Friday, August 12, 2011

What Will Happen to Your Horses?

A reader suggested this topic to me the other day, and last night, I got another reminder....

A customer of mine, who happens to be a good friend, came to pick up her horse last night, and dropped off another one for me to start working with.  After a great ride and some grooming, my family gathered around this wonderful horse, Atley, to say good bye.  We have worked with him a lot in the past two years, and we all just love him.  He is a sweet, loving horse who wants to work, learns new things easily, and is just plain fun to ride.  While I am enthusiastic about working with my friend's other horses, Atley is, and will always be, special to me.  Every horse is special, but some are REALLY special, and that is what he is.  As we hugged on him and gave him a treat, my two little boys saying, "We love you, Atley!  We are going to miss you!", my friend mentioned that she is going to change her will to include us, so that if anything happened to her, Atley would come to live with us.  This is so touching to me, not only because I know how much she loves her horses and takes their care very seriously, but also because I know that she recognizes how much we love him, and that she trusts us so much with him.

After they had left, the thought occurred to me that I needed to review my own will, and make sure that it is current as to what will happen to my own horses should the unfortunate happen, and my relatives are left to try and figure out what to do with our herd of ten.  This is so important for each of us to do, whether we have a barn full or just one.  If your horses' fates are left to a probate judge to decide, they may end up being sold at auction, which always carries the risk of them going to slaughter, or their care may be bounced between relatives who don't know what to do with them, can't afford to do it right, or are willing to sell them to anyone, just to get rid of the burden of their care. 

A will doesn't have to be a large, daunting document full of legalese; you can write it up yourself with simple instructions.  There are plenty of tutorials online that can help you, such as this one.  In regards to your horses, you will enter them under the section called 'Bequests.'  It is important be somewhat objective in choosing who will care for them after you are gone - Can they afford it?  Do they have room?  Are they knowledgeable enough to handle the horse in question?  This is not something that should be a surprise during the reading of your will; take the time to talk to them about your decision, and ask them how they feel about it.

Another option is to assign a separate executor to handle the sale of the horses for your estate. Choosing a person who is knowledgeable about your horses' bloodlines, abilities and worth ensures that they will be sold well for your estate, and if you choose someone who reflects your own values, you can be confident that your horses aren't slaughtered or end up in abusive homes.  Discuss in detail what your wishes are, and gauge your potential executor's reaction before your write up the document. 

As you are getting your will together, make sure that your registration papers for your animals are in order, including current pictures, and always keep your vet records up to date, and easy to follow, for each horse.  Your vet records will help point your executors and caregivers in the right direction for specific needs, since you won't be there to direct them yourself.  This is extremely important for horses with critical medical issues, such as a history of founder, colic, or foaling complications.  It also doesn't hurt to have lists of accomplishments that a horse has earned, foals produced, or personality quirks so that whomever is entrusted with their care and/or sale knows the entire history of each animal.  Create a portfolio for each of your horses, and make sure that your executor knows where your files are located.  Don't forget to keep the phone numbers for your farrier and veterinarian amongst those papers.

It is never pleasant to contemplate our demise, or what will happen to all we love after we are gone.  It is our duty, though, to ensure that our animals are cared for beyond our own lives, and that we don't burden our loved ones with the responsibility of decisions that they may not be capable of making.  Make your choices now before someone has to make them for you.  Remember, we know not the day or the hour, so prepare as if it could happen tomorrow.

I wish you all long, healthy lives full of joy!  Have a great Friday!