The Value of Free Horses

The giveaway horse.

What a scary proposition that’s become, to give away a horse for free.

Supposedly, it makes a horse’s life even more on the edge, even more dangerous, that much closer to the kill pen. I wonder if that’s true or if it just one of those opinions that have become prevalent thanks to some very vehement blogging from a very opinionated (and successful) blogger.

I once had a lovely chestnut broodmare named Cindy – she was a Standardbred, very well-bred, and I bred her to a nice eventing stallion hoping for a cross-bred with a big trot and rock-solid bone. The owner of the breeding farm arranged for her to be given to me – some kind of unwritten breeding lease. When I quit the job – I wasn’t paid for six weeks, it was sort of necessary to find something else! – I left the mare at the breeding farm. She appeared in the pasture I was renting a few days later! I supposed that meant she was mine.

Unfortunately, I was leaving the area (with a very bad taste in my mouth) and had already sold my other horses. Without papers on this Standardbred mare, who turned out to be in season again, I wasn’t really sure what to do. The owner of the leased pasture asked if I was interested in giving her to her daughter-in-law. So I did. They bred her to a Thoroughbred stallion of their own, and I went my merry way.

Bon Appeal Thoroughbred mare

Bon Appeal, our lovely chestnut TB

Giving horses away, without papers, no clear change of ownership – it happens every day. Do they all end up at auction with no value on them? I doubt it. I don’t think paying a thousand dollars or ten thousand dollars for a horse stops people from sending horses to auction to get a couple of hundred dollars. I think people simply believe they ought to get some money for a horse they paid for. I think that selling a horse instead of giving it away might make it more likely that the horse will end up at auction, instead of simply being given away again.

Attaching a value to a horse may make it more vulnerable, instead of less so, I think.

It is on my mind as I arrange for Ontherightwicket to be sold, and for the yearlings to go to sales prep at the beginning of summer, and of course as I field e-mails for Final Call. It is on my mind because of Bon Appeal, my lovely chestnut mare, who as a ten year old maiden mare is not exactly a hot commodity in Florida’s market. Florida is at broodmare-saturation point. And its cup runneth over with Valid Appeal mares!

Do I offer to give her away? I’m a bit curious, friends, what your experience or opinions on the free horse might be. . .



Filed under Selling Horses

13 responses to “The Value of Free Horses

  1. Kestrel

    I’ve given away several horses over the years, and one point in favor is that since I gave the horse to the person, I have a legitimate right to visit said horse and also, to demand the horse be given back if things don’t work out.

    • Natalie Keller Reinert

      I’ve done that also! Actually, thinking back, I can’t recall any sale I’ve made where the new owner did not offer to have me out any time, or send pictures. I often turned them down or never took them up on the offer – for me it’s often easier to just say good-bye and have that be the end of it. But in a few cases I went and rode the horse that I’d trained and sold (sometimes giving tune-ups) and was able to go home feeling good about their new home and new life.

      I once worked for a woman who sold several horses at auction – the kind of sales we’d shriek about now, knowing what we know about cheap auctions – and someone purchased a two-year-old TB colt who had been laid up with an OCD.

      She ran into the buyer at a feed store a week or two later and reported back that the buyer said they loved the colt and had been riding and free-jumping him.

      “Is that wise?” her mother asked. “I mean, with the OCD and all?”

      “Mother, it’s her horse,” my boss replied. “I have nothing to do with how she handles her horses.”


      “No,” she said implacably. “It’s her horse.”

      This refusing to even have an opinion on how a horse bred and raised by her own hands never sat well with me – although I suppose it could be valid. Horse people spend a lot of time judging how other people treat horses. What good would it have done to sit and moan about how the colt was being ridden too hard? She wasn’t going to go and buy the colt back. He’d been sold for his market value, a two-year-old unbroke colt with an OCD at a riding horse sale, so just a few hundred dollars. He went to a lovely farm with safe fences. But that was just luck. Once he wasn’t ours, he wasn’t our business anymore, unless his care descended to abuse or neglect levels. And then, really, he ought to be everyone in the horse community’s business.

