17 July 2015

The ethics of horse selling, or "Caveat Emptor"

     "Caveat Emptor" is not just a phrase in Latin, it is the foundation of many transactions in the US. It means, "let the buyer beware".  It means, the seller of something is under no obligation to disclose certain things about the thing you are buying. In most cases it applies to used cars. Used (or these days, the phrase '''pre-owned'') car dealers are notorious for being shysters. They will lie to you in a newyorkminute and it is on you, the seller, to check the condition of the vehicle. Again, these days, this means taking the car you're looking at to a reputable car mechanic and having him check it over. 
   Even then, it's no guarantee that the thing isn't going to leave you stranded five miles from the lot.

    The same applies to horses, but even more so, as horses are living creatures. It's pretty difficult to open the hood on a horse and do a compression check. Every horse has a history, sometimes one that affects him for the rest of his life. I have heard too many horror stories about folks buying a horse on the spot, without so much as a vet check, only to learn later on that the horse has Issues. Sometimes they're game changers.
It's one of the reasons I will never, ever buy a horse at auction (although my Jordan was purchased from one, by the last owner, and I am so grateful she did.) There are too many instances of a horse being drugged on the auction ground, sold on a bid based on watching the horse walk or trot around a tiny pen, only to be found to be a nut job the next day, after the sedative and/or pain killers have worn off. 

   We've all been in the situation where we want to get rid of a horse, for any number of reasons: we can no longer afford him, he's no longer or never was suitable, he has taken you as far as he can. The latter will never be an issue with stuck-in-intermediate-riding-abilities me. I'm old. I understand my capacities. I'm happy being a perennial Advanced Beginner and don't plan on being anything more than the 'happy to be on the back of a good horse' level of rider. However, Raven is trained to second level and Sue is working for that, and I will support her as much as I can.
    There's no crime in selling a horse. We do it every day. We buy them and we sell them. We swap them, we barter, we lease. 

   So what do you do when you know a horse has some sort of medical or physical condition that is so bad that it makes the horse virtually useless...and the owner isn't telling when she puts up the Sale ad for him?

        Above is the listing on Dream Horse for the very first horse I ever leased. I was getting back into horses after a eight year dry spell of being horseless. I wanted to ride again. I wasn't sure, though, if I wanted to own again. So I looked around and found Hank.

     Hank was owned by a young lady (NOT the one in the above picture, or the one who is selling him). The girl...well, I'll call her D. D was no longer interested in horses. She'd been given Hank, along with many lessons with a trainer whom I've written of before, in the hopes that the horse would steer her away from the bad crowd she'd taken up with.

    It didn't work. D showed Hank for a while, then lost interest in him.Daddy kept the horse, why I don't know, but Hank was available for leasing when I wanted one. 

   I should have known early on that there were problems. D wasn't interested at ALL in the horse, not a lick. She had her saddle (a heavy silver encrusted western show saddle) at the barn that I could use. She came out to the barn where Hank lived, ONCE, to show me his paces. She was rude, and hard on Hank. Threw the saddle on his back without bothering to make sure the blanket was smooth and wrinkle free, and yanked the cinch home with one mighty tug. Hank took it all without a whimper. Then she rode him in the arena. He was 'spur stop' trained in Western Equitation, she said, and had won many ribbons in WE. She put him into a "jog" (a trot so slow I could have kept up with him at a walk) and then a "lope", a canter, again so slow that I could have kept up with him at a trot. She rode with her arms stretched straight out in front of her, like they were wood, and had no contact whatsoever with the bit. Oh, by the way, he has navicular. She then handed me the reins to her horse, said See ya, got in her car, and left.
    I never saw her again. I could have done anything to that horse, up to and including killed it, and she wouldn't have turned a hair. 
    Drugs like meth will do that to you, I'm told. If you know what I mean, but since I don't have proof all I can do is conjecture. 

    Hank was gentle as a lamb. He was uncomplaining, one could do anything with him. Up to a point.

