How do you find a home for a horse that you are retiring if you can’t keep that horse with you? It’s a situation that can turn bad quickly as evidenced by a recent news story. A tragic story coming out of Georgia concerns horses and the possibility they were sent to slaughter instead of having comfortable retirement homes. A jury indicted Fallon Blackwood, a third-year veterinary student at Tuskegee College of Veterinary Medicine, in October of 2018, with “13 counts of bringing into the state property obtained by false pretense elsewhere.” The Blount County, Alabama sheriff’s office arrested her this past weekend at a rodeo. The allegations against her arise from complaints filed by individuals who gave Ms. Blackwood their horses based on her promise that they would live their lives on a farm Ms. Blackwood owns. Ms. Blackwood, however, could not tell the former owners where the horses were when they inquired about them, and according to District Attorney Pamela Casey, the horses are believed to be dead. Because the DA did not want to discuss facts of the case, she would not go so far as to say whether she believed Ms. Blackwood sent them to Mexico for slaughter. The former owners believe that is exactly what happened. Ms. Blackwood posted bail while the case is pending trial, and according to students at Tuskegee, was back on campus for classes leading to her graduation in May.
The allegations, if proven true at trial, are a horrible example of what can happen to a horse that is given away without any legal protections put into place. The best way to protect your horse is to provide her with a lifelong home. Realistically, that is not always possible. Here are five things you can do if you are in the situation of giving your horse away to someone:
- Use a contract, not a handshake. I know that in the horse world, we like to think that everyone loves horses and is honest with us about them. But the horse world is comprised of imperfect humans, just like the rest of society. A contract drafted by an equine attorney sets out the expectations of both parties and protects them if something goes wrong. It also protects the horse because you can make sure your horse is getting the care you expect.
- Get updates. You should make sure that you get constant updates from the person who is giving your horse a home. These updates should be included in the contract, and you must make sure you enforce them. Details such as how often you get the updates, how you get them (for example, pictures sent via email, or updates posted to a Facebook page), and what happens if you don’t receive the updates should all be stated in your contract.
- Don’t accept excuses. I know that most of the people reading this article are women because we make up the majority of the horse world. We are told to be nice, not offend others, and certainly not think the worse of someone. But if you aren’t getting the updates stated in your contract, don’t accept excuses. Go and see your horse or contact someone you know in the area to go see the horse. Again, this is another detail to put into your contract. Any horse person will understand that you want these protections because we have all read the horror stories like the one concerning the allegations against Ms. Blackwood.
- Visit the facility and get references – and check them out! You can make sure that the person is representing herself honestly by going to see the facility and getting references. Ideally, you want to see the facility at a time when you are not expected. Doing so is not a problem with a public facility because you can simply show up. Private property is a bit trickier because you obviously can’t trespass on private property. In that case, you may need to drive by at an unexpected time, depending on how much of the facility is visible from a public road. This situation leads to the importance of getting references and then following through and contacting them. Don’t just get friends. Get a list of other people who have horses there or have had them there in the past. Get the vet, farrier, and other equine-service provider to provide you with references. With the Internet at your fingertips, do a Google search and look at social media pages. While it’s true that anyone can leave a bad review, and sometimes people malign others because they simply don’t like them, doing a thorough search and speaking to people may lead you to more information that allows you to feel comfortable about the person or raises red flags.
- Go with your gut. We have all heard stories of someone saying, “Well, I had a bad feeling about it, but I didn’t listen to my gut, and I should have.” If you are discussing the possibility of your horse going to someone, and it just doesn’t feel right, then don’t do it. You can find another situation for your horse. Some people tell me that they don’t want to offend someone by turning them down. All you need to do is say that the situation isn’t right for your horse. You don’t owe them a further explanation. Think of your horse first.
I will update my blog when the case concerning Ms. Blackwood is decided. In the meantime, please feel free to contact me if you want to talk more about how you can protect your horse when you look for her retirement home.