“My stalls have never looked this bad. Ever, I swear on my life,” the man professed to Jim and I. Repeatedly.
Really? And just how much is your life worth, buddy? I thought, as I walked through the dilapidated stable, staring into the horses’ stalls. Almost all of them, numbering around 25 or so, were filthy. No, filthy is too kind a word. Atrocious. Repulsive. I could go on, but I think you get the picture. The stable was in falling-down condition. Flies were everywhere. The cobwebs in the eaves and beams of the ceiling (and rapidly encroaching on the stalls) were as thick as blankets, made ever more visible by the thick coating of dust that covered them. Food buckets were empty. Water buckets were filled with slimy fluid. There was almost no light. Hardly any fans to circulate the stifling heat. And the worst were the floors. In most of the stalls the horses stood on inches of feces. Not a piece of straw in sight. They looked at us with interest, some demanding attention by nuzzling, others just staring from darkened corners.
One of the horse owners led us through. He lived in a tiny trailer on the property. He must have been the one who called us to report the conditions, although I couldn’t be sure. He told us the horses’ names, and who their owners were. He said, “When you guys came out before, the owners cleaned up, but the day after, everything went right back to the way it always is.” And the SPCA knew this place well.
It was a boarding-only facility. The horses’ owners were responsible for everything. All care. All cleaning. Even refilling water buckets. Fans had to be provided by the owners. In short, the woman who owned the stable merely collected rent money. And nothing else. There was no one there to care for the animals if the owners didn’t do it themselves, aside from the man showing us around, who would do the minimum if he saw a horse suffering. The stable owner showed up shortly after our arrival, as did some of the horse owners, as soon as word of our presence spread through the grapevine.
Excuses and stories of life’s hardships and why they couldn’t possibly get to the stable to take care of their horses made my head ache. Seemed everyone had relationship issues, time conflicts, and money woes, but frankly, I couldn’t have cared less. Simply put if it’s too hard, don’t own a horse. Horses are time- and money-consuming animals. They require lots of care, and owning one can be immensely rewarding, but sacrifices of time and a large amount of effort is required to keep them healthy and happy. Neglect is a form of abuse, and these people were neglectful. I could tell that Jim didn’t want to hear the tales of woe either; he walked slowly through the stable taking lots of pictures and notes; he tried to appear understanding but only to a point.
And then there was the “I swear on my life” guy. Over and over he said it. Along with: “I promise, tonight I’m going to clean them up.” Why not stop following us around, crossing your heart and hoping to die, and do it now? I thought. As if to show us he meant business, he led a beautiful stallion out of the stable and into the barely half-acre-sized field. I wondered how long it had been since that horse had seen the field; he ran with ears pointed forward and tail high, back and forth, snorting and puffing with endless energy. He looked so happy. But just because the horse was out of the stall didn’t mean the guy was cleaning it. No. He continued to stand there and try to convince us of his and the other owners’ innocence and good intentions.
But the SPCA’s file on this stable was thick and patience was wearing thin. Jim didn’t mince words when he told the stable owner that if she couldn’t or wouldn’t enforce the rules with the horse owners (most of which were SPCA requirements) she needed to hire someone to provide for the animals. He effectively shot down every argument she gave, including those regarding a lack of funds to pay someone.
“Look, pay them minimum wage. I don’t care. But at the very least these horses need clean water and food multiple times a day, and they need clean stalls. Every day. And exercise. And vet care. End of story,” he told her. “And PLEASE, get some working light bulbs in there.”
I left feeling exhausted, seeing the horses’ imploring and plaintive stares in my mind. They seemed beaten down and so sad. I was angry once again, and that hollow in my stomach was ever-present. I knew how hard it would be to enforce any rules with those people. They were like so many others who just don’t care.
The next day a citation was issued and the stable owner was fined. I wondered if it would make any difference for the lives of those horses. I swear on MY life, I will fight for better conditions for them and so many like them.