Saturday, May. 18, 2024

It’s Time To Take Care Of Our Own

Our columnist takes inspiration from several sources and reminds us that it’s important to take full responsibility for our animals.

The toughest part about owning animals—whether horses, ponies, cats, dogs or birds—is that we all become so attached to each one, which makes difficult decisions about them all that much harder.
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Our columnist takes inspiration from several sources and reminds us that it’s important to take full responsibility for our animals.

The toughest part about owning animals—whether horses, ponies, cats, dogs or birds—is that we all become so attached to each one, which makes difficult decisions about them all that much harder.

But, one of the most important decisions you can make as an owner is the level of responsibility you have to that creature. It’s a lot easier to take full responsibility for a cat, dog or bird. Horses and ponies, however, are a different animal. Even though these domesticated animals don’t live in our homes (most of the time!), they actually require more care and a greater time commitment than other pets due to their differing, and often more specific, needs.

Amateur rider Penelope Ayers gave a party during the HITS Ocala winter circuit (Fla.) for Ron Danta and Danny Robertshaw, two South Carolina-based trainers who have gone above and beyond in caring for animals. And the Chronicle’s article about their passion for animals, “Danny Robertshaw And Ron Danta Give Dogs A Second Chance,” (Feb. 22, p. 78), certainly helped to create awareness about their work.

Ron and Danny spoke about the 815 dogs they’ve placed in homes. Danny spoke about the need for everyone to become involved in some way, such as working in a shelter or fostering an animal. Each dog that Ron and Danny take into their home is vaccinated, neutered and updated on all of its shots.

It’s inspiring that they’ve taken on this extraordinary job with so many cats and dogs, and I wondered if maybe it’s time that more of us become involved in giving our time to horses and ponies that need our help. There are many programs that could benefit from our time and money, such as therapeutic programs and adoption and rescue organizations.

Do Your Part

Each time you purchase a horse, you commit to caring for that animal and keeping him healthy and happy. Unfortunately, sometimes those who purchase an animal don’t take that commitment seriously. Often, these people assume that their trainers will take care of everything. That’s not always the case.

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Show horses require specialized care. They often travel from show to show no matter what level—from the unrecognized to the AA shows to Devon (Pa.), our Zone Finals and the fall indoor shows. And wherever our horses are in contact with other horses we must be vigilant in their care and management.

Whether they’re sales horses, race horses, polo ponies, intercollegiate mounts, Pony Clubbers, foxhunters or eventers, these equines are often shipped to compete or to be sold or donated to a therapeutic riding or college program. With the scare last year in Florida after the outbreak of the equine herpes virus, it was a clear wake-up call to all of us that we must be careful when we relocate our horses 1 mile or 1,000 miles.
All of our horses’ vaccinations must be up to date. Our show and event managers also need to be vigilant on checking the paperwork of horses shipping in to their facilities. It’s no longer just an updated Coggins test that needs to be part of our paperwork.

We as owners must do our homework as to which spring and fall shots, vaccinations and other preventative care routines are needed for each horse. Our world has changed over the past few decades as travel has increased and communicable diseases have spread worldwide. Therefore, it’s vitally important to remain educated in the latest research and to know which diseases you should vaccinate your horse against. Herpes, West Nile, strangles, Potomac Horse Fever, rabies and Lyme disease are all part of the equation now, depending on where you live and how often your horse travels to compete.

This year at SBS Farm we had a top amateur horse die, and we still don’t know why. His illness started with a low-grade fever, and he was immediately shipped to the University of Florida at Gainesville. They ruled out the infectious diseases and are still investigating the cause three weeks later. This horse was healthy and up to date on all of his shots. It was heartbreaking for all of us, especially his owner who had a true bond with this horse.

Most people do a laudable job caring for their horses, though, because it’s truly amazing that we don’t see more horses sick and more outbreaks at these huge shows and competitions. Unfortunately, horses are fragile, and even with the best of care something can go wrong.

Care And Compassion

One thing owners can do is to keep an accurate record of their horses’ routine care. Even if your horse is at a full-care facility, it’s always useful to have back-up information on hand just in case. If you care for your horses yourself, make sure they see a dentist and veterinarian at least on a yearly basis and a farrier at four- to six-week intervals. Again, make sure you’re current on the necessary vaccinations in your region of the country and keep your horse on a strict schedule.

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For instance, many people think rabies is a problem of the past. Yet in some areas of the country it’s still a disease of concern. Most of us routinely vaccinate our dogs and cats, but what about your horse? Make sure to ask your veterinarian if rabies is a vaccination he or she recommends. Unfortunately for some of us, rabies has come back into our communities through wildlife and feral dogs and cats.

When you think of the many different breeds and types of horses and the turnover at shows from week to week, you realize how important it is that each owner and trainer becomes vigilant in protecting their own horses. In addition, those who care for horses as their vocations, such as shippers, must clean and disinfect their vans constantly. If your shipper doesn’t disinfect after each trip and after transporting
different horses from different barns, find a new shipper.

It’s now been almost 35 years since the Coggins test became mandatory to prevent the spread of equine infectious anemia. Now, EIA is primarily a disease in our past. We must become just as attentive in vaccinating against the new diseases in our world so we can also put them behind us. No matter what job your horse or pony does, he still needs to be vaccinated.

When I see our horses and ponies, that do an amazing job every day of their lives teaching their riders and taking care of them, I realize we should do more for them. We should become involved and help people who aren’t as well informed in the care of their horses. Just as the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association has started mentor programs for judges and trainers, maybe it’s time to start a mentor care program for our horses and ponies in need. Education is our most important tool—let’s use it.

If possible, we could offer our barns to horses who need a home or who need care. For some of us it’s difficult to be able to isolate these horses in a quarantine situation because of the layout of our facilities. But maybe it’s time to start to try to make provisions for, say, one horse per year. As members of this community, it’s our job to care about the horses just as Ron and Danny care about their dogs and cats.

Obviously, it’s much more difficult to foster or adopt a horse or pony then a smaller pet, but if we all consider how we can help in the smallest or biggest way it would be a step in the right direction. From monetary donations to volunteering to foster-care for a horse, the options are endless. Contact your local humane or rescue organizations to find out what you can do to help.

For those of us who have made horses our lives and our businesses, we owe it to our special equine friends to give them the best possible life while they’re doing their jobs and afterward, when they’re retired. Ron and Danny started with a dream and a purpose with their dogs and cats, and now it’s time for us to take their lead with our equine friends.   

Susie Schoellkopf

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