see horse proportions as the gold standard but when I think other animals are beautiful, it’s usually because they remind me of a horse.

And having said that, horses are sadly frail by design with small feet, a large body, and a delicate digestive system.  Add to this the fact that horses were meant to graze 24/7 and mimicking that can be a challenge in our populated world. Horses are a cornucopia of delight for a lonely veterinarian.

As the amount of open range has decreased, the quality of veterinary information and care has increased. That’s good, we do a better job of caring for all the animals that we live with, dogs and cats too. Baseline prices for food and general vet care are costly but fairly easy to predict. It’s forecasting the emergency situation that’s hard.

Do we all have at least $15,000.00 per horse in an emergency savings account? Along with another few thousand dollars for each dog and cat. No? You don’t have a trust fund for each animal? Then there’s insurance. It’s the obvious answer for the single horse owner, but should horse rescues insure the entire herd? Even privately owned amateur ones like mine?

Okay, then let’s pretend that all of us have all the money in the world for all of our animals in any emergency contingency. In other words, let’s pretend it’s a perfect world.

Then our horses get old.

If we put aside emotions for a moment and just do the math, older retired horses have all the usual vet work that younger horses have, plus a few chronic conditions. Then a pattern begins to evolve: The old horse needs a vet call and then improves with treatment, but not as good as new. Time passes and the vet is out for another old age reason, and again the horse survives and again, not to his previous strength. He’s living a slow decline. Not bad enough to euthanize, but not entirely comfortable either. If you didn’t have insurance before, he’s probably too old to qualify now. If you do have it, coverage usually decreases as the horse gets older.

I would spend any amount of money if it would turn back the clock and make my horse 10 years old again. But instead each investment seems to leave my elders more frail, with less energy and fewer teeth. Emotions aside (as if…), old age is financially grueling and a threat to the entire farm population. Old age is my barn’s fiscal cliff.

At some point it’s time for a strategic retreat. I notice it’s easier to make this judgment -balancing love with technology and finances- for other people’s animals rather than those in my own home.

I grew up on a failing farm and unemotional decisions were made. If an animal was not pulling its weight, there was an easy solution and it wasn’t calling the vet. It was as brutal as it was natural. My Dad would think he raised an idiot if he was alive to know that I was feeding a geriatric community during a drought.

I can’t anthropomorphize my horse’s age, he does not make retirement look appealing. I know in the wild, nature would have taken him years ago. Has science circumvented nature? Have I turned him into a science project?  When did the natural process of aging become a war to fight with science and money?

It’s complicated pondering these weighty questions of budget, fiscal cliffs, and the nature of life.  I just want a workable budget, with quality of life and health care for my elderly. I might be feeling a bit of gridlock of my own.

Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.

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Comment by MagsNMe on January 26, 2013 at 8:51pm

I'm grateful that, to this point, I have the luxury of not having to make hard choices because of monetary concerns.  I can only imagine how difficult it is, because I know how difficult it is to make choices based only on quality of life.  

Comment by Anna Blake on January 25, 2013 at 9:51am

Great comment, Jackie. This horse world is evolving for sure. I wonder about the possibility of horse communes: a group of humans caring for a group of horses- giving youngster and oldsters a place with the strong midlife horses.

Comment by Jackie Cochran on January 25, 2013 at 9:42am

This is the first time in the history of the horse/man connection in which old horses are given a retirement.  In earlier ages if a horse was of no use for work or breeding the horse was quickly put down and turned into any number of useful products.  I remember feeling horrified when I was reading in the General Stud Book (Great Britain) the entry for a mare--"shot due to barreness" after a decade or more of faithfully producing a foal every year.  If she did not "catch" one year out came the pistol and the call to the knackers.  And their owners were at the top of the social ladder, with lots of money, land, labor and pasturage.

Since I am not born wealthy I had the cut-off of expensive long term veterinary procedures.  A colic surgery on a 33 year old horse with some senility?  No way.  Hopelessly lame and a hard winter coming?  Call the vet out or find a pistol (I have had some problems getting male vets to put down horses that clearly needed to be put down, males are soooooo sentimental!)  My horses were pretty much fine with all of that, my oldest was put down at 33, and others in their late 20's.

At least I had horses when I had a hope of affording them.  Nowadays with periodic regular droughts, sky-rocketing veterinary prices, and my old cold weather reliable-feed corn now used to make gasoline, I just cannot afford to support a horse any more.  So I pay to ride other people's horses and help support them that way.


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