Sunday, June 21, 2015

Zombie Trailer Death Trap

Everyone I know who has been around horses for enough years has a story about horses falling through the back door or floor of a trailer on the highway.   There are several other variations on that theme.   I will not be posting You Tube videos to illustrate.

With that in mind, let me make the following confession:  I made a really horrible mistake.

I bought this trailer.

This is the self-congratulatory photo I posted on Facebook after I doctored it up on Instagram.  I literally gave it "highlights" to make it appear more youthful and less rusty than it really was.  (Yes, it works for trailers, too.)

I'm going to come right out and tell you what I paid for it, even though it gives me a really sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.  $3,400.

Okay, now that's a good price for a used three-horse trailer, isn't it?   Why, yes, it is a good price, and that's why I bought it.

We asked the seller how old the trailer was, and he said, "It's an older trailer."

I was not put off by this.  I am, relative to some, older, myself.

To paraphrase Blanche Dubois from A Streetcar Named Desire, All of the deep, important qualities just get better with age.

So why shouldn't the trailer, assuming it has been maintained properly,  be in fine shape?   The owner assured me that it was, indeed, and that he had in fact maintained it in top working order.  They said, and I quote, "It is 100% safe."

Here's another quote from Blanche Dubois.

I don't want realism. I want magic! Yes, yes, magic! I try to give that to people. I misrepresent things to them. I don't tell the truth, I tell what ought to be the truth. And it that's sinful, then let me be damned for it!

And that's why she is a tragic figure. 

In this story, Blanche Dubois is played by both the buyer and the seller of said trailer. 

The sellers were genuine horse people.  They weren't rich.  They lived up north, cheek by jowl with Minnesota.  Their daughter was an aspiring rodeo queen.   They were selling the trailer because they had acquired a fourth horse and they needed a bigger trailer.   

To me, it seemed (spoiler alert: here's the magical thinking part) providential.  

I had three horses.  I needed a trailer.  They sellers  lived all the way up near Minnesota, but they were coming all the way down to a town 15 minutes away from from where I lived to pick up their new trailer. It seemed like destiny.

 THEY ASSURED ME THAT THE TRAILER WAS SAFE.  They said, THE FLOOR WAS TOTALLY SOLID.... (The condition of the  floor is of critical importance to the safety of horses.)  

Moreover, the seller LOVED this trailer.  We texted via FB about how excited we both were about our respective new trailers.  She had taken her horses and daughter in this trailer to barrel races and rodeos all over Wisconsin and the Midwest.   She asked me to send her pictures of my horses in her beloved old trailer.  We friended each other on Facebook.  She was genuinely, GENUINELY, struggling to part with this CAN.   

So, that was her magical thinking.  And magical it was, because, frankly, it was only by PURE MAGIC and divine intervention that her horses did not fall through the floor on a highway.  

When I took the trailer to my mechanic, I was told it needed at least twelve-hundred dollars worth of work on the breaks and electrical.   They told me to make absolutely sure that the trailer was structurally sound before putting that much (more) money into it.

Now, I know what you're thinking.  Why didn't I make sure that it was structurally sound before buying it? Well, remember what the owners told me about it being 100% safe.  Recall their genuine pride in the work they'd done on it and their sincere affection for this trailer.  

My husband tore into the wooden floor planks with a chainsaw.

This is a picture of what we found under the planks:

What you are looking at are the metal supports for the wood plank floor.  The horses stand on the wood planks.   

As mentioned, prospective buyers aren't encouraged to tear up the wood planks in order to check out the metal supports.   One could (and SHOULD) take a flashlight and physically go under the trailer to get a clear sense of the condition of the framework.... But.... I doubt many actually people do that.  We didn't, and we should have.  

This metal support is not attached to the other side of the trailer.  It is just floating in space.

The photo below shows the deteriorated condition of the bottom edge of the trailer to which the metal supports are supposed to be attached.

This is another metal support that looks like someone took a big bite out of it.

The wood planks were in perfectly good condition, but obviously the framework that was keeping them off of the road was completely inadequate.

I sent these photos to the seller, and she was properly horrified.  But she soon got over it, and didn't had nothing further to say after that first There-but-for-the-grace-of-God-go-I gasp.  I did not get my money back.

