A few years ago, I witnessed a neighbor’s horse die from an injury sustained in an unsafe pen. (See “Death in the Alley” in Human to Horseman.) Ironically, the pen was designed very well, with an open feeling, good air circulation, shade, water, and plenty of room for the half-dozen minis and full-sized horses that lived there together. It was the execution of the design that was the problem. Used materials and poor construction made the pen an eyesore, and a sharp edge somewhere in that tangle of tin, rusted pipe and weathered wood cost a horse her life.
Today there is a different problem at that address. The original pen and owner are long gone and the new occupant is an older woman with a safe but equally inappropriate home for her single horse. The living area is as sturdy as a prison cell, with a similar feeling to it. A five-foot solid block wall defines the perimeter, blocking both view and air circulation. A single brown mare lives inside, isolated from the world and other creatures in it. When I walk down the street with my horses, she hears us and runs over to the wall. She nickers at us and tries to peek over the top. It always saddens me.
I try to remember two things at times like this. First, horses are extremely adaptable and this horse will probably be just fine. Bored, yes, but in any real danger? No. Second, it also matters what the human is getting out of this deal. There is a reason my neighbor went to the trouble and expense of building this little horsey prison. Maybe the little mare is bringing something very special to this human’s life. I wouldn’t deny that to anyone.
So why even bring this up? Because it’s an opportunity to tell you what I would have done. I would have spent a fraction of the money and put up a v-mesh or non-climb wire horse fence such as those made by Red Brand. This is not a commercial for Red Brand, I promise. That just happens to be the product I would use. This would give the horse a view of her surroundings and allow air to circulate through the area, which is absolutely critical when you live in the desert as we do. I would also get the horse a companion. Another horse would be ideal, but a mule, donkey, mini or goat would be fine. Even a chicken or duck could provide companionship for this horse. Horses have a primal need to live in a herd. Any kind of herd.
I do not know the new neighbor. We said hello one time as I walked by and she seemed nice enough, as is usually the case. Most people don’t deliberately abuse or stress their horses; they just don't know any better, and there's no shame in that. Every good horseman I know grieves for the horses he or she failed along the way. Growth requires stretching, reaching for something better than we have and are. All I can do is hope that my neighbor continues growing.
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