Thursday, July 9, 2009

Responsible unbreeding - What's your take on it?

Oh, this will be a can of worms, but I think we can discuss it and stay civil!

Here's the scenario: There's what may very well be a decent but unbroke Thoroughbred mare being thrown away on the Internet. The mare has papers. She was bred thirty days ago to a grade stud by some moron who has had his head under a rock for the past several years and does not realize that the value of said foal will be $25 on a good day.

My theory on a case like this is that the ethical thing to do is rescue the mare, abort the foal and train the mare to try to ensure that this will be the last time she is in danger of being picked up by a slaughter buyer. In this economy, I believe it is irresponsible to allow any foal to be born that is not reasonably predicted to have a moderately high value ($2000+) based upon the current sales prices of other foals of its type and breeding. (I do not care what one sold for 5 years ago. That's as irrelevant as if it took place on Mars.) If you can catch such an embryo early, and abort the mare, I think that's great. You're preventing one more unwanted horse from being born, and you're taking back six months or more of the mare's useful life.

I've also frequently pointed out that you do not have to have a foal because of an accidental breeding. Your vet can come out and give the mare a shot, and while it is not 100% effective, in most cases it does work. There is little reason for an "oops" foal to be born these days.

I do not think this issue has anything to do with being pro-life or pro-choice with regard to humans. An unwanted human child has a lot of possible options. There are waiting lists of people wanting to adopt them. There are government agencies willing to step in with help of every kind - foster care, medical, education - a million hands are waiting to help that child have a chance at a good life no matter what kind of miserable situation he or she may have come out of. It can still be a tough road for them, but do not have to worry they will be sold for $10 and die a horrible death at six months of age or younger - or that they will go through this all too familiar scenario:

Accidental foal is conceived. Accidental foal is born. Awwww! It's so KYOOT!

Wow, Sugar sure got protective of that foal, didn't she? She actually nipped at the kids. Kids, stay out of that mare's pen. Maybe she'll be better when it's older.

That foal sure is getting big. My neighbor said the mare will wean him herself when she's ready. Mares know. I don't know, what is he, about nine months old now? Maybe he'll be easier to work with when she kicks him off of her. I tried to put a halter on him and he struck at me. He's really feisty!

Yeah, the little one? That's her son. They've never been apart. They just love each other. But it's kind of hard, we don't really ride her anymore because they scream and throw a fit when we take one away from the other. And he's real pushy, so the kids are scared to go out by themselves to get Sugar now, and I just don't have the time to help them.

We just don't know what to do. Our vet says Sugar is pregnant again! We didn't think she would breed with her own son. He's only a yearling, can they do that? I don't have time to take care of them, and the kids are scared to go out there with him because he chases them. She hasn't had her feet done in a while now, either, because we can't bring her into the barn without him and my farrier won't do them in the field ever since the colt bit him. I saw an ad from somebody who buys horses and I think I'm going to sell them.

Yes, it's a familiar scenario and one that we see the results of every day. Foals may be cute, but they're also hard to handle and if you're not experienced and/or don't have someone experienced to help you, can become little monsters in a shockingly short period of time. We all know that the barely-halter-broke, pushy, nippy two year old stud colt has no future in this world. He sells for $50 at the auction, straight to kill. Even rescuers shy away from him - where would they put him until he's gelded? Who could safely handle him? What if he kicks a volunteer?

Foals are a ton of work and long before you ride, you lay the foundation that will create either an excellent riding animal or a difficult, hard to train one. There are so many homes that are good, decent homes for a riding horse that cannot handle a foal and will create a monster. If every foal was born to a home that knew how to train it and was committed to training, proper nutrition, etc. and had safe facilities for it, we wouldn't have a slaughter issue. There wouldn't be enough low value horses for slaughter buying to be as lucrative as it is today! (Everybody blah-blahs about racehorses, but the truth is that Thoroughbreds make up less than 10% of what goes to slaughter. If they were all that rescues had to absorb, we could do it.)

And we all know what will overcome a lack of registration papers/mediocre quality in this world - training. If you can train something to be a low level eventer, safe for an intermediate rider, by all means, you do have the power to eventually create value in a typical grade half-Thoroughbred foal, and make it into the sort of horse who will always have a home. But how many people can - and more importantly - WILL - do that? Looking at the odds, if I adopted the mare in my original scenario, I'd have the vet pinch the foal.

What would you do? And why?

And if you DO want a grade foal and have the knowledge to give it a great home - adopt one that is already here! This picture is Loki who is at the Bluebonnet Equine Humane Society in Texas.

(Hey I have the same emotional response everybody else does - I just want to kiss his nose! The question is, will he still have someone to kiss it when he's a fugly yearling, and will someone adopt him who gives him the training he needs to have a successful life? His odds are much better now that he is with a good rescue, but he is in competition for a home with so, so many.)