   I don't know how to ride Western Equitation the way it is. That meaning, a horse forced to move so slowly, with it's head hanging below it's knees, it's paces so mincing and short you wonder how in the world it manages to move at all. WE people want their horses dead quiet and will go to a lot of lengths to get that. 
    I've ridden in western saddles and am never quite sure what to do. I can't feel anything. While they're comfortable, to me, they seem to encourage a bit of laziness on the rider's part. I honestly feel a bit embarassed to be seen in one, but I have to admit that horn is a nice thing to have when one is trail riding on a frisky horse. 

   So instead of using a bit on him, I put him in a hackamore (English hackamore, which is basically a heavy duty cavesson). And I never rode in D's saddle. I rode him bareback. I ride every horse bareback. I prefer it.
I could never get Hank to move any faster than that slow, slow jog. I could have slept on his back while he was 'jogging'. Canter? I got him to canter, once. That didn't last more than three steps, then he went back to a walk. A dead slow and quiet walk, head down. It was unnerving, his head down so far. It was like being on a barrel without a head. There's a horse here? Really? Later on, when he realized he didn't need to carry it so low, he did raised it up, a bit. But never UP, where I could see it. He never got his head higher than my knees. 

   I'd leased him for about a month when he came up lame. I called Daddy (not mine, D's Daddy, the man who wrote the paycheck.) Will he pay for the vet if I call him out? Sure. But it's probably because he's run out of meds. 
What meds? 
This was the first time I learned he was on pain killers. Strong ones. 
The vet came out and the first words out of his mouth were "Who in the hell is the farrier."
I told him who. "Why in the eff are you using that man, he's a butcher. Look at these feet." I said, I'm not the owner, I'm leasing the horse. "I get more business from that man than anyone else in the entire county." he said.
Well, Hank had been trimmed two days before and had been 'scalped'...his soles pared down so much that you could see pink. 

   But he was also out of meds. I had to call Daddy again,  who said, oh, yeah, I'll get them. 
In a week they showed up, but in the meantime I was unable to ride my leased horse. And I was very bothered by the fact that I'd not been told about the need for medications. 

   When he stopped being lame, started back on his meds, and his soles had thickened, I started riding again.
   But this time, something was wrong. Hank was so very well mannered, so very quiet. But he began to develop a bad habit-that of moving away from me as I was mounting from the block.

   This is a bad habit for a horse. I want him to stand like a statue while I'm mounting and even after I'm on his back, I sit there for a while. I do NOT want a horse to bolt from the block. It's a good way to get hurt. 

   So I called Tonia, the trainer. I wanted her help, please, (and willing to pay for it) to nip this bad habit in the bud.
After telling me how famous she is, she began to question me on what I was doing. How could he be stepping AWAY from me, when I have my foot in the stirrup? Well, I don't mount from the ground. I mount from a mounting block.
   No way! That's what a western saddle is designed for, he's a Western Equitation horse! You're supposed to mount From The Ground.
Well, I ride him bareback.

   NO. NO. NO. He's trained WESTERN EQUITATION. That means a WESTERN saddle, (you idiot, I could hear under her  breath). You can't ride him bareback. NO. You ride him in a saddle for 60 days and then I'll maybe come out and give you lessons.

    Well, this was odd. I never in my life heard a riding instructor/horse trainer tell me that she DIDN'T want my money. Nor do I want lessons in riding Western. This bimbo had 'trained' Hank and now she didn't want to help fix a problem?
She was hiding something. I could hear it in her voice. She didn't want to address a problem she was much to aware of. So she blamed the victim. Me. 

    Eff you, witch. I don't need you or your arrogance. 

    All this time, I'd known that Hank, while he looked QH through and through, was only 1/4 QH. The rest was Appaloosa. He had no spots, save what I thought was a spot on his left hip. It was white and about 6 inches long, three inches wide.

    I learned later on, too late, really, what it really was.

    I began working on Hank's budding habit of moving away from the mounting block. I would give him a treat once I was aboard and didn't ask for him to move away until a minute or more passed. 

    But he got worse. He wasn't even waiting for me to attempt to mount, he was moving  the moment I stood on the top step of the block.

    One day, he was moving and I got aboard in motion. 

