Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Basics: 6 Misconceptions in the Horse Industry

If you are like me, you grew up with such books and movies as Black Beauty, Mr. Ed, My Friend Flicka, and The Black Stallion. Even now a days, movies such as the Lord of the Rings, Robin Hood, and Troy make the horses seem calm, trusting, very well behaved and willing to do what the rider wants. These horses did not step on their human counterpart's toes, bite them, kick them, rear, or buck while not on cue. They didn't move away from their rider when being mounted, or think that the leaf that just blew across their path was a scary horse-eating leaf, thus spinning and running like the wind. Nope, these horses were exemplary models.

Needless to say, these are not the kinds of horses that you will find at your nearby livestock auction for less than $500. The kind of horse described above is in the $7,000 to $15,000 range. Which is why many new horse owners have their bubbles burst when they finally do get a horse. They think that all horses will be like the fiction or movie version and so their dream will eventually turn into a nightmare (...unless they are the 1% that is lucky).

Here is a lovely list of 6 misconceptions and their truths within the horse industry:

1. Misconception: Horses are like big dogs.

Truth: Other than the obvious size difference, horses are not like dogs in any way, shape or fashion. Dogs are predatory animals, horses are prey animals. Totally different mindset.  If a horse views something low to the ground that is moving toward it, the horse's fight or flight response kicks in. These are its prey instincts. More often than not, the horse will turn tail and run as fast as it can. The dog on the other hand will, more often then not, be surprised by said object but then go and check it out. There is no fight or flight response, as it is a predatory animal. Dogs and humans also have a variety of common interests, such as a warm bed, survival by hunting, pack behavior, and sharing (sometimes) a taste for the same foods. Horses are herbivores, have a herd mentality, and aren't as connected to humans as we may think.

2. Misconception: Horses are cheap to own.

Truth: First off, good horses don't come cheap. I stated earlier that you can go to the auction and pick one up for $500. But this will probably be a horse that needs some major work done. A good, healthy, well-trained horse can be anywhere from $2,500 to over $50k depending on what training it has, what its body score is and what you are looking to do with it. After you buy the lovely are going to need to keep it somewhere. Depending on the area, a person can pasture board on their own property (plus the cost of hay), or there are boarding barns. Most people board their horse. This ranges between $3,000 to $12,000 annually. After the horse is all cozy in his or her stall, you have to take care of the horse. That is veterinary costs, farrier costs, etc, which can easily top $2,000 annually. Beyond that, there are tack and equipment costs, riding lesson costs, riding clothes, oh and possibly your own medical bills. All in all, when it all adds up, horses are expensive.

3. Misconception: Horses are easy keepers.

Truth: Okay, this is a half truth. There are some horses out there that are easy keepers. But not all, as not all horses will thrive off of just being left in a pasture. The owner has to take into consideration the body mass of the horse, (Click here for the Henneke scale) what the horse is eating, how much he is being given and at what intervals. There are a number of different types of grains and hays that a horse can have; providing different nutrients, but which must be given in the correct doses in order to have a balanced horse.

3. Misconception: Slaughter solves everything.

Truth: Hahaha, I love this one. Ever since Bush shut down the slaughter plants through American 'will play', factions of the horse industry have been in uproar. "There is no place to take our unwanted horses," they say, or "the price of the horse has gone down because of over-abundance". Or even "there are so many unwanted horses, abuse has skyrocketed, and slaughter needs to come back."  Well, the real problem here is over-breeding. That's right people, the horse industry doesn't know how to control it's breeding problem (kind of like the rabbit analogy). We have registered breeders, backyard breeders, breeders from other countries. They are everywhere, and breeding everything!! Did you know that, even though slaughter plants closed in America, the same quantity of horses being slaughtered is still pretty much the same?! (I'll do another post on this later...) The only difference is that horses are being shipped to either Canada or Mexico. So, really slaughter does not solve anything. Restrictions on breeding solves a whole lot more.

4. Misconception: If it is pretty, breed it.

Truth: This one kind of goes hand in hand with what was stated in the slaughter misconception and over-breeding. It is seen mostly with backyard breeders, or those people that do not have a breed affiliation (aka AQHA, APHA, AHA, etc) and will just breed to produce "color" or "personality". Although as stated, it is mainly seen in the backyard breeders, it can be observed within breed affiliations as well.  The problem with this is the ever present over-breeding problem. Once one is born, breeders want more, because of the color or just because they are cute. This cycle continues until the person has way more than they can keep. But, the horse produced will only have good "color" or the like, yet nothing in the way of good conformation or skills. This means that they aren't sought after as they will not do well in the show ring and usually end up at auction.

5. Misconception: Horses are stupid.

Truth: Just because you cannot get your horse to do something does not mean they are stupid. It just means that they don't understand. Have you ever tried talking to someone but because you didn't speak their language, you got frustrated? This same thing happens between horse ad rider! We as riders have to learn their language and communicate efficiently in order to get them to do what we want.

6. And finally, Misconception: Anyone can ride a horse....

Truth: Riding is more than just sitting on a horse. There are muscles that you use when riding a horse that you normally wouldn't use when walking, sitting, or running. Really good riders make riding look easy. Just watch Dressage riders, or Western Reiners, and it looks as if the horse is following the intricate patterns of its own accord. But it all has to do with signals and cues between the rider and horse. A language all their own.  It may look like sitting, but riders use their legs, arms, weight, balance, core, hands, back, and brains to ride.  The better the rider, the more inconspicuous the language between horse and rider.

Can you think of any other misconceptions and their truths?


  1. Here's one that totally irks me, "I'm getting a horse for my child to train so they can grow up together". They think their child will have a special connection with the pony and he will automagically do whatever they want.

  2. The idea of "Free/Cheap to Good Home" from the seller's perspective. From the buyer's perspective, I'm a fan, but as a seller, how can you honestly believe someone who can't afford to buy a horse for $500/$1000/Whatever can afford to provide a better home than someone who either has the resources to drop the cash or the fiscal sense to save for the horse (and, theoretically, the ensuing expenses)? Doesn't make sense to me, but as I used this logic to get a "discount" on my horse, I won't complain too much... ;)

    1. This is definitely another big pet peeve of mine. When I was in MO, I noticed this "trend" a lot and it always irked me. This is why sellers (with horses in low price ranges like that. Well, okay, maybe just everyone) need to encorouage references, go to the barn or site the horse will be kept, etc. But alas, that isn't readily seen...

  3. Good article, but just one quibble about lumping together all of those fictional horses in the beginning. Of all of those examples only Mr. Ed (who talked--clearly not realistic) and the title horse in Black Beauty were always well-trained and well-behaved. Black Beauty's mare friend Ginger was realistically sensitive and temperamental. As I remember, "Flicka" was a wild filly that had to be tamed, and the Black Stallion was feral and a major handful--even an exaggeration of a high-strung Arabian stallion. Any kid expecting his first horse to act like the Black Stallion was probably very relieved to end up with on that just plodded along!