There he is, out in the field. Nobody ever does anything with him. Wonder if they even want him anymore?
Every now and then, I get asked to help somebody find a horse for them. I like to help out because I love looking at horses but I can't buy any more for myself. "We'd be willing to get our kid a horse," they say, "but we don't want to pay for one. Do you know where we could get one for free?"
I reply, in all honesty, "There are tons of free horses. I hear about them all the time. But you don't want any of them."
Here's how it went when one family did find one. This mare was at the centre of a marital breakup: the owner simply wanted to move the horse and not worry about it anymore. The free horse was quickly delivered to her new home. At first she looked like a good deal, standing there tied to the fence, looking mellow, swishing flies. Then I asked the girl to lead her so I could watch the mare walk. She was dead lame. She moved in little mincing steps like her front legs wouldn't quite stretch out like they should. I felt so sad. Here was this beautiful, gentle, mature horse, and I doubted she'd be rideable for much longer.
They got a farrier out, who just said she seemed stiff. Her hooves didn't feel hot, or her legs, and she didn't appear to be in obvious pain, but she didn't seem right to me. We did a couple of lessons with her. It was enough for me to figure out that she had some decent training on her at some point, and that she really was lame! Her trot was more vertical than forward. At a lope, she felt like she was actually leaning her weight back; I've never felt anything like it. Of course my student didn't notice. Other than my old King, whom she'd started on two months before, she'd ridden one other horse. She didn't yet have enough experience to know what was wrong.
They weren't sure what to do. I didn't know what the problem was but I was pretty sure there was one. They didn't really want to rack up the vet bills on her. I agreed: this looked to me like a money pit.
At the end of the summer, the owner decided she wanted her horse back. Sometimes I drive past when I'm in the area and I see the lovely mare out in the pasture, grazing happily. I doubt she has to do anything else. She looks reasonably well taken care of, so I'm going to assume she's fine. My young student has recovered from the disappointment, and still would like to get her own horse some day, but she's got a better idea now of what she wants- or doesn't want.
A free horse isn't always a bad idea. My friend SS ended up with a gorgeous Trakehner mare. There is nothing wrong with this horse. The owner was an older lady who decided to hang up her saddle for good, but couldn't bring herself to sell the horse. She couldn't stand not knowing where the horse went, or how she was doing. SS had ridden this mare regularly as a favour to the owner, years ago when they had boarded together. When the owner found out that SS was horse shopping, she called her up and tearfully requested her to take the mare. Happiness all around. The difference is that SS is an experienced rider, and that all involved were previously acquainted.
Horse prices are crazy. You can pick up a weanling for $200 at an auction, or pay $2000 from a breeder. A good show quality gelding can sell for $15,000 but an unproven or unknown breeding stallion can sell for as low as $4000. The time of year can play a big part in horse prices, as well as the weather. A lot of horses go up for sale at the tail end of a cool wet summer.
Why do people give them away? Because they don't think anybody will buy him. He's too embarrassing to try to sell. They know he's got problems and they don't want to explain, but are too honest to try to cover up his faults.
Because he's old. Nobody will pay money if he's gonna kick off soon.
Because they don't want to deal with it anymore.
Because they think he's not even worth the price of a bullet.
Because they can't sell him. They don't just think nobody will buy him; they know he's unsellable.
Because he's unsellable but they can't stand the thought of sending him to the meat market.
Because they can't stand the thought of selling an old friend.
Sometimes you can luck out, but it takes a lot of knowledge to know which horses are worth having, regardless of the price asked. Sadly, most of the folks out there who think they don't want to spend money on a free horse can't tell the difference between a slightly tarnished treasure and a nightmare on hooves.