    He stopped. I waited for a while, then asked for a walk...and he exploded.
For what seemed an hour but was probably no more than thirty seconds, I was atop a bucking tornado. He was spinning, backing up and bucking all at once. I fell forward onto his neck and hung on for dear life. I was NOT going to fall off underneath those feet.

   Finally he stopped. Two other women had been in the arena and both came over at once. I 'dismounted' (a nice word for half fell, half jumped) onto the ground. I was shaking like a leaf. Hank didn't run away. "What happened?" one of the women asked, "I don't know. I have no idea. I'd just got aboard and he freaked." (by the way, I don't ever wear spurs). "I"m amazed you stayed on!" "Me too!" "He acts like his back hurts".

   Then it dawned on me. That is exactly what the problem was. Hank's back hurt. Badly.
I'd noticed that when I curried his back, he'd flinch. But he's such a stolid, patient, generous horse. He probably has been hurt many times by unwitting humans and has just come to accept it. But I'm a massage therapist. I should have investigated further. I didn't. 

Ordinarily, when I fall off a horse, I get right back on. But in this case, I knew the woman was right. Hank's back hurt, and I was the cause of it.

   In the barn, Jorge, the barn hand, was alone. It's the only way he could relate to me what Hank's problem was without being fired for gossiping..or in this case, telling the truth.

   A year ago, Tonia the Spur Stop trainer, her butcher of a farrier husband, and D decided to go trail riding in the hills. They trailered their horses and Hank to the trail head.
Hank is NOT a trail horse. NOT NOT NOT. He is an arena horse. Being outside a fence is terrifying to him. I learned this when I wanted to walk him off the property into the woods...hand walk, mind you, and he bolted when a robin flew past his nose. Nope,Hank is NOT a trail horse.

   I don't know how long they rode. What Jorge told me is that Hank panicked, reared up, dumping D, and flipped over backwards....down a steep rocky slope. I remembered hearing about it. I have no idea how they got him out of the predicament. 

   What I do know is that Hank had/has a broken back. NOT the spine, but the vertebral spinous processes, the parts of the spine that stick up. The white spot on his hip isn't a spot, it's a scar. His back may have healed, but with a few broken spines, that back has got to be tender. By riding him bareback I was hurting him. 

    Apparently the combination of a western saddle and a lot of drugs in his system makes him rideable.
    But he's only that way artificially. 

   I vacated the lease shortly thereafter. I called Daddy and told him so (I never, ever lease or do anything without a contract, so there wasn't much he could do). He sounded...nervous when I spoke with him. He was hiding knowledge,  I could tell. I didn't tell him what I knew. I didn't want him to blame ME for Hank's injuries. By the way, did I want to BUY Hank?

  NO. I didn't say why. He KNEW. 

    It's a shame because I doubt the girl in the picture above, the one who's selling him, knew about the accident when she bought him from Daddy. (D, I believe, is already in prison or in rehab, I don't know. Meth will do that to you, so I'm told). I doubt she's ever ridden bareback a day in her life. 
   She is telling the truth about Hank being gentle. She is telling the truth about him needing medications for his navicular.
But she's not saying a word about his back. 

   She wants to get what she paid for out of him. I'm sure she wants to use the money she gets from him to buy something she can ride without meds. 

   Poor Hank. What he needs is to be retired, permanently. It's not right to continue to keep him on drugs solely to win ugly ribbons. It's not right. He should be considered nothing but pasture jewelry. He's not rideable unless he's drugged. 

   Is that right? No. It is unethical, and cruel, but that is the lot of a horse, sometimes. The girl wants to make money on him, without relaying the truth about Hank's back. 

   I am torn. I am not a veterinarian so I didn't X-ray his back, but I"m a massage therapist that didn't pay attention when grooming him. He'd flinch when I'd curry his back. I didn't pay attention. I didn't know.

   But now I do. But what DO I do? Do I post an ad saying this horse has this issue along with navicular?

   That's a good way to get sued. And Daddy knows lawyers. 

   So I am telling you all. If and when you buy a horse, get it vet checked. THOROUGHLY.

   Poor Hank.

   Poor sweet, kind horse. Nothing but a horse. 


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