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Pets Large & Small

Planning for the Future

Dr. Kimberly Brokaw, DVM

(4/2015) Is your horse prepared for you to die? What about your dogs and cats? You can't watch tv for any length of time without seeing advertisements for life insurance. They ask questions about will your family be able to cover funeral expenses, the mortgage, etc. However, what about your pets? Are they even prepared if you were to simply get injured?

While dogs and cats are sometimes relatively easy to re-home, large animals such as horses are much more difficult. You see advertisements on the internet for free horses all the time. Even horses that are sound and healthy have difficult times finding a loving home. The daily cost of keeping a horse means that they are a large financial commitment. Most rescues are full and have limited space for taking an unwanted horse. Many family members assume that they can take the horses to the auction and they will be bought by good people who will provide them with good care. Unfortunately, there are very few fairy tale endings for horses who end up at the auctions.

Over the years I have been out to several farms where children were left with a herd of horses that they don't want or canít afford to keep. As non-horse people they are unaware of the risks with simply advertising the horse over the internet or taking it to the auction. While they would never intentionally sell their deceased parent's horse to slaughter, that may in fact be the end result.

Maryland will allow you to establish a trust fund for your horse, I'm not advocating cutting your family out of your will (although you can if you want). For most of us, even if we cut our families out of the will, there still isnít enough money for a trust fund for the horses. There are a few basic things you can do to increase your horse's chance of finding a loving home should something happen to you.

When you buy a horse, ask yourself if he will be easy to rehome if you are unable to keep him. Have him well trained. If you are a good rider and will methodically do the training, you donít need a professional trainer. If you are a timid rider, or too busy to train the horse, get a professional to do the training. The horse who happily packs a rider around on a quiet trail ride one day and is well behaved at a local show the next day, may find a good home fairly easily. A pushy horse who bites, kicks and doesnít know how to load in a trailer, is far more likely to end up homeless than a slightly lame yet very sweet horse. Have your horses health records in order. Your horse should have his teeth done, hooves trimmed, have a current coggins test, and be up to date on vaccines. Make sure you have an emergency fund for your horses, and talk with your relatives so they know there is a fund specifically for the horses. If your relatives know there is enough money in that fund to support the horses for a year, they have more time to find each horse a good home. If they are struggling to find enough money in your estate to pay your last electric bill and keep the mortgage up to date until the house sells, the horsesí care will suffer. Even if you simply get injured and can't take care of your horse for a couple months those things are important. Good boarding barns won't take your horse if his coggins and vaccines aren't current, and if there is no money to pay the board.

This brings me to the story of Mrs. Greenacre. Mrs. Greenacre kept her horses in her backyard and took care of them herself for years. She broke her hip a few years back and while the recovery had been slow, she was back out at the barn taking care of her horses. This winter she slipped on the ice and broke her hip again. At 70 years old, she was skeptical that she would heal well enough that she should be taking care of her horses. She decided she would find them homes.

I was called out to the farm to float the horses teeth and pull coggins. The horses had been on a routine vaccination and hoof care regimen. The teeth and coggins test had lapsed since Mrs. Greenacre had been unable to ride and the horses didn't leave her property. She told me her husband would meet me at the barn to help hold the horses.

The visit went smoothly and I talked with the husband about where the horses were going to go as I floated their teeth. He laughed about the process of trying to find them homes. He said he never would have thought but the 24 year old horse with arthritis, who was missing teeth, and blind in one eye had found a home immediately. The family down the street had been eager to get the old horse for their youngest child to start learning on. The older sister's horse was too spunky and had scared the youngest daughter so this old horse was looking like an excellent acquisition. This old horse was calm and quiet and the young girl could brush, tack up, and ride the horse without fear of being run off with. It sounded like a perfect match to me too.

The younger horse was proving more difficult to re-home. Mrs Greenacre had bought the other horse as a two year old with every intention of training the horse herself. However, when she broke her hip for the first time, training was side tracked. She never sent the horse to a professional for training as in her mind she had always planned to start riding again and would eventually train the horse herself. Now she had an 8 year old gelding that had never been ridden, barely knew how to lunge, was pushy on the ground and a bit flighty. Further hindering the horses ability to find a home was the horses size. Mrs. Greenacre was a petite woman who purposely selected small horses. So while this horse would be a great size for a child, his lack of training and spookiness meant that he would be better situated with a skilled adult rider.

As I left the farm I told Mr. Greenacre that if I knew of any potential homes for the second horse I'd let him know. Truthfully I knew that I was unlikely to find any. While the horse was sound, he was too old to be untrained and finding a home would be difficult.

Most of us want our horses to have good lives, even after we are unable to take care of them. We need to think about what we want for our horses, and make plans so they have a chance of a comfortable future.

Read other articles by Dr. Kim Brokaw