Out to pasture?

It’s a matter of perception, on which lies the fate of countless horses. For many, the value of one’s horse is contingent upon whether or not the horse is able to be ridden. If a horse loses that ability, as the thinking goes, his value is diminished and it’s time to get rid of him and take on another horse.

Horse Haven, the horse department at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, maintains a different perception: that as long as a horse can still enjoy his or her life and is free of debilitating pain, the horse has value and deserves to live. It’s this consciousness that informs the concept of "pasture pals."

Pasture pals are those horses who can no longer carry people as the result of having suffered some injury, been born with a congenital defect, or simply of being too old. Around two-thirds of the horses at Horse Haven fall into this category. And the vast majority of requests Best Friends receives from people looking to relinquish their horses involve horses with these kinds of conditions.

Behind the pasture-pal concept is the intent to change the thinking of many horse lovers—that just because a horse has lost his utilitarian purpose, that doesn’t mean one should give up on him. This mindset has no doubt contributed to the overpopulation of horses, since many people decide to buy another horse rather than keep and care for the "unrideable"one.

"We somehow anthropomorphize horses to the extent that we believe they can’t have a good quality of life unless they can be ridden," says Jen Reid, manager of Horse Haven.

Any of the pasture pals at Best Friends refutes this belief that quality of life and the ability to give rides are inextricably linked. Rocky is one.

Rocky has been through the wringer physically. He has arthritis, shoulder injuries, and lesions and spurs on the navicular bone in his foot. At 10 years of age, he’s already had eight or nine homes.

"But he is so happy, and has the best personality—just the sweetest guy," Reid says.

Another pasture pal is Cowboy, born 11 years ago with lordosis, a curvature of the spine, and is still as content as any horse can be.

And then there’s the thirty-something-year-old Mercer. He’s mostly blind and deaf. Still, "he is happy as a clam," Reid says, "and so appreciative of being cared for. In his arthritic, old-man sort of way, he bucks and plays."

Reid points out that the relationship between a person and his or her horse is often fraught with the pressure of constantly having to train, exercise, and work the horse. With pasture pals, there is no such pressure.

"You can just be with them and enjoy their company," Reid says

Written by Ted Brewer

Photo by Gary Kalpakoff

Interested in a pasture pal yourself? Cowboy, Rocky and Mercer are all available for adoption.

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