For farrier, ‘biggest down I’ve seen’

“The horse market, like any other livestock market, has its ups and downs,” Kim Otterson wrote us recently. “Right now, this is the ‘biggest down’ I’ve seen.”

Otterson’s a farrier who lives nears Randall. She’s expert at shoeing horses and caring for hooves. It’s an ancient and vital trade. But it hasn’t escaped the recession.

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We’ve read and heard local and national stories of horses abandoned and mistreated in the recession.

But there’s more at work than just a bad recession. Otterson, a source in MPR’s Public Insight Network, gave us a deeper view.

“It’s kind of a perfect storm. Surplus horses due both to the market cycle and the kill ban; high feed costs, due to a weather, and maybe even ethanol production, indirectly; and the economic situation on top of it.”

People have horses for lots of reasons. My ex-husband and I raised registered Quarter Horses. We tried hard to have high quality breeding stock and normally managed to sell the colts at a profit. It was pretty much like raising beef cows, which we also did. Today, “profit” is nearly impossible to achieve.

Some people have horses because they like to compete with them, just enjoy riding them, or even just because they like having them around. For those people, they may be important, but they are a luxury, like a boat or a snowmobile. When they economy takes a nose dive, those luxuries are harder to afford and cutbacks are made.

I see it in my shoeing business, where hooves are trimmed less often & horses go barefoot who would normally have shoes. People aren’t making the big road trips to go ride in the Black Hills, or elk hunt in Montana as much as a few years ago.

A few years ago, horses were selling pretty good and a lot of people decided to raise a colt or 2 every year, because it looked like “easy money”. I think the result of that was a lot of poor quality colts (not ALL off them, of course), whose owners lacked to resources to get them properly trained and marketed. The result was a glut in the market of lower end horses.

I’ve had horses since I bought my first one in 1966. He was a weanling (just off his mom) part Arab colt. I paid $100 for him. That same colt, today, probably would bring less money.

Pressure from the Humane Society and other groups, shut down the last U.S. plant that slaughtered horses just before the recession hit. The spike in abandoned horses in the downturn has sparked a debate over reopening plants.

It’s a tough issue. Opponents of horse slaughter say it’s cruel and unnecessary. The American Veterinary Medical Association last year estimated equine rescue facilities wouldn’t have the room or resources to aid the additional 90,000 to 100,000 horses every year that would no longer be able to be slaughtered in U.S. plants.

“I have some friends in the ‘horse rescue’ business,” Otterson said. “They recently bought a unregistered weanling for a dollar. They tell me they have practically been overwhelmed with requests to take in horses from people who can’t get them sold and can’t keep them.”

At one time, a horse no one wanted would get sold to the kill market and this kind of kept a floor on the prices. Bottom line, a horse was worth what it would bring by the pound and the price went up from there, based on the horse’s potential and abilities.

Now, because the kill market has been made such a complicated deal, there basically is no bottom on the price. And the fact is, there are horses out there no one wants.

Maybe through no fault of their own, but there are horses who can’t do a job for a variety of reasons, lameness, poor conformation, poor disposition, what ever, and no one wants them around. They need to go somewhere. That’s just a fact.

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Despite the gloom, Otterson’s hopeful for the the spring and believes the horse business will most likely turn around.

“I’ve still got a couple of broodmares that I think too much of to sell at current prices but that I don’t want to breed because I won’t get enough for the colts to even break even,” she said.

“My farrier business will survive, but it’s going to take time before it gets back to where it was.”

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