      Tough tough tough. Don’t know what became of him. It wasn’t our business, he wasn’t ours…

      If we’d given him to someone, for free, we could have kept him our business. “He isn’t to be ridden for another six months, and we’ll be by to visit.” Something to that effect. It’s failed before but it works far more often then it fails! But the farm got a couple hundred dollars, and lost all rights.

  2. Thank you. You can take it down again if you want. I’m sorry I’m in my truly angry moon mental pause phase. It’s hard to know where people are really coming from, sometimes.

    I think the value in the racing industry is standing patiently in my neighbour’s garage. Sound, sane, handsome, not yet, maybe not ever prepotent for speed. His pedigree is freakin’ poetry, and I know my neighbour knows that. She’s one lucky lady. Horse not so much, but just MY opinion.

    Who knows? Thoroughblog mentions, and was told to take down, an ad for free horses. I don’t know the answer, but free/ridiculously low-priced horses “can” also encourage those who shouldn’t, from getting one. I shudder to even think of the possibilities for minis out there. Just to own the 4 hooves.
    I haven’t checked faceBook, too embarrassed. Gawd, I can be such an idiot… I ALMOST posted that grumble on my blog. see? I’m learning. slowly.
    You know what? I wish I’d been there, when he was “allegedly” sold for $35.00, at auction. That is a rumour. I know not fact.
    Garage horse ain’t fiction.
    Oh, to have it all, and horses too. Like my neighbour, but with no-one trying to evict my horse.

    All the best, young’un;) I do keep forgetting you are not as old as you type.
    (runs away..)

    • Man, Natalie–this is a great discussion point.

      You know there are people out there who just like to talk about hoe much they paid for something–anything–because that is where their status/self-esteem comes from.

      We paid for Lena and have all her papers, are her registered owners, etc.

      I paid $1 for Bar, have a bill of sale, know he has a tattoo and have looked up his pedigree online. Now, since he’s a gelding, papers aren’t crucial and I wouldn’t sell or give him away unless absolutely necessary–if I found him the right home, could still visit, etc.

      But you of all people know how weird about him I am.

      Do I value him less than Lena? Absolutely not. Could we sell her for more? Probably, but does that really change who I’d sell her to or the parameters? Not for me.

      But… I am not in the business of horses. Mine is a purely personal issue. I would think you would have to distance yourself at least a little or you’d never sell any horses.

      Lots to think about on this one.

      • Natalie Keller Reinert

        I think it’s okay – I think it’s necessary and natural and all of those things – for there to be people in the business, like myself, who can distance themselves. (Who HAVE to distance themselves.) And people who are purely personal about their horses, as you describe it.

        What isn’t okay, of course, is when those in the business distance themselves to the point that they stop seeing horses as living creatures and start seeing them as pure commodity. And that’s where we run into all these ethical problems.

        But as a businesswoman, so to speak, I can see the smart value in giving away the horse that isn’t making economic sense in the business that I am networked and connected in.

        And as a personally invested horsewoman, I can see the humane value in giving away said horse to someone rather than try to make a quick buck at auction. Or even try to make a quick buck by pricing the horse low on flyers at the feed store, or on a website or whatever.

        The legwork of making a home visit still has to be there. When I gave away my mini stallion, I had the new owner e-mail me pictures of the property and her other horses, and double-checked it all when I hauled him there, before I got him out of the trailer. Fat happy horses? Here you go, enjoy your pony! There’s no way I would have left him if the fences were in poor repair or the horses were thin.

        Yes I’m still in the business of horses, but even if I looked at it strictly as a business move to dump horses, it doesn’t do me any good if my horses turn up down the road starved and dying. The media doesn’t like that much. The media is starting to be rather hard on these people.

        Bottom line, I think it’s okay to give away horses, rather than dump them cheap at auction, if you know where they’re going and keep tabs on them.

    • Natalie Keller Reinert

      The value in the racing industry.. hmm.. the thing about a horse, I suppose, is that its value is in its career. So if you have absolutely no value as a Real Estate Agent, because you, I don’t know, knowingly sold a toxic waste dump to a mother of three, or something, you might still have incredible value in another field. Marketing. Or Neurosurgery. Depending on your talents and education.

