I am like most horse owners I view my horses as pets and loved members of my family. Other than basic riding my horses haven’t “worked” a day in their lives (or at least since I’ve owned them). Although they may not be the ultra pampered horses of millionaires, they do lead a life of modest luxury. So, as I think about what would be should some disaster occur I am left to ponder the role my horses would play in the scenario. In doing this, a lot of questions come to mind but for this article I think two stand out.
First, what are my horses capable of doing? You have to be very honest with yourself here. Yes, I think my horses are awesome and somewhat like Superman but realistically what can they do? Personally, two of my horses are well over twenty years old. Of the two, my Arabian gelding is capable of “light” work but my Appaloosa mare I would be very hesitant to ask to do anything. My Thoroughbred gelding is around fifteen years old he is in good shape and is a good riding horse. My Saddlebred mare is eight years old. She is just recovering from a minor bought of laminitis and is only green broke.
Second, what am I capable of asking my horses to do? Now is not the time to over inflate your horsey ego. If you don’t have a training skill in your back pocket, no big deal, there are so many free resources nowadays you can learn almost anything you want.
The unfortunate truth is that if a disaster does befall America just keeping my family fed is going to be a struggle then to add several large animals into the mix could easily tip the scale in the wrong direction. So, in order to justify taking the chance that my family could go hungry by keeping the horses, I need to decide what they can bring to the table and that is where my comfort level as a trainer comes into question as I will most certainly need to teach the horses new skills.
What can the horses really bring to the table?
1. Transportation. This is a given, however, as I pointed out earlier, I only have one good riding horse. My Arabian gelding could be counted on for very light riding but not much else. My Saddlebred mare could also be counted on for light riding but she is unpredictable and taking the chance of getting hurt might outweigh the need to ride her. That being said, all of my horses could be used as pack animals. But, I do not have any pack saddles so I need to come up with a way to use the existing saddles and equipment I have to create a substitute pack saddle. Also, my horses have never been led as a pack. Sounds like an easy scenario to tie a horse to the one in front of it and lead them away but it may not be as easy as it sounds especially when using horses that are not familiar with each other and when mixing mares and geldings. But, this skill set could easily be practiced now so that if the time comes when the horses need to lead as a pack, both the horses and I are ready.
2. Labor. This would include using a plow, pulling logs or a wagon, etc. I am not going to concentrate so much on the individual labors a horse could do but rather what is required to do this. The main requirement is that the horse knows how to pull. A lot of horsemen would not have a clue how to teach a horse to pull but, it is not hard and, in fact, it is very good for all horses to have this basic knowledge. And, you don’t need a cart to teach a horse to pull. However, this is a skill that does take some equipment and preparation.
To start, you need a surcingle, driving lines and a long whip like a buggy whip or “carrot stick”. The surcingle is fixed around the horse, behind the withers in the same fashion as you would with a girth. The driving lines are run through one of the top rings of each side of the surcingle and fastened to each side of the bit like reins.
Stand to the inside of the horse for the direction you want the horse to go and urge it forward with your voice, the driving lines and then finally the whip should the horse not move forward. Be careful when you begin that you are very gentle with the tension on the driving lines. The rings of the surcingle act somewhat like levers and so you can easily exert more tension on the bit than you think. Get your horse used to turning, stopping, walking off, backing up and trotting. Using voice commands will also help. Once your horse is used to what most call “ground driving” with you positioned to the inside of him, move to a safe distance behind the horse and get him used to performing all tasks asked of him with you directly behind him.
Once you have gotten to this point, I would suggest turning to the internet or a good book and read up on teaching the horse to actually pull something. The process is not hard and it doesn’t take years to teach. It does require a bit more equipment (ex: a harness) than the simple surcingle but the small investment could really help out in the long run and who knows, you might even invest in a cart. Driving horses is a lot of fun and it is great exercise for the horse.
That being said, my Saddlebred is definitely the best driving horse and would do well with labor that includes pulling. My Thoroughbred would also handle pulling well and could be counted on in that capacity. My Arabian would handle light pulling only and my Appaloosa could not pull.
After you answer the questions of what your horse can do and what you are capable of asking your horse to do, you need to assess where your answers leave you. For example, I can feel confident that, at present, I have one good riding horse and two good labor horses. I also have one horse that can perform light pulling, riding or packing and one horse that cannot do anything. I am left with these facts: What I know for a fact is that if a disaster hits feeding horses is going to be very difficult. I also know that I will need the labor and transportation abilities of the horses. I can say for a fact that in the next several years I am not going to be acquiring any new horses, therefore, I will need to maximize the abilities of what I have.
Acknowledging these facts leads me to several conclusions:
1. I do not have all the equipment I need in order to maximize my horses’ full potential should a disaster occur.
2. I may not be able to feed all of my horses and may need to consider euthanasia options should a disaster occur.
As horse owners and horse lovers these are the questions we need to ask ourselves and answers we need to formulate and prepare for in order to be the best owners we can should a disaster occur.