Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Meaning of Commitment

This morning, as usual, I went out to the barn at sunrise to turn out my Quarter Horse mare Bam Bam and her BFF Ruckus.  My husband feeds and turns out early in the morning, but Bam Bam stays in her stall, under lights, until the sun is up.  This is part of preparing her for the coming breeding season.  As I got their halters on, and led them out, one in each hand, I began to think about Ruckus, and her place in life.

Ruckus is a seventeen yr old bay mare, 3/4 Arabian, 1/4 Saddlebred - a double registered Half Arab and National Show Horse.  Her bloodlines are outstanding; her dam, The Socialite, was a Half Arab *Bask granddaughter whom my sister showed to National Champion in Amateur Park. Her sire was the gorgeous *Bask son, MS Baquero, who earned National titles in Driving and English Pleasure.  Ruckus was bred to be a show horse, but unfortunately, that was not to be.  You see, Ruckus' dam, a first-time mom and a very naturally intense mare, rejected Ruckus only hours after her birth.  The mare had foaled outside over night at our trainer's facility, and when she was discovered in the morning, she was moved into a stall.  This proved too much for Socialite; she picked up her beautiful newborn filly by the neck, shook her violently and threw her about the stall.  Barn help were able to separate them, and later, reunite them, but this incident left Ruckus with nerve damage in her neck.

I took over Ruckus's care when she was a two year old, and broke her to ride, but she could not stand pressure on her poll.  Even with just a halter on, she would cock her head, sometimes shaking her head back and forth. In a bridle it was worse, and even though she was pretty easy to ride in all other regards, the irritation she felt in that area was a distraction for her.  Conventional veterinary medicine at the time had very little to offer her in terms of rehabilitation, and there wouldn't be any guarantee of long-lasting results. She would never be able to live up to what had been planned for her.

Despite the frustration of our thwarted plans, we, my husband and I, had grown to love Ruckus.  She was sassy, sweet, and just pretty to look at.  So we kept her.  What other choice did we have?  Ruckus was brought into this life by a human's choice to breed her.  She has never done anything wrong (Ok, there was that one time when she ran a gate before I could close it, but who could blame her?).  What kind of life would she have if she was sold?  I know in my heart that the problems in her neck could not be resolved, so selling her as a riding horse was out of the question.  And there is very little market for horses that aren't rideable.  The truth is, when you sell a horse, they are out of your control.  I just could not bear the thought of someone else discarding her, mistreating her, sending her off to the slaughter house.  I knew Ruckus deserves better than that, and since you can't 'un-know' something, how could I live with myself if I were the one to put her at risk?

What has this decision cost me?  Well, Ruckus will be 18 this year, so I have been paying for her care for 16 years now.  Feeding her, vetting her, giving her the exact same standard of care that I do for all of my horses.  I figure that I have at least $25,000 in that mare, and it wasn't even my choice to breed her!  I know, I know....that is a LOT of money, and it is money I could definitely have spent on other things, like broodmares, stud fees, or heck, even a vacation!  But again, how much is my peace of mind worth?  Sure, my horse budget has been limited because a certain amount has to go toward upkeep of non-working animals, but in my mind, that is how it should be.  You don't discard the animals who are injured, or are too old to work.  As long as they are healthy, and aren't a danger to anyone, they deserve life too.  And I have always felt that I am doing the right thing; rather than putting the responsibility off on someone else, rather than looking to escape my responsibility by selling her to slaughter or just putting her down directly, we have chosen to let her live out her life as a pasture ornament.

As it is, Ruckus does have a job.  She is a lady-in-waiting for my mare Miss Bam Bam Command, a post she has held for most of her 16 years with us.  Ruckus is the only horse that Bam Bam wants next to her when she is stalled.  Put her in alone, or with another horse next to her, and she will have a meltdown.  Ruckus also 'protects' her out in the field; she will put herself between Bam Bam and other mares, and will stand over Bammie when she lays down for a nap.  I know that Bam Bam doesn't care that Ruckus never won a ribbon.  The love and trust displayed between them is as real as any friendship I have.  $25,000 well spent....

Do you have horses that you are committed to for life?