The Elephant In The Room

The Elephant In The Room

There has been a lot of recent online chatter about ‘real’ rescues versus so-called rescues, and I wanted to address it using one of our available horses as an example.

SnowFlow came to us a few months ago. She’d been a pet to an older gentleman who entered hospice care. We have a pretty good history on her as horses who come to us out of these situations go, and we tell her story on her profile page. Our dedicated foster farms have invested countless hours of time spent with her – catching, grooming, standing tied – making her a solid citizen. Then, we invested more than a thousand dollars in having her started under saddle by a professional; training which her current foster has continued. At around 12 years old, Snow is still a ‘green’ horse and needs an advanced rider. But, you can adopt Snow knowing that we are completely transparent about what she is – and what she is not. We are not looking for the first person who can pay her adoption fee; we are looking for the correct match for her. Snow came to us before she was in danger of going to an auction or ending up living out her life in a field with no farrier or veterinary care.

When you adopt a horse from us, that horse has a lifetime safety net. This means that if your life changes, or if you can’t keep your Safe Harbor horse, the horse can come back to us.​ ​This is for the protection of the horse, so that they are never in danger of ending up in a bad situation; and for you, so that you don’t feel ‘stuck’ in a situation of not knowing how to rehome a horse safely or worrying that the home you choose may not work out.

We are a 501C3 charity. This means that donations to us are tax-deductible. It also means that donors should expect a certain level of transparency. If anyone ever wants to see copies of a horse’s vet records, we are happy to disclose those. Each adoption closes with the adopter receiving their horse’s current Coggins, vaccination records, and any other veterinary work, such as teeth floating or chiropractic, that have been done while the horse was in our care. If the horse has special needs, not only do we disclose that up front, we walk the adopter through the horse’s routine care requirements and what the costs of those are likely to be.

Finally, when you adopt a Safe Harbor horse, you are helping 2 horses. You are adopting a horse that will be your trail or show partner or companion, and you are making room for another horse to come into Safe Harbor.

Now consider the elephant in the room. The​ ​recent wanna-be ‘competitor’ to rescues. The Facebook “save a killpen horse” groups. These are horses that the kill buyers buy at local auctions for $300-$400. They may be registered horses; they may be flashy colors like Appaloosas, palominos, and buckskins. They may be tattooed racehorses that these guys know they can sell to former owners or breeders who are heartbroken their horse ended up at a sale barn, let alone bought by a kill buyer. These horses are listed at twice and three times – or more – what the kill buyer paid for them. I have watched their prices on these pages go from an average of $600 to twice that in the past 6 months, because they are making such profits. And as long as they continue to make easy money, their prices will continue to increase.

The more money they make, the more they are able to expand their reach; take the Stanley Brothers, for example, now operating in Louisiana, Arkansas, and in Tennessee. ​There is video evidence of them committing aggravated cruelty against dogs and horses. Yet each horse bailed from Bastrop, ArkLaDel or the Stanley TN ship pen funds them (and their legal defense), and their continued abusive practices.

Horses listed on these pages are generally not in immediate danger of being shipped to the slaughterhouse – those shipments are based on quotas that have to be filled –​ ​but rather, these are horses are​ ​bought with the intention to post them on Facebook to make a profit, with the full knowledge that the threat of ‘kill’ and a deadline will have well-meaning people lining up to pay $1200 for a horse they know nothing about, can’t lay their hands on prior to paying for it, may be unsound, untrained, sick, or dangerous – horses without history that may well end up abandoned, neglected, or hurting an unprepared person who wanted to do a good deed and save a horse but end up in way over their head and ‘stuck’ with no knowledge of what to do next. That’s why they buy the registered horses and the pretty colors – they know breeders and previous owners can be traced, they know that color sells.

​There have also been cases of solid chestnut or bay horses with no markings in good weight being swapped out for thin horses of the same color – the healthy horse ships, the thin horse is sold to a person paying ‘bail’ with no knowledge of the swap, and the buyer ends up with a thin, sick horse that isn’t the one they though they had purchased. ​We have first hand knowledge of a woman who bailed a BCS 4 bay yearling and received a (different) BCS 1 bay yearling. One had slaughter value, the other didn’t. Many stories are told of the bailed horse “accidentally being loaded,” and another horse being provided instead so the buyer still received “a” horse.

The cycle has to stop. The number of horses that have gone to Mexican slaughterhouses is up year-to-date.

These guys can afford to buy more horses to send across the border because they’re making more money on the side. Think about it. $1200 might buy 12 horses destined to actually ship to a slaughterhouse. At 60-70 cents per pound, per horse, he’s making a good return.​ ​He knows he can buy more slaughter horses, maybe run an extra truckload ​or 2 ​every week, because he’s making so much more money with his Facebook side business than he did simply buying up the cheap run-through horses at local auctions and direct-shipping them.

Do you want your $1200 to fund his business?

There are better options. One option is to attend your local horse sale and bid against him. He’s easy to spot – he’s the guy buying the large number of horses throughout the night. If you can afford to vet and rehabilitate them, buy those $300 and $400 horses as you can. Or, stay until past midnight and buy the untouchable horses that are run through that he really will direct ship, and invest in training them to be solid equine citizens before finding them homes. If you are not experienced enough to do this responsibly, then consider donating to or adopting from your local rescue organization, whether it is Safe Harbor or another accredited, legitimate 501c3 organization. These groups are often able to intercept horses before they go to an auction or end up in danger, or otherwise rehabilitate and train horses that were previously unwanted.

Supporting the work of “real” rescues helps keep horses out of the auction and slaughter pipeline, and serves as a safety net for horses and a better alternative for their owners.