Free Horses Equals Empty Wallets

$10,000 is the amount I spent last year on a free horse. And hopefully you detect the irony in that sentence. Free and $10K don’t exactly belong together. But I ignored my own basic operating rules during a six month period of psychological weakness last summer and chose to wave off the age-old truth that there is no such thing as a free horse.

Let my own stupidity serve a message to readers that there really IS no such thing as free when horses are involved. Don’t get me wrong– there are plenty of horses with no purchase prices that are simply free to a good home. Purchase prices, though, pale in comparison to what folks will end up spending over a few months of basic care for a horse. Take my own scenario as an example. Rule #1 in this situation I like to call “Foolishly Believing in Free” says when something seems too good to be true, it is.

Last April, my friend and I received a call from a distressed trainer who allegedly owned a talented, beautiful, sweet-tempered Warmblood gelding that she needed to find a (free) home for because her life was in turmoil and she could no longer care for him. Reeking of suspicion, the offer to acquire her Olympic caliber mount at no cost seemed a wee too good to be true. So, we declined the offer to take him. But a few days later, we received another call from the trainer, this time from her cell phone. Apparently, she was en route to our barn already, declining to take our “no” as an answer for her super talented free Warmblood. She had him in the trailer and would be at our place in an hour.

Hmm. A free horse and free delivery? Now, things definitely smelled fishy. But my friend and I, two softies at heart, wondered what the worst possible outcome could be for this story. Plus, I’ve always been the hard-headed type that likes to disprove adages to which everyone else submits. Maybe I’d show the world that there is such a thing as a free horse!

Meanwhile, we brainstormed why this particular talented and beautiful horse might be free, trying to ready ourselves for his arrival in our driveway. Maybe he had a few lameness issues, which may explain his unsolicited gifting upon us. But we figured at the very least, he could be a moderately sound– and gorgeous– trail mount. Or perhaps he could be used as a lesson horse and actually earn us a few bucks. Or maybe, just maybe, he would indeed be everything he was promised and my friend and I now owned the horse we always dreamed about but could never afford!

The horse– let’s call him Wolfgang– blasted out of the trailer on his hind legs and proceeded to wreak havoc on the courtyard despite his handler’s yanking and pulling on the chain that encircled his head and nose. At this point, I should have demanded the horse be loaded back into the trailer and driven out of my sight and life for good. But here is where the frail shards of blind optimism surrounding receipt of something potentially awesome for free rears their hideous heads. Undeniably terrified of the rearing beast in our driveway that now strangely belonged to us, my friend and I looked at each other. And embarrassingly, I will admit that we both wore an expression that said the same thing: wow, this might be everything we’ve ever dreamed about… and for free!

Where we should have seen nothing but danger and rotten luck, we saw good fortune.
This is the type of delusional thinking that constitutes rule #2 in “Foolishly Believing in Free.”

After tearing apart a section of fencing with his flailing front legs, nearly killing a neighbor’s dog, and destroying our newly seeded lawn with nervously prancing hooves, Wolfgang was wrestled into a stall for the night. It was the last free night of our lives. From the next morning forward, we adopted a new pastime of writing checks to cover Wolfgang’s expenses. In fact, we almost couldn’t write checks fast enough to keep pace with his need. First, his metabolism proved impossible to satiate and we spent more money on his hay, grain, and rice bran than on our own mortgage. His ribs still stuck out at the end of our first month, prompting us to try costly detox supplements in the event he carried a parasite or other health anomaly that prevented him from putting on weight.

When the detox supplements failed, we tried a treatment of acupuncture that made the previous supplements seem reasonably priced. When acupuncture failed, we gave up and accepted that he might always be underweight. Plus, by then we had to direct our waning funds to more pressing matters, such as his training problems. Wolfgang was a gigantic animal, standing well over 17 hands with an immense neck that rose straight up to the sky. In his 10 years of life, nobody had taken the time to teach him basic manners. We found it impossible to lead him from Point A to Point B without incurring bodily harm. Not only was he gigantic and unruly, he was also spooky at just about everything. Every 30 seconds or so, he lurched in fright at something or other, snorted from his nose, and pranced himself into a sweaty mess. Rustling bushes, mundane noises, drizzly weather, crunchy leaves all became our nemesis.

After six months of buying new equipment to replace what Wolfgang broke– halters, leadlines, feeding tubs, my toe– we decided he needed to get some rudimentary training pronto. One morning we set about the task of loading him into our trailer and taking him for training to a cowboy a few towns over. That afternoon, we were still trying to get him in the rig. By nightfall, we gave up. Wolfgang would not step foot near the trailer. He reared, he ran backwards, he stomped his feet and threw his head. No problem, we thought, the trailer may seem confining to him. So the next day we plunked down a hefty fee to rent a spacious and airy trailer. We payed the small fortune in gas for a round trip to pick it up an hour away and then began again our challenge of getting Wolfgang to load up. We repeated this for three days before admitting we needed reinforcements. At this point, my hard-headiness around ignoring adages felt like plain old hubris.

After a bit of research, we found a Mustang wrangler who was able to tame wild horses and get them to walk comfortably into her trailer out in the Nevada desert. Aha, we thought, this was our gal! She charged– of course– a mighty sum of money but promised to get our deranged Warmblood into the trailer without cruelty or drugs. And sure enough she did. It took her about four hours and her whole bag of tricks for working with wild horses. Now after four and a half days of our endeavor to get Wolfgang on the trailer, my friend and I realized we had spent every last dime between us. The horse was in the trailer, but now what?

This is when a person encounters rule #3 in “Foolishly Believing in Free”–you concede to your own original ignorance. In my case, I had to admit that adages exist for a reason. And yes, dear reader, I learned first-hand that there really IS no such thing as a free horse. In fact, I would venture to say I didn’t just learn this; I had it repeatedly pounded into my thick skull day after day after day. Which seems to be the only way folks learn things in the horse world.

Time-tested truths from expert sources just don’t seem to be enough for us horsey folks. We like to learn things the hard way, wittling down our savings accounts until we are financially bludgeoned into admitting we should have listened to that sage advice in the first place. But nothing speaks to us and illustrates our follies like our own empty wallets. So, even though you will likely not heed my advice, I’m giving it to you anyway: When someone offers you a free horse, run the opposite direction very fast!