About Me

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Rachel Kosmal McCart is a lifelong horsewoman and the founder of Equine Legal Solutions, PC, an equine law firm based in the Portland, Oregon area. Rachel is a member of the New York, California, Oregon and Washington State bars and is admitted to practice before the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon and the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. Rachel currently competes in three-day eventing.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Wrong is Wrong: Speaking Up about Horse Neglect

Every week, I read posts on social media in which someone is asking what to do about a thin horse they have seen.  Sometimes, they even post a picture of the horse.   Every such photo I've seen shows an emaciated horse, not even vaguely a close call.  But no matter how awful the horse looks, there are always plenty of folks who chime in and advise doing nothing, commenting that the horse "doesn't look that thin," or speculating that the horse might be thin because he's old, or maybe he was just "rescued," etc.

How have we arrived at this point, where we don't help a horse in need because we might offend someone?  Really, what's the worst that could happen if you report an emaciated horse to the authorities and it turns out not to be neglected?  The owner will probably be mad because they have to explain why the horse is not neglected.  That's all.  If it's a close call, the owner might be more diligent about feeding and caring for the horse.  On the other hand, if you don't speak up when you see an emaciated horse, it very well may die. 

My friends, who live nearby, feed their horses poor quality hay, and not enough of it, and as a result, their horses are often noticeably underweight.  My friends are not ignorant - one of them is a riding instructor, and the other is a nurse.  Over the years, I've had dozens of conversations with them about their horses being thin, and they always had plans for putting more weight on them.  I even had regular conversations with them about downsizing their herd to make their situation more affordable. But the result was always the same - if the horses gained weight, they always got thin again, sometimes dangerously so, and they never found any new homes for the horses.  In fact, they even acquired an additional horse.  I didn't press the issue further because I knew my friends would be offended.  I just kept hoping my friends would come to their senses and step up.  They didn't.

On a recent rainy Sunday afternoon, my friends called to ask for help.  One of their horses died, and  they needed help moving its body out of the pasture so the rendering truck could pick it up.  When my husband and I arrived, we were horrified to see the condition of the body - it was just hide stretched over bone, not an ounce of flesh left.  One of his eyes was missing, and rigor mortis had already passed.  The body was starting to smell, despite the temperature being in the mid-50s. The horse had clearly been dead for a while.  The other horses in the field were very thin.  There was no grass in the field, and some of the wooden fence posts had been chewed almost in half.

For the past few weeks, I've been ruminating about the horse's death, unable to process the fact that my friends, whom I know as otherwise kind and generous people, had let this horrible thing happen.  But when I heard they had just purchased some rabbits to raise for meat and sale, I couldn't stay silent any longer.  I told them I was very uncomfortable with how their horse died and that they were now acquiring more animals.  They had lots of explanations - the horse was older than they thought he was, it was "his time," they had been thinking about putting him down but hadn't gotten around to it, the teenager that was supposed to be feeding the horses last winter didn't do it, they were spending a lot of money on feed and the horse wasn't able to digest it, etc.  But I know what really happened, and I said so: This poor horse died of neglect.  If he really wasn't able to digest his food, he deserved to be humanely euthanized, not dying of starvation in a field.  

Would it have done any good if I'd spoken up more vehemently about their horses' condition a long time ago?  Maybe, maybe not, but I wish I had.  This poor horse suffered, and died.  And I didn't do everything I could have done to prevent it.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

A Buyer's Perspective: Tips for Selling Your Horse

At the moment, I'm not looking to buy a horse.  But over the years, I've bought a number of horses, and in several different disciplines.  I've bought babies and prospects, green horses and made horses.  These days, I still like to window-shop online to see what's available for sale, and at what prices.  Probably, if I saw a horse that was truly irresistible, I might suddenly be in the market.

If you're trying to sell your horse, these tips might help.

