Horse ownership a labor of love and money
Taking care of animals is costly during winter
COUNTY — In a quaint shelter, two Arabian horses neigh when their caretaker, Dana Tisdale, approaches with two buckets of coveted oats.
Fiddl’dan, a 24 year old gelding, and the mare, Seyna, now 26 years of age, have been in Tisdale’s care all of their lives. Fiddl’dan is the off-spring of Tisdale’s first horse, Pepadan, a horse she was given at the age of 12. It was Tisdale and Pepadan who teamed up to win the first ever ND Horseshow Association’s Princess trophy in 1978.
Tisdale is a self-proclaimed “horse person.” To this day Tisdale has never sold a horse. Fiddl’dan and Senya are her pride and joy and her best friends. Dana and her husband Lon live on a rural farmyard and built the horse shelter with attached tack room and hay storage out of salvaged lumber from area buildings that were going to be demolished – a labor of love for their cherished horses.
“According to my mother, since the time I started talking as a child, I was asking for a horse, ” said Tisdale. I have horses in my blood. I do ride them each once a day in the spring, summer and fall. But my favorite thing is to be outside with them, grooming them, feeding them, petting them, talking to them and just spending time with them. It’s like I am in another world when I am with them. All my worries go away when I am out with the horses.”
Tisdale’s horses are fed only organically grown feed and hay during the winter. In the summertime they thrive on five acres of green grass and pasture forage. The Tisdales’ do not use any herbicides or pesticides in their pasture. The horses roam inside a fence made from wooden rails and a new flexible fencing product called “Bayco,” which protects the horses from potential injury.
“Senya can gain 100 pounds in two weeks once she gets to eat green grass,” said Tisdale. Senya has some teeth problems, so Tisdale feeds her soaked oats that are the consistency of oatmeal. The two horses also get one bale of hay per day during the winter.
The current debate about horse neglect and the potential causes behind the apparent increase in severe horse neglect cases nationwide is troubling to Tisdale. She doesn’t believe the issue is one of over-breeding, as most horse owners she knows keep their mares and stallions separate and most stallions are gelded. She feels that the biggest issue that results in horse neglect is that people become enamored with the romance and the glamour of owning horses and have an unrealistic impression of the financial and personal commitment required.
“Little kids take riding lessons and then they want a horse. But when you bring them out to shovel the manure, clean the feet, brush the coat and do the smelly, dirty things, then the romance leaves their mind very quickly, ” said Tisdale.
The same goes for adults who think it is a glamorous hobby. “Anyone considering becoming a horse owner should experience a day in the life of a horse owner, ” says Tisdale. “They need to understand these are large and powerful animals and they need to be respected.”
Dr. Jeanette Bjornstad, owner of Golden Valley Veterinary Service in rural Park River, has also raised and trained horses most of her life. She and Tisdale agree that economics, as well as the time involved in responsible horse ownership, are the most common reasons horses end up in neglectful situations.
“People underestimate the cost of feed, medical care, and shelter,” said Bjornstad. On average, one horse will require 10-15 round bales of hay per year, which can run between $60 and $85 per bale, depending on availability.
Veterinary bills can run $200-$400 per year for required maintenance level care, not including any illness or injury treatments that may also become necessary.
Horses also need shelter and fresh water, which requires an investment in fencing, structures and water infrastructure. If a person needs to board a horse during the winter months, that service can run as much as $200 – $500 per month.
Bjornstad also states that a horse needs to be evaluated every day for general health and some form of exercise in order to stay in good condition.
“These factors and the current volume of horses on the market has meant that many horses are abandoned at sale barns and horse farms as owners find themselves unable to maintain their animals,” says Bjornstad.
Most animal advocates agree the economic down turn, continued breeding in a slowing horse market, and owner apathy and ignorance are the primary reasons for the increase in horse neglect cases. Some others say the end of horse slaughter for human consumption in the US is also partially to blame.
“Slaughter isn’t something Americans want to hear about, but we need to look at this realistically so people have some avenues for humanely disposing of unwanted and neglected horses. Not all owners can afford to euthanize and properly dispose of the animals they can no longer care for,” said Bjornstad.