A Note about Sugarbush Draft Horses

I see it over and over again, and no matter how many times it's said, it's still wrong. "Sugarbush Drafts are just an Appaloosa Draft Cross". Uh.... no. The Sugarbush Draft Horse was a breed created many years ago in Ohio. While the initial cross was made using Percherons to Appaloosas, in the many generations following, the breed has been solidified into a consistent type. Saying these horses are "just" a draft cross makes as much sense as saying that AQHA horses are "just" a Thoroughbred cross, American Cream Drafts are "just" a dilute Belgian, or that Morgans are "just" a grade.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Slaughter and horse value

Uh oh, I'm going to do it again.  Yesterday, I couldn't take it any more.  All the conversations about horses and slaughter going around facebook made me almost bonkers.  It's not that debate is a bad thing.  In fact, I really like debate - both doing it, and as a principle.  The problem though, is that people are simple regurgitating the information that someone else said.  Many people don't even stop to THINK about the concepts.  On the surface they look good, so they are accepted as fact.

This is not always the case.  As a very wise man once said, "For every complex problem, there is a solution that is simple, neat, and wrong." (H. L. Mencken ).  In the case of the value of a horse, it seems that nothing is simple.

Now, having a meat value for horses will bring some prices up from $0, but not all of them.  If your horse horse, say, has no meat on it, well, it's not exactly going to be worth much.  If your horse is sick, ill, or too lame to be transported, then it won't be worth meat prices.  Why?  Because these horses are NOT in demand by those wanting to eat their flesh because they have no flesh.  I'm sorry to be crass, but that's the sad truth.

So, right there, the theory is busted.  "But, for a healthy horse, there's now a minimum value" some will say.  Um, maybe, but is that value really any more then we already have?  Here in my area there are tons of horses listed for free.  There are thousands listed for under $500 bucks.  That's way more supply then even the slaughter houses can demand.  And for every horse that is sold, it seems that 2 more take its place, especially with the feed prices going up as high as they have.

But of course, that's not even the whole story.  Just take a look at those cheap horses on Craig's List, or the classifieds.  I will guarantee you that there's something wrong with them.  From my recent searches, it seems that most of the free and almost free horses are pretty much untouched.

Most people who purchase a horse do not have the skills to train a rank and unmanageable animal that weighs around a half ton.  When you consider the cost of training, you quickly realize that it's cheaper to buy an already trained horse.  Why, at nearly $500/month for training, and a bare minimum of 50 days at the trainer, plus the purchase price, you're looking at a horse that's already over $1000 dollars.  For what?  An unregistered horse who is green as grass?  Lets say the initial purchase price was only $500, you now have $1500 invested in a horse that's most likely still pretty touchy and inexperienced.  When you check out the horse sales, for the same price you can get this:

An 11 year old, grade gelding, ridden often but able to be ignored for a year and picks up like he never left off, trained through first level dressage, learning western, and about as bomb proof as a horse can get.  Ok, he's mine, and yeah, he's got ulcers, but still.  If you want a "plug and play" horse, well, this is what you get for the same price as some one else's garbage plus training.

So, if you think about it for a second, you'll quickly see that it doesn't make any sense to go out and "save" that horse some idiot didn't put the time into.  Not if what you're looking at is your pocket book!

Now, I have to mention here that I completely support people buying the "worthless horse".  I think it's wonderful, and tend to do it myself, but I do it knowing that the "cheap" horse is rarely a good value.  We should do this because we can help the horse, not because we can save a buck.  I also want to point out here, that the "idiot" I refer to who has horses of little to no value, are not always the back yard breeders.  Have you ever seen the prices that race horses go for?  Or look at the big breeding farms and their culls?  "Idiot" and unethical breeders are not based on their size, nor their profit margin.  Because trust me, I could make a hell of a lot more money if I didn't care about my horses so much.  It's not really hard to get people to spend money after they have fallen in love, but it's also not really the most ethical way to do business either.

