Paralympian who had to put down dangerous horse speaks out about horses being given away or sold cheaply

  • A Paralympic medallist and her daughter who had to put their horse down despite their best efforts have spoken out about horses being given away for free or sold cheaply, and urged owners to think about what the worst-case scenario could be.

    Last week H&H reported vet Natalie McGoldrick’s experience where she was called to an emaciated mare, who had recently been sold for a “bargain” price as a seven-year-old, but was found to be elderly and in poor health, and had to be put down. Natalie urged owners to “do the right thing“ by their older and unrideable horses, when they cannot provide suitable long-term care or retirement homes.

    Lauren Criddle and her mother Deb who was part of the London 2012 gold-medal winning para dressage team, agree with Natalie and have shared their experience of a KWPN gelding they bought in 2013 – who ultimately had to put down two years later when he was unrideable and dangerous.

    Lauren and Deb told H&H they heard from a friend about the well-bred seven-year-old, “Boston”, who was being sold for £1,000. Although Lauren and Deb were “taken aback” by his low price given his breeding, they decided to view him .

    “When we turned up Boston was at the back of the stable, which was full of poo, and he just looked broken. He had no hay, was windsucking constantly and you could see every one of his ribs. We knew something wasn’t right, but we felt so sorry for him we decided to take him,” Lauren told H&H, adding that the seller agreed to lower his price to £500.

    When Lauren and Deb went to collect Boston the following day, he had been turned out overnight and punctured the front of his hock on barbed wire fencing. Deb called a vet before taking Boston home, and in the end paid the seller £400 for him.

    Boston was given six months off while they tried to put his weight back on and he eventually became a “happier” horse. But on bringing him back into work, although he showed talent, he became unpredictable but vet checks, including X-rays, did not reveal any problems.

    “To start off with he was so jolly, and we could have put Mum on him he was so good. But the fitter he got the more erratic his behaviour became,” said Lauren.

    “Some days he was fantastic and he was like a £20,000 horse, but other times he was neurotic and would just flip. He really scared me on a few occasions, he would bolt, rear, and put us and him in danger. We decided to send him away to another professional trainer to see if it might help but it didn’t really make a difference.”

    Two years after buying Boston, Lauren and Deb made the decision to put him down when he started showing the same erratic behaviour on the ground, as well as under saddle.

    “I’m glad we gave him the chance, but we don’t regret putting him down because it was the right decision. We just wish we could have done more for him, but sometimes you can’t when they’re like that,” said Lauren.

    Deb added that it was clear Boston was very unhappy.

    “When he got to the stage he was, it was a no-brainer and the right choice. We had done everything we could to help him, but you can only do so much and then you have to make the right decision. We would never have put someone else in our position by selling him,” she said.

    Lauren and Deb have shared their experience to make people think before giving away older or unrideable horses for free or cheaply.

    “We don’t know if Boston had a neurological issue, or if he’d been beaten badly in his early years and was traumatised, but it’s hard to believe a horse of that breeding wasn’t in a loving home at one point in his life and for whatever reason ended up where he did,” said Lauren.

    “More and more I see posts of horses on Facebook that say ‘free to good home’, and you’ll see posts from people saying they’ve sold a horse for £500 as a companion and now it’s at a dealer and the owner is surprised that someone would drug it up and sell it on. But there’s people out there willing to do anything for money, especially in the horse world.

    “I’m fed up of seeing these posts – the other day there was a 20-year-old broodmare who could no longer be bred from, being offered for free and the person got offended when it was suggested she put her down. We don’t regret buying Boston, but I think when you take on a horse for free or for very little money there’s probably a reason and you have to weigh up whether you’re willing to take on a problem and give that horse a chance. It might work in your favour, but there’s a big chance it won’t.”

    Lauren believes there are a number of reasons why people try to give horses away.

    “I think some are not brave enough at making the decision to put them down, or it might be about the fact they’ve already lost money, and in some occasions maybe they’ve been shamed by others about making that difficult decision,” she said.

    “It’s not to to say that giving away a horse for free is always wrong, if you know who they are going to and that they are going to have a good home – but giving away a horse that is injured, old or dangerous, when that horse might end up being sold on is wrong.”

    Deb said owners need to consider the “very worst” that can happen when giving a horse away.

    “Once that horse is out of your hands, there is no control. You don’t know it’s not going to end up in the worst-case scenario, and surely it’s better not to put your horse through that? A percentage might go to good homes, but I can’t see that being the case for many. You still see so many for free posts, it’s heartbreaking,“ she said

    “No horse should end up in the situation Boston did, there should be a clear chain of responsibility. All of us as owners have to take this on board that putting them down when the time is right is part of the process, and it is our moral obligation. They are our friends, and we should do more for them.”

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