Whoever came up with the proverb, “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.” obviously was never given a gift horse. Now, I love getting free horses. Most of the horses I’ve owned have been free. But…I’ve also spent a small fortune on these “free” horses.
Very few people are willing to give good, well-trained, healthy horses away for free. That should be common sense. It’s not like kittens. People don’t have stray horses show up in their yard and pop out a whole litter of foals. They put large amounts of time and money into their horses, and they don’t want to give that up.
So what you get most often, when you get a free horse, is one that is harder to keep, and doesn’t offer much to their owner anymore.
My first free horse was a Tennessee Walker named Jubilee.
She was a Tennessee Walker, which is usually not a cheap breed, but she was old. She was supposed to be a therapy horse, but didn’t do so well at that. The first time we met, she kicked me. She wasn’t used much, and also wasn’t very good at standing up for herself in the pasture, so didn’t get much food. I offered a new home for her so that she wouldn’t starve to death during the winter.
Had the wrong people seen her, they would have reported me for animal neglect, despite the fact that I was feeding her large amounts of senior feed and beet pulp every day. She was full of energy almost all of the three years I had her, she just couldn’t keep weight on. We had the vet out to have her teeth floated, and they said there was nothing there to file.
Once she was a one woman horse though, she improved emotionally. She no longer kicked, and after a short training session, didn’t mind the saddle either. I’d take her out riding, and she’d prance the whole way. I don’t know much about her history, but I’d wager those last three years of her life were some of the best she had.
I only had my second free horse, Skye for three years as well.
Skye may have been a Thoroughbred, or a Thoroughbred/Quarter Horse cross. Details were a little fuzzy. He was yet another failed therapy horse. He didn’t have an aggressive bone in his body, but he didn’t understand therapy. He’d lay down in the middle of classes, and refuse to move. He couldn’t be used, so once again, I offered him a home.
Skye wasn’t nearly so old as Jubi, but he (like a lot of grey horses), had melanomas. A lot of them. I tried treating them, but he was apparently more full of them than he looked, and colicked due to a gut full of tumours. He didn’t need as much special feed, but the vet bills for his last couple of days, trying to clear up the colic that we didn’t know at the time was cancer related, stacked up.
The third free horse, was an OTTB (Off-the-track Thoroughbred) named Gandalf.
Aside from being a hard keeper and requiring large amounts of extra feed, Gandalf turned out to be a bit of a psycho. I didn’t get a chance to ride him before we took him, and he was way beyond my abilities. I finally sold him to a friend who did a lot of jumping and dressage, and even she has had a tough time with him.
All of this to say that, despite what the proverb tells you, you should definitely look a gift horse in the mouth unless you are ok with treating it as more of a rescue situation. You may get an awesome horse, there’s no guarantee either way. But be prepared that your “gift horse” may end up costing you more, whether in money or heartache, or both. Are you willing to risk that? If yes, take the gift horse. It may be a great experience for both you and the horse.
I don’t regret taking Jubilee and Skye in. I do regret Gandalf in a way, because things with him caused a lot of strife within my family. But even with him, maybe I was the stepping stone that needed to be there so he could get to the home where he belonged. Things have a way of turning out right in the end.
The lady that I got Sophie and Issi (Isis’ nickname) from seemed to think I was a little crazy because I wanted to know what training they’d had, what vices they have, and any injuries or anything of that sort. She had offered me two great horses for free, why would I question anything?
But I am not so much at a point right now that I can take in pasture pets. My folks have 4 of them already (3 are miniatures), and I have my two mini donkeys. So if I was bringing another horse in, it had to be one which was ridable. And I know from experience that free horses can cost a lot more than you expect, both in money and emotions.
So here’s hoping that I have better luck with these two. We’ll see how things go with them. So far, they seem like great horses. If we can get past three years together, they’ll be the longest lasting free horses I’ve ever had.
I have high hopes for them.