The Delights of a Horse for Free
By Nikki Alvin-Smith
Sounds good doesn’t it? Well. Free always does. When you dream of owning your very own horse and cannot afford to buy a horse (or can afford to buy but don’t wish to spend the money), and someone offers up an equine beastie for free you may seize the opportunity. So let’s say this scenario happens and this lovely mare, ‘Freetime’, pops into your life and the adventure begins.
Day one she arrives and you are as pleased as punch. Thankfully you have a run in shed and an electric wire-fenced paddock on property so there won’t be any need to board Freetime out. That would have been expensive. Thank goodness you don’t need to do that! The person donating this noble equine to your care asks for payment to cover the transport. Fair enough. You didn’t have a trailer of your own so this was a necessary expense.
As you don’t have a halter that fits Freetime, you’ll be happy to visit the tack shop. For your very own new horse! How exciting is that. While you are there the aroma of new leather pervades your senses and all the wonderful memories of horses that the new leather smell evokes. Aahh. Sigh. Well, while you’re here you might as well buy a bridle, a shiny manger, a lead rope to match the new halter and a few other tidbits such as a few new brushes, some fly spray and a mask and a flysheet. Then of course it might rain so you should have a rain sheet too. Whoops. You forgot to measure Freetime before you left home. Never mind. The tack shop owner says take a couple of sheets in a 78 inch because that fits most horses. You can always bring them back and exchange if them if they don’t fit.
Well that went well. The halter fit. You’ve already hit the feed store and bought a bag of grain and have stocked up on some hay. Just enough to get you started. Nothing much spent, so hubbie won’t notice the slightly lower balance in the bank account.
You are cognizant that the previous owner had Freetime up to date on all the necessary vaccinations and you were smart enough to get a copy of the vaccination record together with the required health certificate for the interstate travel and a recent negative Coggins. But the previous owner did mention Freetime was in need of a foot trim. They explained a trim isn’t expensive, it runs just $30. As you look at Freetime’s hooves you decide you’d better call a farrier now rather than later.
You’ve asked lots of horse owning friends for farrier recommendations and you spend a good part of the day calling a few and asking them to come out. Eventually someone calls you back and ask if it is just one horse and do you have a barn/stable environment in which they can work. You explain yes, it is just one horse. Yes, you have a run in shed they can work in and ask how much they will charge for the visit. You are a little shocked at the $65 barn call fee plus the $45 for the trim and decidedly unhappy that you’ll have to wait about 6 weeks for them to fit you into their schedule. But finally that is at least organized.
You find yourself mesmerized, looking out of the kitchen window and gazing happily at the new horse contentedly grazing in the lush pasture. You know that the pasture is free of any toxic weeds because obviously horses were grazed there previously, hence the presence of a run in shed and fencing.
You need to cook dinner so you put your head down and start prepping the food. As you walk back to the sink to wash up you are startled to see Freetime’s beautiful white blaze and bright eyes staring at you through the window. She licks the window and then saunters off over the vegetable garden where she promptly stomps through the lettuces, knocks over the tomato vines before migrating very slowly and deliberately over the lawn. For a moment she seems frozen in action. She pricks her ears as she espies your cat surfacing from under a bush. This vision causes Freetime to pick up a gallop. She bolts around the garden leaving deep hoof prints across the formerly pristine lawn. Hubbie will not be pleased. After several minutes she heads back to her pasture where you see a trail of electric fencing laying on the ground. Quick. That’s a recipe for disaster.
You bolt out after her and are relieved to see that while the fence looks a mess there is only a small scratch on her fetlock from the altercation with the wire. You summon your husband to aid you in restoring the fence. Hubbie is tired after a long day at work but cheerfully sets to work and helps you rig a temporary solution to keep the fence upright to see you through the night. When you go to check the electric current you find there is none. The fence charger isn’t working. You summon hubbie once more. He arrives in a grumpy mood, as he had to leave the baseball game on the TV. He fiddles with the solar unit and determines the battery is flat and announces you need a new one. You pray that Freetime doesn’t notice the electric isn’t working. You’ll pick up a new battery first thing tomorrow.
You arise bright and cheerful the next morning and are pleased to note Freetime is still inside the paddock. You’d really rather have a board fenced pasture but that can go on the future plan list. For now you head out and throw some hay in the paddock to keep Freetime entertained. She ignores it and continues eating grass. You notice the fetlock graze seems to have swollen up and on closer examination realize it is deeper than you thought. You had dutifully cleaned it last night while hubbie was there to hold her on the lead rope, and she hadn’t minded your activity and was obedient standing stock still while you hosed it off. Today however, she won’t let you catch her. Oh well. At least you measured her for her blanket size yesterday. She is only a 75 inch blanket size, so you’ll be headed back to the tack shop to exchange the sheets and while you’re there you’ll pick up some ointment for the wire cut.
The tack shop owner is delighted to see you again and helpfully suggests remedies for the cut. You take the opportunity to ask her about used saddles, as the old one you were given by a friend doesn’t fit Freetime. She helpfully directs you to some saddles she has in on consignment and after much discussion you select one. She kindly allows you to take it home on trial.
On your return home it takes you an hour to catch Freetime and you have to summon your friend to come and hold the horse while you apply the ointment to the injured fetlock. When this is completed you try the saddle and the fit looks O.K. but the girth is too small. Never mind. Your friend has one that she is happy to lend you for now and if it works out you can always buy it from her.
