The social media photo caption reads something like, “This is my grade Appaloosa Paint Thoroughbred stud gelding Punxsutawney Pete. What do y’all use to prevent these open wounds from my tack on our 12-hour endurance rides?”
You scroll through the collection of posted photos. Like a CSI investigator, you begin to analyze the evidence. Punxsutawney Pete looks like he hasn’t seen a farrier since he was weaned 12 years ago. He’s standing in a dirt lot with fencing made predominantly of twine and prayer. There appears to be a recently dead or critically ill goat in the background. PP’s owner, Beverly, is standing in most of the images holding some kind of natural horsemanship stick. Despite PP’s poor body condition, Beverly looks extremely well kept. Her hair is freshly highlighted, and long sparkly acrylic talons protrude from her spray-tan stained hands. Poor PP looks like he hasn’t had a decent meal in months.
An intense and unmistakable wave of emotion washes over you, and like a teen wolf stop-action-animation transformation, you take on your true form as an internet troll. You know you shouldn’t indulge, but the urge is just too powerful.
“BEVERLYYYY!” you howl to the heavens as your fingertips dance across the phone screen keyboard, weaving a scathing response worthy of such an egregious breach of internet horsemanship. Your index finger hovers over “send” as you consider the ramifications of your impending social media bonfire.
Guilt is a useless emotion.
“I’m doing it for the horse,” you reason. But you know this is only partially true. Of course, you want to drive to Texas and kidnap PP. You want to take him to your barn and feed him like a veal calf for six months. You want to clean and treat his saddle sores and get his feet trimmed. You want to Pancur Powerpac him and treat the ulcers you know he has to have from a lifetime of equal parts ignorance and neglect.
You envision Beverly, panting as she runs after your trailer as you peel wheels out of her barn driveway, “Free Bird” blasting from your truck speakers, arm around the miraculously resuscitated goat in your passenger seat.
“You don’t deserve them BEV!” you yell to the wind as you skid onto the Texas highway in a plume of freedom dust.
Deep down you know a few years in prison would probably be worth it to save PP and the goat, but what would become of your own animals? You cuddle the sleeping pile of small beige dogs closer to you and wait for the inevitable social media response storm.
Yes, a part of you feels like this public humiliation might light the fire required under Beverly’s well intentioned hamstrings to improve her animal husbandry. But a big part of you knows it’s because you are a little mean, a quarter cup judgmental, and have been in the horse industry waaaay longer than any mental health professional would recommend. Maybe she’s born with it…maybe it’s head injuriiiies. Whatever your reasoning, you click send. No turning back now.
“Dear dear Beverly, If you have a trainer or professional whom you consult about your endurance riding career I want you to slap them right in the face. Your vet should receive similar attention. However, the fact that you’re seeking medical advice for your animal via social media indicates you might not consider it necessary to consult a licensed veterinarian. Know what’s a good treatment for saddle sores? Not putting tack on severely underweight horses. Want your tack to fit better? Feed your horses. Can’t afford a vet or feed? Find a home for the horse with someone who can. Your platinum tresses and gleaming acrylics indicate you’re proficient at self-care. Why then, Beverly, are your animals in such unforgivable condition? Furthermore, why on earth would you post incriminating photos of your starving horse on a social media EQUESTRIAN GROUP PAGE?! If you belong to any circle of horse people you will have learned we are among the most critical, cutthroat, judgmental and often pretentious collection of humans on the planet. We critique our own children on their mediocre physical conformation and lacking dispositions. Are you punishing yourself for something you did as a child? Do you hate animals? Is this a catfish post created by a friend to see if my brain would explode, and I’d inevitably respond? Are you guys taking bets?”
(You take a moment to scroll over Beverly’s personal page to confirm she is in fact a real human.) Dangit Beverly, you do exist.
And she’s not alone. Fresh posts like this emerge daily. From people who clearly think they are decent enough animal caretakers to publish photo evidence of their blatant neglect on the INTERNET. Was there ever a time in their social media scrolling career when they looked at other people’s healthy, happy horses and asked themselves, “Huh, my horse doesn’t look like that.”
And then maybe stumbled across a rescue page with abused, starving, recently confiscated horses and pondered, “Man that one looks just like miiiine.” DING DING. Ya beat the matrix Bev. How you have survived this long goes against everything Darwin stood for and is beyond my simple comprehension. But here we are.
The bottom line is: Our horses don’t choose us. We choose to have them. And regardless of our financial status, work hours, human children, potential substance abuses, weight struggles, or just the challenges of life in general, when one assumes ownership of an animal, they are 100% responsible for that animal’s well being.
That means you’ve made an agreement to feed, house and finance that animal. When you take a grazing animal somewhere with no access to grass, you need to provide hay. Most will need grain. They will need fresh water and shelter. They will need their feet trimmed or shod, their teeth floated and seasonal vaccinations. They will need to be wormed on a schedule of your (or better still a licensed vet’s) choosing. If you clip all their hair off, put a blanket on them. They don’t have thumbs. They haven’t evolved to survive on their own in a man-made environment. You need to keep your horses safe. You need to be sure the horse you choose can carry your weight comfortably.
If there comes a time when you are no longer able to provide your horses with the care they require to maintain good condition, you need to be human enough to let them go. Additionally, when a horse is too old to be useful, you owe it a happy retirement or a fear- and pain-free death. When you are old and no longer useful maybe someone will provide the same for you. The chances of your grandkids selling you to a feedlot are slim—but I wouldn’t rule it out.
If you are ill-equipped to provide your horse with its best life, consider a pet rock instead. I’m sure there are social media groups where one could post photos of their pet rock and seek advice on proper pet rock care. I’ll bet those pet rock people will be a far sight less critical of your pet rock health regimen and probably a lot more fun to party with than horse people. I’m just asking you to consider it. There’s probably a rock right now just lying in your yard waiting for its forever home. You could be that home for that rock.
Look, listen, we don’t deserve horses. We never have. We take an animal that is hardwired to do the exact opposite of what we ask of them on a daily basis, and they do it. They could kill us 100 different ways in under a second, and they instead choose to forgive most of our human foolishness. That alone is a miracle most of us horse people take for granted. The least we can do is use what little knowledge we have to give them the best quality of life possible.
So please, for me, before you seek medical advice for your horse on social media, make sure you’ve also called an actual veterinarian. Make sure you’re feeding enough to score between a 4 and a 6 on the Henneke scale (also easily found on the internet). You probably mean well. But Grandma told us what the road to hell is paved with, and horses don’t deserve to go there.
Alice Peirce was raised as a self-described “feral horse farm child” in Howard County, Maryland. She’s made efforts to leave the horse world over the years but always comes back and has worked for a number of people in various disciplines. Currently, she’s working for the Maryland Horse Breeders Association, attempting to teach her draft mule Olive how to jump, and training foxhunters in Monkton, Maryland, where she hunts with the Elkridge-Harford Hunt. Read all of Alice’s blogs.