So, back to my point.  The free horses won't really be affected by reopening slaughter.  The cheap horses are too prevalent to go away due to slaughter.  So how exactly does slaughter help the value of horses?

It doesn't. 

The value of a horse is based on what someone would pay for it.  The economy is in the tank, so people don't exactly have a whole lot of extra cash running around.  Even the best breeders are feeling it, and reducing the numbers they breed.

Now, from my experience selling horses (and I've sold a few) what buyers say they want, and what they really want aren't always the same thing.  People will spend more money on a well trained horse, regardless of how it looks.  Cross train that pony, and you'll get a decent price for it, it doesn't matter if the horse is GOOD at what you've trained it to do, so long as it's WILLING to do what it is asked.  Most of us will never ride the level that our horses natural talents can achieve, so a decent ability in many things is a very appealing thing to a buyer.  If my dressage horse can cut cattle one weekend, and trail ride the next, while bringing home ribbons, then I only need one horse, not 3.

Then of course, there's the looks.  I don't care what you say, a pretty horse brings more money.  Add some color and hair, and the value just went up again.  People will save for years for a bit of hair (why, I don't know, because in all honesty, it's SO much work!).  Add in big eyes, little ears, and a pretty head, and the price increased again.  Ewe necks, knock knees, cow hocks?  Yeah, about 90% of the horse population can't see those things for themselves.  I mean, just look at Boo, my Arabian gelding.

He's sickle hocked, super short backed, short necked, straight shouldered, and behind in the front, as well as a touch club footed on the front left.  But, he sure is "pretty" isn't he?  In reality he's a conformational night mare.  Nothing is bad enough to cause problems for the average rider, but he's most definitely NOT breeding quality.  I can't tell you how many people think I've lost my mind when I mention that he's a conformational wreck.  I love him, but he's not perfect - no horse is.

So, should his conformation set his value?  Or should his pretty?  Or should his training?  Me, I think it's the training.  Boo will pack around just about anyone, for as long as you ask, and be happy enough doing it.  He's lazy, so running out on his rider is not likely.  He's the perfect horse for any kid, basically!  And the fact that he actually likes kids makes him that much better.

So, does the fact that horses are being sold into slaughter make a horse like Boo more valuable?  I don't think so.  A horse like Boo is the type of horse that people don't sell, not ever.  I almost sold him, but I admit, I backed out at the last minute, because I knew I could never truly replace him.  His value is set by what he'll tolerate, not how much fat he has on his ribs.

If you're going to value your horses by the bare minimum, then you are doing something wrong!  I know I won't make a lot of friends by saying that, but it's the sad truth.  I got away from Appaloosas, because I felt like there was no way to break even at them.  With so many other people pumping out horses and doing nothing with them, then selling them based on some value that they had decided was more important then what the horse was able to DO (color, papers, or what ever) I just wasn't able to compete in that market.  Hell, I was barely able to keep up with it!  Don't take that wrong, I still love a good App, but I sure won't be breeding any myself.

And if you're going to be basing your minimum price on the meat value, you'd better get into drafts!

I'm kidding.  As most people know, I love a nice draft horse, and think that there are so many good things about them.  But they are bigger, and you would think that would make their minimum value higher, especially if you're basing the minimum value of a horse on its meat price, right?  Oddly, it doesn't.  The minimum price of a draft horse in 2005 was about the same as that of a 14.0 hand AQHA horse of unknown lineage, is neither had been trained to do anything.

And even in the prime of the horse industry, back in 2000, I was given a lovely little Anglo Arab mare, for FREE, because they couldn't even touch her to get her to auction.  By the time she left my place, she was started under saddle, and a real pest for love.  When I got her, she was healthy, so why was she free if the slaughter of horses places a minimum value on them?

Could it be that the value of a horse is more on what their person teaches them, and less on how much they weigh, and that slaughter will have little impact on the prices we see for horses?

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