Here's what I'm generally looking for when I buy a horse, in this order:
  • Temperament.  The horse must have an easygoing, trainable, sensible temperament.  There are so many good-minded horses out there - I don't need to buy a horse that works against me, no matter how talented he or she might be.  Also, I don't want to buy a horse that's so hot he/she won't pay attention to me, or a horse that's so lazy he/she won't go forward.
  • Soundness and physical health.  The horse must be sound and free from major health concerns.  There are lots of sound and healthy horses out there - I don't need to buy a vet bill.
  • Conformation.  The horse's conformation has to allow him or her to be athletic and not foretell potential future soundness problems.  Deal killer examples:  A mature horse built "downhill" (i.e., his/her withers are lower than his/her point of hip), crooked front legs, disproportionately small feet, a horse that naturally stands with his/her hocks behind the point of the hip, a pronounced club foot, pronounced "posty" hocks, a disproportionately short and thick neck.
  • Absence of stable vices.  I don't want to take on a cribber, weaver, etc.  These types of behaviors are often "contagious" and I don't want my other horses to pick them up.
  • Training and experience.  The horse's  performance should match what you tell me about its training and experience.  What matters to me is how the horse behaves when I step on him or her, not whether Big Name Trainer once showed the horse successfully.  If he/she hasn't been ridden for a year, I will take that into account, but the horse should give the impression that it knew its job before it had time off.  
  • Absence of training I have to fix.  I'd rather buy a horse with no training than a horse who has had bad training.  It's much easier to start fresh than it is to convince the horse that what they have learned (and been rewarded for) is not acceptable.
  • Avoid photos showing your horse with his head down grazing. Not only is it nearly impossible to tell what kind of overall balance the horse has from this type of photo, it gives the impression the horse's principal talent is eating.
  • For horses 5 years and younger, include photos taken within the last month.  Young horses' balance often changes radically and quickly as they grow, and no matter what discipline your buyers are pursuing, they want to see what the horse's overall balance looks like today, not 6 months ago.
  • While the horse doesn't have to be show-clean, knocking the mud off of him before taking the photo wouldn't hurt.  To me, a horse that is not well-groomed = price highly negotiable.
  • Photos that allow me to evaluate the horse's conformation are helpful - side photos, taken with the horse's feet reasonably square underneath him/her, where I can see the whole horse. 
  • If the horse is supposed to be able to do X, I want to see him doing X in the video. 
  • I will assume the video is the BEST example of the horse doing whatever you advertise it as being able to do.  
  • If the horse looks even remotely lame or "off" in the video, I will pass on the horse.  This seems obvious, but there are a LOT of sale videos of lame horses out there, and in all price ranges, too.
  • For young horses, rough footage of walking, trotting and cantering in a round pen is fine, just make sure I can see their whole body and their legs throughout the video.
  • If you've heavily edited the video, I'll be able to tell. I'll also assume the edited-out portions showed bad behavior or some other problem.
  • Silence is best.  Too often, the music of choice blasts out of my computer speakers, startling me into reaching for the mute button. I don't care whether the horse is in time with the music, and unless the horse's specialty is freestyle dressage or drill team, other buyers won't care either.  Also?  Your musical taste is unlikely to be the same as your potential buyers'.
  • Avoid video taken in dark indoor arenas. I want to be able to see the horse!
  • I want to know how tall the horse is.  Not how he/she "string tests," not how tall his/her sire/dam are, but how tall he/she is TODAY.  Don't guess or exaggerate - I'll be REALLY annoyed if you advertise him/her as being 16 HH and I arrive to find he/she is eligible for a pony card.
  • I want to know how old the horse is.  Period. 
  • I want to know how the horse is bred.  That means what breed he/she is, and who his sire and dam are.  "Creative" breed descriptions are a big turn-off - tell me what he really is, not what you think will help sell him.
  • If you list your horse for significantly more than you would actually accept for him/her, I will never see your ad.  When searching ads, I set price limit parameters very close to my budget. For example, if you advertise your horse at $20,000, but would really take $10,000 for him, I would never look at him if my budget was $10,000 or less.  Also? I exclude "private treaty" ads from my searches, figuring that if I have to ask what the price is, I can't afford the horse (which may or may not be true!).
  • Be realistic.  Your horse's asking price should reflect the factors I consider when looking for a horse.  If your asking price seems pretty high, I probably won't even bother to come and look at your horse, no matter how nice he/she is. Instead, I might watch your ad to see if you lower your price.
  • Despite what you may have heard, serious buyers can and do email you with their questions.  I'm one of them.  I tend to email with basic questions and then if I like the answers, perhaps call with more detailed questions.  If the horse is close by (say, within a half hour's drive), I'll probably ask very basic questions via email and then make an appointment to see the horse.   Check your email program's junk mail folder and spam filter - often, inquiries from potential buyers end up there.  If you don't respond to a potential buyer's emails, they will probably think you're not interested in selling the horse, and never consider that you might not have received their email.
  • In your ad, put a real live phone number and email for the person in charge of selling the horse.  If I call the phone number in your ad and reach your mother, who seems really confused, finally figures out you're selling your horse, and then says she'll have to call you and have you call me in a couple days, that's a huge turnoff.