The other day on a blog,, I wrote a post about boarding contracts. It was triggered by a recent situation where my daughter took over care at a small boarding stable here, when the owners went out of town. A horse went head to tail down (seizure) and remained that way for at least 8 1/2 to 9 hours. The horse owners refused to get a vet for the horse. The stable owner had no board contract, and the vets will not touch a horse without owner permission. There wasn't much Alisha could do for the horse other than keep it covered and try to comfort it when it thrashed around.

Although the owner was less than 20 minutes away it took him over 2 hours to come to the barn to look at the horse. He left after about 1/2 an hour and some hours later his wife showed up.

The horse had done this before but only for a few hours. Other than seizures they believed the horse had a great quality of life. It's the "other than this" statement that bothered me. I watched this horse thrash around. I saw his eyes roll back into his head while he ground his teeth. Once or twice he tried to get up only to crash into the wall and back to the ground. More than once we thought he was dead and had to watch carefully for breathing.

His owners told us to leave him there, alone.

Now what's wrong with a horse lying down for 8 or 9 hours? I mean people do it all the time. Well horses don't usually lie down for more than parts of an hour. The horse instinctively knows that lying down, it's in its most vulnerable state as a prey animal. But aside from the psychological issues with being down for a long time, there are the physical issues. 9 hours- no water. 9 hours - no passing manure. 9 hours of horse body weight pressing on organs and the cardio vascular system. 9 hours of a stopped digestive system.

In this time the horse didn't even have the benefit of a veterinarian administering fluids. He didn't have the advantage of any medication.

Eventually the horse got up. When Alisha saw him next he was rocking back and forth with his head pressed on the wall. The next day was not too much different. Since the horse got up the owners won't bother with him until it's it's convenient. They'll never see his miserable state while trying to recover, if he can recover. 9 hours down is a long time. And the sad thing is he'll go through this again and again until his poor body gives out. The owner said the horse won't see a vet until they are ready to give him the "needle" and they're not ready.
Is this just a differing philosophy about what's best for the horse, or is it something else? In my conversations with the owners I heard a great deal about what they were going through and how they weren't ready to part with the horse. I heard very little about the horse. Cruelty shows itself in a lot of different ways.

The underlying problem here is the concept of right and wrong. I will never tell someone that they have to adapt to my philosophies regarding horses, that is unless they want to board at my barn or take lessons in my program. But then again there is that moral line of "do you turn your back on suffering". Had this horse continued to suffer without getting up, into the night, I certainly would have called the authorities.

But this is a good example of why stables need to have detailed boarding agreements. There is nothing worse that being forced to watch an animal suffer because the owner is not wise enough to seek help for it. Boarding agreements can spell out what will be done if a horse is sick or injured. A good boarding agreement could ahve made it possible for this horse to have help while he was suffering.

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Comment by Brenda Cope on January 3, 2010 at 1:24pm
It is difficult to know "when" in some cases. I'm struggling a bit myself right now. One of my horses has cut himself badly in a bad place. Vet came and if the cut isn't into the joint then the horse will heal and although he may be lame he will be pasture sound at the least. If it gets into the joint I will have to have him euthanized. It's been a week and every morning I'm out at the crack of dawn checking to see if he is putting weight on that leg and he is.

I'm hoping that I'm not delaying making a decision because it is not one I want to make. But I look at him and he doesn't have that hopeless pained look yet. He is eating. He is alert and putting some weight down on his leg. Am I rationalizing my decision? I hope not. I don't think his "quality" of life is enough impaired yet to justify putting him to sleep. But there is a part of me that worries that I'm like the first and second post owners and just not facing up to facts. (Although I would never not have called the vet in the first instance and I don't think I could stand to see the suffering in the second instance)

I used to have one horse boarded (now have 9 at home) and when I did the barn owner had my authority to call the vet if needed. If I trust a person enough to care for my horse then he's going to be the type of person I trust to know if a vet is needed.
Comment by Kate Meyers on January 1, 2010 at 1:15pm
I hope many many boarders read this. I experienced a call while riding with a veterinarian where the owners thought that the horse was colicky and waited 5 days to call the veterinarian thinking that the horse would magically start to pass manure! Thank you for posting this. I hope many people start to think differently and call the veterinarians sooner.
Comment by Ruth Hogan Poulsen on December 31, 2009 at 7:46am
Very good point.

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