I was thinking about how much attention and care our horses need. I tried to come up with the exact opposite; some living thing that would require almost no care at all. Tortoises came to mind. A quick check online showed me that some people do keep them as pets. An enclosure the size of your horse’s paddock might be about the right size. I learned that a two block high cinder wall is all you need to keep one in. Tortoises won’t try to dig under the wall if you provide a cool shelter for them to get relief from the summer sun. Here in Maine we would have to provide these cold blooded reptiles some sort of an insulated box with a heat lamp against the winter cold. A slow drip of water over a hefty ceramic bowl sunk in the ground would supply all the water needs. From what I read, with a little planning you could grow enough food right in their own enclosure to supply most of their nutrition. Apparently they are quite fond of dandelions. You might throw in some table scraps for a little variety. Total cost, including all the second hand cinder block, probably less than $200. Just think. $200 spent just once. Wow, you could leave for a month, come back and that big boy would be just fine.
Imagine! No training, grooming or mucking. No blankets, ropes, snaps, saddles, bits or bridles. No farrier or veterinary visits. If you have one big enough to ride, there would be no visits to the emergency room when you fell off. You’d be at most three feet off the ground, and going real slow. Think of all the time and money you have spent educating yourself learning about horse care and training. With just two hours of study you could become the most knowledgeable person for miles around about the care of your pet. Best of all, there would be no dread of that day when you would lose your friend. That tortoise would probably out live you, your kids, and maybe your grandchildren.
Even after you have considered all the savings of time and money, I’m guessing that you still wouldn’t trade your horse for a big turtle, and I’m not trying to talk you into it. So, why do we keep horses? I can’t think of another animal that requires the degree of intensive care and money spent that horses do. To answer my own question, I personally have received far more from my own horses than I have put in time or money. I have used them for riding, driving, and as just good company. I have boarded some and boarded some out. In the past 40 years as an equine vet I have been part of the care of thousands more. Perhaps you agree with me, just having one around is special.
Unfortunately, in my daily work, I see horses that are not looked after. I’m thinking of owners who don’t care enough to vaccinate, worm, or even groom them, not to mention proper nutrition. I’m thinking of owners who don’t replace the barb wire fencing on their place for something safer. My ongoing hope is that these owners either recognize and correct their own deficiencies or let someone else take their animals. Horse care certainly teaches us discipline and responsibility. I am often asked if putting very old horses down is the worst part of my job. It’s not, really. What is hardest for me is seeing some horses abused by someone not caring enough.
What’s the point? I think that every once in a while it is a good thing to think hard and take stock of what your horse means to you. Ask yourself if the benefits for you outweigh the responsibilities. If you, like me, feel that the return is well worth the effort, then make sure that the care you give is the best. If you are starting to begrudge care to your horses, then maybe it’s time to reconsider their ownership. I’m hoping that you feel that it’s a blessing to have horses and a privilege to care for them.
–David A. Jefferson, DVM