by Linda Chamberlain
It’s a horse – not a Honda.
And yet I am convinced that people confuse them. They don’t look alike; they don’t sound the same but some people feel the need to treat them in a similar way. Most tellingly, the way they are insured means that they can share a similar fate. They are scrapped before their life is over.
Scrapped. It’s an emotive word to use about a horse. Put to sleep is the preferred phrase and is sensibly employed by anyone involved in the early destruction of an animal whose usefulness is no longer sufficient to justify the cost of keeping it. So, let me make myself clear. I’m talking about early destruction – not the retired or injured horse that is put to sleep on welfare grounds.
Car insurance is a useful thing that is demanded by law. Horse insurance is a useful thing that can save you paying a massive vet’s bill out of your own pocket. They have something in common though. The car that’s damaged beyond its value gets put to sleep, I mean, it goes for scrap. The owner gets paid out by the insurance company and can buy a replacement. The horse owner benefits from something similar called ‘loss of use cover’. That means if your £5000 horse is seriously but not terminally injured and can no longer sail through a dressage test, if it can no longer be repaired by the vet to the level required, you can say goodbye. You can claim your £5000 and get something new that works better or goes faster. So, the talented and the expensive are once again at most risk from this lottery of human ownership.
I know plenty of people who keep a horse into its teens, allowing it a quieter life as a happy hacker. I know some who will cripple themselves financially to ensure their horse gets a happy retirement. Others secure a rare place with an animal charity for a horse they can no longer afford to keep. I also know plenty who have claimed on insurance and pulled the plug on their equine. I have a problem with those people. Some of them could afford to keep that horse; they could have found it another home where the demands were less but then of course they wouldn’t be able to claim ‘loss of use’. Over the years, I have bought or acquired a few breakdowns such as these. My daughter’s old pony, Cloud, came to us extremely cheaply, aged seventeen. She was advertised as an ex-show pony seeking a quieter life and lived quite a full one for the next eleven. They don’t have to die. They are not cars.
Perhaps, you are not horsey and find this hard to believe. Do owners really muddle pieces of metal with flesh and blood? Is a horse not for life like other pets? Plenty are…but some are not. You see, the horse is not a pet; he has a use and he is not always treasured as he should be. Only recently I have heard of three quality horses who have been scrapped needlessly. One had a painful condition called navicular – it’s arguably caused by horse shoes, but that’s another story, and might have regained usefulness with barefoot rehabilitation. The option was never tried. The second horse behaved badly but wasn’t yet ten and another was in foal. Yes, the equine world has its bad guys like any other.
A friend told me the story of the brood mare. ‘I was really pleased when the vet said she was pregnant,’ she said. ‘I thought they would never put a mare in foal to sleep. She was off the hook.’
The valuable animal had a tendon injury, was recovering well but the insurance was maxed out and the leg in question could never be insured again. ‘At this point the owner persuaded the vets to have her put to sleep. I was horrified. She went off in the horse box and back came a box of her ashes. I was really upset. I think the owner really just wanted the money.’
I went off the idea of insurance years ago when my first horse reached fourteen and the company sent a long list of her body parts that would no longer be covered. You can’t believe how much they wanted to insure her ears!
So, I don’t insure our horses. It’s a risk because vet bills can be hefty and I’m not suggesting other people follow my lead. The aim of this article is to look at the issue of ‘loss of use’ and how it skews the future for so many unlucky horses. Whether to insure is a difficult decision and people have to make up their own minds. In fact, there came a day when I thought I had made a terrible mistake by not having cover. But it’s a story I will have to share with you next time. It’s not a story I’m proud of but it’s time I shared it – the day the vet put on a black cap and said one of our injured horses might have to live out her days as a garden gnome. And to achieve this dreadful future, we would have to spend thousands of pounds on an emergency operation.
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Book news – my debut novel The First Vet is being given a cover as we speak. The inside bits are being proofed – nearly there.