A few days later it is clear that the wound is not healing properly so you summon the vet. You’ve also noticed a rather worrisome habit that Freetime has developed of drooling and she appears to have come sort of rash on her belly.
The vet arrives and examines Freetime although she finds it difficult as Freetime doesn’t seem to like her much. She remarks that Freetime is rather overweight.
“ Is she in foal?” she asks.
What!! No. You explain that the previous owner told you that your mare had not been ridden in the last year and it was just a grass belly. Your vet then takes off walking around the paddock peering at the grass and then returns without any explanation as to her behavior. When the vet attempts to pick up Freetime’s hoof the mare lashes out and kicks. Humm. She tries again and Freetime takes another shot. Well that’s not good. The vet gives up.
“ You’ll need to work on her manners,” she says.
The vet has you walk the mare up and down the driveway and determines that she is not sound.
“ She’s probably just sore from the cut,” she tells you. “We can do a work up now if you like or wait and see how she goes once the wound is healed?” Humm. You decide to wait.
The vet needs to tranquilize the mare so she can clean the wound, which she announces is infected. She wraps it, checks the vaccination record you’ve provided and explains that the drooling and hives are a result of an inconspicuous weed in the pasture.
“ You’ll need to keep your mare off the pasture until you can remove the weeds because they are toxic and can cause liver damage,” the vet announces.
She leaves you with some oral antibiotics.
“ Your mare may take them in her grain if you mash them up but if not you’ll need to mash them up with water, put them in this large syringe and squirt the mixture into Freetime’s mouth two times a day. “ That should be easy. Not. Needless to say, no, Freetime won’t eat grain with the antibiotics mixed in so you have to use the syringe, which requires the help of your friend. Who you’ve noticed doesn’t seem to pick up your calls as often as she used to and you consistently have to leave voice mails.
When hubbie arrives home he is not delighted to hear he needs to install a gate over the front of the run-in shed (you picked one up after the vet left) so your mare can be kept inside while you both start working on removing the weeds from the pasture. This takes two days to complete and the weekend plans were shelved while it was completed which did not put hubbie in good humor. Meantime you are spending two hours a day hand grazing your mare outside of the paddock to keep her sane.
Finally your horse looks sound, the weeds are gone, the fence is working and you attempt to saddle Freetime up for your first ride. The girth that fit last week doesn’t fit now for some reason. You head back to the tack shop. You are becoming fast friends with the owner Janet, who is a very nice lady.
You purchase a rather expensive new girth on Janet’s recommendation. It is the latest design with cut back shoulder relief and all sorts of extras that you didn’t know factored into the making of a girth.
Off to ride! Freetime stands obediently while you mount and then walks off quietly when you apply a light leg aid. She then starts to crow hop. You manage to stay on for a few of her antics but as she seems in no mind to stop you start to become alarmed and tense up. Freetime starts bucking and you fall on the floor. She just stands there looking down at you as if to say, “ What are you doing down there?”
You pick yourself up and remount. No. Freetime is not happy. Off she goes again and you fall off again. Your new ASTM helmet is scraped up, but you aren’t hurt, just bruised and your tail bone is sore. This time Freetime won’t let you catch her and she is running about in a mad frenzy with the new reins dragging on the ground. Naturally they snap when she treads on them.
You decide to call your friend and she comes over to help. She leads Freetime around with you mounted and for a moment it seems all is well. Freetime mooches along and then she stops. She rears, pulls your friend off her feet and you fall off the back of the horse. Freetime falls over too and you hear a snap. The tree of the saddle seems to have broken as the mare has rolled on it. All three of you right yourselves. Your friend suggests you’ll need to put the mare in training with a professional trainer as she is obviously not an amateur ride.
You and your friend untack the mare and head inside for a much needed glass of wine. You discuss the options available for training the mare and she suggests a local barn. You call them and are astonished to hear it will cost $700 a month for the mare to have training and board and that you’ll need to leave her there at least 60 days.
You are not sure how you are going to afford this or how you are going to explain this to your husband. You decide to just puzzle on it for a few days. The few days become a few weeks. The few weeks become a few months.
Hubbie asks if you’ve ridden your horse lately.
“ No not lately,” you answer and make some excuse. You’ve noticed you are not quite as keen to go out and spend time with Freetime as you used to be and when your horse owning friends ask how your new mare is doing you diplomatically avoid explaining that you actually haven’t sat on her again at all and don’t really plan on doing so anytime soon.
August arrives and with it comes very hot weather. You awake early one morning unable to sleep despite your best effort and you walk to the bedroom window and take a stretch. You look out the window out of habit and check Freetime is still in her paddock. To your amazement you think you see something in the field with her. The morning mist must be playing tricks. You rub your eyes and peer once again through the window. Yep. There is another horse. You run outside in your PJ’s and barefeet and discover Freetime has delivered a foal.
The vet is summoned. Meantime hubbie is wandering about in a daze. He is rather taken with the little colt and is busy petting it. Freetime is clearly pleased with herself and proudly stands close by the colt ready to jump in and protect him if necessary.
A free horse. Another one. How cool is that! Wait until Janet hears about this.
About the author: Nikki Alvin-Smith is an international Grand Prix dressage trainer/clinician who has competed in Europe at the Grand Prix level earning scores of over 72%. Together with her husband Paul, who is also a Grand Prix rider, they operate a private horse breeding/training farm in Stamford, NY.