      Same with horses. The value of a Thoroughbred is not solely measured in its speed – and if it is, then the owners have made a terrible mistake. There are good and wise trainers out there who reschool their own racehorses into jumping, dressage, various sport careers out there. And the $5,000 claimer becomes a $40,000 upper-level event horse in a matter of a few years. Like the high-school drop-out who gets a GED and goes to college. Your value as a drop out selling french fries? Minimum wage. Your value as a self-starting go-getter who overcame obstacles and got a bachelor’s degree? You tell me, kid, we want you on our team!

  3. I have one freebie at home…my daughter’s 25 yo appy gelding. He’s got a forever home with us, but that isn’t always true for all freebies. He could have ended up at a “dirt cheap” auction if I didn’t need a dead quiet trail horse for my kiddo. And from there…who knows?

    I would be uncomfortable giving away a horse and severing all ties. I’d consider a “free lease” and retain ownership before I’d ever consider just giving any of mine away.

    • Natalie Keller Reinert

      So Jenn – what would you do if you had to find a new home for the 25 year old? What happens when a forever home is no longer a possibility?

      I’m thinking euthanasia is the kindest route, don’t you?

  4. We were given an OTTB because he was said to be too aggresive to sell! He would ‘charge’ at anyone who came to see him. We went. He came charging alright, nearly out of his mind with the thought of some attention. We took him home. He and my son did pony club, they played, he rode hin bareback with a halter from the field to his stable. That was seven years ago. He has a forever home here. He still thinks he is heading to the post when we go out hacking, and he is loved.

    • Natalie Keller Reinert

      Sweet, Debi!

      OTTBs can be very easy to misread. Like my old horse acting like he was going to leap through the rafters at shows, and it turned out he was just super-happy and enjoying the sights and sounds. They thought they had the son of the Black Stallion, trying to kill them, and you saw a horse that wanted a cookie and a kiss on the nose. That’s destiny. As I posted on earlier, horses make the most skeptical person into mystics. You’ve just proved it again.

  5. cleverm

    Two months ago I tried to find a home for an OTTB with a leg injury. She was the sweetest mare I think I’ve ever met. The owners were going to put her down, and in the eleventh hour I got a call from a girl who said she was interested in taking a look at the mare for a breeding prospect. She said all the right things… her mom is a vet, she gives riding lessons, showed me pics of her horses and willingly signed a contract that she would give her back to me if for any reason, it wasn’t working out. She came and picked her up, and I kept my fingers crossed that all would be well. Tonight, the night before my rescheduled, rescheduled site visit, I was notified that the mare coliced and was put down. I am so saddened and also can’t help feeling a little suspicious. I feel like I let that mare down.

    • But you can’t know, can you? You can never know, once they’re out of your care, and you’ve released control of them.

      That’s why some people opt to put horses down instead of giving them away.

      It isn’t any better, or any worse.

      I don’t usually do site visits if I’ve given up a horse. I accept that the horse isn’t mine anymore, and I walk away. I’ve been fortunate that most of the horses I have sold or given away have gone to people who have practically insisted on giving me frequent updates and inviting me to come out “whenever you want! just stop by!”‘ even though I am trying very hard to let go.

      When I gave away my dear old OTTB, I never went to see him again. I saw pictures of him from time to time, but I never went to visit. Too many years together, I just didn’t want to face that he wasn’t mine again. I couldn’t keep him myself (economics) but that’s never easy to accept.

      You did what you could for your horse. You did the right things. And you have to let her go, once she isn’t yours anymore.

  6. I am a brand new horse owners. We were naive enough to take a free horse off the track. We new he had issues, bone chips in both his knees, but would be good for trail riding. He was quite an earner as a racehorse, and was claimed 3 times during his career for $50K each time. Then the knees went bad and he soon became a free horse. It took 9 months and thousands of dollars, to find treatments that would get him sound enough that he could work at a trot without a lot of lameness.
    My years of being able to ride him, I know are numbered, but I could never give him up. I know what kind of care he is getting with me, and to part with him, would be uncertain if he would get the same type of care from someone else. That would be important to me.

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