I've been thinking about this a lot as I only have 0.5/3 functioning horses at the moment. I read Running with Scissors recent post and thought about it some more. I used to work for a rescue and am familiar with kill lot horses. I'm also sadly aware of what happens to the horses that don't get rescued.
So what do we owe our horses? A home for life? Retirement? All of our money? Every procedure ever invented that might help?
I personally think we owe our horses the best that we can. I know that's vague, so I'll cover some details, but outside of a few "wrong answers," I don't think there is one right answer.
First of all, I am 100% in favor of someone selling a horse. I think dogs get a home for life, but horses are working animals. If a horse isn't working out for you and you want to sell it, go ahead. I haven't been posting for a very long, but I've been reading horse blogs for years and I have read so many stories of bloggers apologizing for selling their horse because the horse wasn't working out for them. Don't apologize. I think we're all familiar with that person who buys and sells horses every time something happens or they don't win because they think they can buy happiness, but they're the exception. Don't be that person. But you also shouldn't keep a horse that's wrong for you just because you think you owe it to that horse.
What do you owe a horse you're selling? Again, the best that you can. There's no one right answer, but here are some wrong answers:
1. Sending Your Horse to an Auction House
There is no way this ends well. Even if they don't go straight to a kill buyer, they're not going anywhere good. And they're very likely to get sick or injured at an auction house.
2. Selling it for Less than Slaughter Price
Ask a reputable rescue in your area what price kill buyers are paying. They should know what meat prices are travel expenses and what local kill buyers are paying. Sell above this amount. This includes not giving your horse away for free. Even to a "good home only." Kill buyers aren't just skeezy old men. They're sometimes women and they sometimes come with kids. They may even have a farm with a few of their own horses that they keep for themselves. The mom looking for a nice, older horse for her kid who even lets you visit her farm to see for yourself how good a home it is could still be a kill buyer. They can even have a good vet reference. Unless you actually know the person you're giving your horse to, the only way to ensure they're not being purchased for slaughter is to sell them for more than the buyer could make in reselling them. And, usually, this price is pretty low (e.g.: <$500). If anyone tells you they can't afford $500 for a horses, please ask yourself how they're going to afford vet visits for this horse in the future. They're not. So, even if they aren't kill buyers, this is not a good home for your horse. I personally wouldn't trust anyone who can't afford at least $1,000. (If your horse is not worth this much, then consider non sale options, which I'll cover in another post).
3. Lying to Sell your Horse
If you need to lie to sell your horse, your horse will not end up in a good place. If your horse has an injury or any other condition that limits them, don't lie about it when selling them. Dijon is a great example of this. He's technically sound. He'd even pass a vet check. I could sell him for a lot. I'd just have to not mention that he has previously bowed his back tendons (one of them twice) and is very likely to do so again if used in any heavy work. I could just lie and sell him "as is. He's a gorgeous palomino gaited horse; I would easily sell him for a few thousand dollars to an individual so that would easily cross off #1 and #2 on this list. But his new owners would probably injure him pretty quickly since they don't know his limitations and then they'll probably re-sell him and he'll end up in a #1 or #2 situation. This goes for training issues too. If your horse bucks/rears/has training issues, don't lie about them. The next owner will eventually discover them and they too may decide to sell the horse to avoid those issues. And when that horse ends up selling down the line and ending up at a slaughterhouse, you're just as responsible as if you sent them there yourself.
If you're going to sell a horse, you owe them this much. If you want to, go ahead and put a buy-back clause in your sale contract. But do so knowing these are notoriously not enforceable. You maybe be able to go to court after the fact, but if the horse is already dead or gone, going to court won't satisfy you. If you don't want the horse back, don't bother. I know some people will disagree with me here, but I don't think you need to have a life-time commitment to a horse. You have to do the best you can for them, but you do not need to commit yourself to them forever.
I do have a few exceptions. I think you're an asshole if you sell an old broodmare that can't breed anymore. She worked for you; she deserves a decent retirement. Same thing for any other horse that earned you money. If you profited off that horse, some of those profits should go towards that horse having a good life.
I'll talk about what I think we owe our horses when we can't sell them (injury, old age, etc) tomorrow.
If you have a horse selling horror story or success story, please share. A lot of what I know, I learned from working with a reputable rescue, but I've also learned from listening to those around me.