NEWSFLASH!!! – That “Free” Horse is NOT Free!

A few years ago, I got a call from a broodmare owner, telling me that his mare was a fabulous match for my stallion and would really “move him up.”

Ok.  I’m listening.  At this level, the threat of a paying customer is always intoxicating.

I’m a little breeder with a nicely bred stallion* who throws beautiful babies, but I’m not even close to well off, let alone wealthy, so breeding babies is not something I’ve done for a while.  I don’t have the means to raise them properly and get them to the races, or save them all and turn them out on acres of green grass, like the higher end stallion owners and racing breeders can.  It makes sense to “stand down” for the time being.

Anyway, this mare owner tells me that he will “give” me this wonderful mare for FREE!!!!  All I have to do is come get her…Oh, and I’d have to pay the $1500 stud fee owed on the baby she’s carrying, that I don’t want…and I think there was a $300 board bill that needed paying, as well, but the actual mare wasn’t going to cost me anything!  When I politely refused the “offer,” I was lambasted for not taking advantage of this “FREE!!!!” mare, who would be so great with my stallion.

I pointed out that no matter how “free” she was at the beginning, she was going to eat…and eat for two…and then feed a baby that I didn’t want and no guarantee of selling.  It would all cost money, not counting vet bills, et cetera.  Angrily, he countered that I had no business in the Horse Business, if I couldn’t afford a free mare.  I pointed out that he couldn’t afford a $1,500 stud fee, or the board he owed the stallion owner, so he really had no business calling me out for having the good sense to stop breeding before I got myself into a financial mess…and put two innocent lives in the middle of my bad decision.  My position clearly offended him, and he hung up on me.

He later sold the mare, still in foal, through an auction in which she brought about $600.  I hope she and her baby made it to a good and worthy new home.  She deserved it.  A lot of broodmares end up in places like Cymple Rhythm did, simply because someone could not afford to feed them, let alone breed them!

"Della", the night of her rescue. Photo by Auction Horse Rescue

“Della”, the night of her rescue.
Photo by Auction Horse Rescue

Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago when I told you about Cymple Rhythm (n.k.a. “Quick Della”)  and her rescue out of a livestock auction pen, in very grim condition, for a paltry $100.00 – basically “Free”.  I’m sure some people who read the story, but didn’t donate that night, probably thought, “Well, see, they had plenty of money from what I saw on Facebook and that blog I read about her!  They really didn’t need my help…”

For the caring, but clearly uninitiated, and clueless horse lovers out there, I present you with the following post from Caroline Betts, of Southern California Thoroughbred Rescue, who posted the following on her own Facebook page.

“Just for the record: a starving mare that cost $100 (plus tax) to buy at auction has accumulated costs of $1020 so far in vet (including vaccs [vaccinations], worming, x-rays of swollen stuff, pregnancy check, etc.) and shipping [Writer’s note: Shipping a horse, even relatively short distances can cost over $100 and easily much more, depending on needs.] and that excludes feed and care for the first month. Just so you know what it takes and why we won’t take additional horses without major support.”

Her friends, most of them horse owners at one point or another, responded with their own nuggets.

“I think this is a good example of what many people fail to understand. The initial rescue is not the expensive part. The rehab and ongoing care are what cost a lot. For a long time. Thank you for stepping up for this girl. I hope you’re getting some good support for her.”


“I feel your pain! We just rescued 6 more emaciated horses last week from a horrible cruelty case!”

Quick Della - Feeling better after a few days of care. Photo by SCTR

Quick Della – Feeling better after a few days of care.
Photo by SCTR

When someone brought up the suggestion of doing their own vet work to save considerable money, Caroline explained why her organization’s costs are higher than many horse owners.   For those of you reading this who may not be fully aware of the extra responsibilities that legitimate rescue organizations face, read on.

“I have sympathy for the notion of cutting vet costs wherever possible. As it happens, our vet bills are annually only about 5 percent of our expenditures – they are high on intake of a starving horse however. As it goes, neither me nor any of our caretakers need to learn how to do things ourselves. We’ve all owned our own horses for many years, long before becoming involved with the non-profit, so all of the routine stuff is certainly doable by caretakers of the rescue’s horses. There are two reasons that the nonprofit doesn’t always have caretakers administer care to horses directly and in both cases it’s because of the need for accountability to donors and grantors of the non-profit.

1. When we take in a horse in very poor condition, and it could collapse and die at any second, the nonprofit requires that a vet see it before anyone administers a damn thing. Especially anything involving needles. If we try to do it ourselves, and something goes wrong, we are in big trouble with donors and grantors and correctly so. We have to put the horse first.

2. On an ongoing basis, to remain accredited and receive grants we have to prove administration of these things. We need a paper-trail showing expenditure and administration of care. I draw the line at wormers – in general, oral administration of those things can be done by caretakers – but pretty much everything else? We usually buy cheaply, or acquire via grants, our own vaccinations – but we want a vet to either be present for their administration or to administer them. I hope that makes sense.”

Then another reality check for those who don’t know how these organizations work.

“There is something else worth mentioning here. Insurance. Again, to continue to receive grants and remain accredited, we must have liability insurance at least and we also have D&O insurance. We need to protect that insurance – i.e. the non-profit cannot afford to have claims against it on a regular basis. That insurance won’t protect us from getting sued potentially – even frivolously – and nobody has the time and energy to tolerate law suits since we are run by volunteers who also have full time jobs. So we’re not about to put caretakers in a position where they are doing things to horses that might have serious repercussions for the horses’ health thus exposing the non-profit and its volunteer directors to donor anger…”

In other words, “Free” is not free.  It will take months to get Della up to the condition she  needs to be, in order to achieve and maintain good health.  Right now, depending on where you are, Alfalfa hay is easily $13 a regular bale (about two days worth of hay for a horse, depending on the size and quality of the bale).  Then there are supplements to help her overcome deficiencies she’s likely experiencing.  They can run anywhere from $10 to 5 times that, maybe more, depending on what supplements are used and how big a bag they need.  Maybe she has other needs as she recovers from starvation.  For some insight into what it takes to correctly salvage a horse from emaciation, check out this information from U.C. Davis [].  Obviously, it’s not “One Size Fits All”, which means costs vary.

So, as you contemplate whether or not your measly $5 can do any good for one horse, consider the bigger picture.  Think of how your measly five dollars, and your friend’s measly five dollars, and my measly five dollars, and a couple other thousand or so people you’ll never meet’s measly five dollars, will have a significance for animals none of us are ever likely to meet, but we will always know we helped make a difference for them.

P.S. Contrary to what you might believe, I don’t spend most of my time defending the meek and the downtrodden, but it doesn’t mean I can’t—and you can’t—funnel off a trip to Starbucks ™, or a foot long sub from Subway ®, or breakfast at McDonald’s, just once in a while to help these horses who have no other means of survival, other than what we give them.  And if you can do more, more often? Do it.  You’ll be proud of yourself and that’s not a bad thing, either.

One Way to Save a Horse

One Way to Save a Horse

*The “How I Became a Stallion Owner” story is for another time.

This entry was posted in Horse Rescue, Horseracing, Pari-Mutel Betting, Pari-Mutuel, Racing and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to NEWSFLASH!!! – That “Free” Horse is NOT Free!

  1. Eileen says:

    How is Della now??

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