But let's hope that, at a minimum, (looking for the silver lining here), by sharing this tale of woe I might prevent a single horse from having its legs dragged along a highway at 65 mph.

Trailers range in price from virtually nothing to many obscene thousands of dollars.  I love the fact that horses are not a strictly upper-class thing in the Midwest. Regular folks like can have horses, and enjoy lives that revolve around horses.

My worst offense was that I could have paid a little more ($1500 more, to be precise) and bought a new trailer that would have been structurally sound and safe.  But instead, motivated by a corrupt combination of desire and cheapness, (not to say thrift, which implies some innovation and a successful outcome), I allowed myself to be carried away by wishful thinking--with potentially disastrous results.

Let me just say, to my credit, that I never once put a horse in that trailer. No horse will ever step foot in it. I had it taken away for scrap metal (and got $200 for it).

The scary thing is that at any given time you can find half a dozen trailers for sale just like the one I bought--on Craigslist, on Ebay, on Facebook, in the Want Ads....I found mine on the "Facebook Wisconsin Horse Trailers Only" page.

These death-traps are sold everywhere. They're as ubiquitous as the stories of horses falling through trailer floors on the highway. Everyone who's been around horses long enough has heard at least one of those grisly stories.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Bite Me, I'm Herd-Bound

I have three horses here at my mini-farm.  Together, they are a herd.

Horses are herd animals, like antelope and bison.  Before these three knew each other, they belonged in other herds.   Before they came here, they had all lost their herds.

You can't say to a horse, Listen, I'm taking you away from your herd, BUT, and here's the thing, you're going to be fine.  You're going to have a new herd with new horses on a nice farm where you will be well cared for.  Don't worry!

You could say that to a horse, but it wouldn't make much of an impression.  It wouldn't make the horse feel better.  It wouldn't make him feel less stressed out in the trailer as he was driven away from his herd and brought to a strange new place that didn't smell particularly like horses.

Fire and Belle came first. Belle already knew and trusted me, but Fire didn't know me from Adam. He raced around our pasture with his tail flying like a visiting-team pendant.  Where are my boys? he might have been saying.

He had come from a herd with two young colts.  For over a year, he had watched over them and taught them how to be horses.

Tanner, our palomino, came about a month later.  From the farm up the street, his mates had been sold off one by one.  He was the last to go.   We could hear him calling from his pasture on the hilltop.


Belle and Fire would call back, Helloooo!

Are you a horse???

We are horses!  Are you a horse???

I am a horse!   Where are you, horses???

We're over here!!!  Where are you, horse???

I'm over here!!!

Good to know!!!

A little while later, Tanner would start up again.  Hellloooo???

A horse who has lost all his mates and is by himself, (except for a barn cat and a dog, who, under the circumstances, can provide a modicum of succor), is generally distressed.  So, I bought Tanner, and I added him to my herd.  (I should also add, he was a lovely yellow thing, shining like a penny in the sun.)

Tanner was approximately ten years old, a rescue horse without a paper trail.  A dent on his nose where a halter had grown tight gives some indication of his early travails.  I lurched back onto my ass on the (thankfully) rubber mat when, from his stall, he lurched out and bit me in the neck.  Just a superficial scratch over the jugular.  Could have been  worse.

Fire, the elder statesman, was not thrilled about the young interloper. Tanner was small, but unscrupulous and vicious.  Fire was appalled to find himself striped with bald hide where he'd been strafed by Tanner's teeth.

Understandably, Fire's ulcer began to act up.  Ulcers are common to Arabians, and Fire, a Polish Arabian with a sensitive outlook, was no exception.   I found him late one summer evening lying on his side, clearly in distress.  He couldn't get up.

This was my first experience with the dreaded colic.  I finally coaxed him to his feet, but he appeared completely miserable.   You're supposed to get them walking, so that things inside them get moving in the right direction. He would take a few steps and then stop to rest, obviously in pain.

Pretty quickly, the veterinarian arrived, and diagnosed gastric colic.  She gave Fire an injection against the pain and inflammation aggravating a roiling and convoluted alimentary canal. Forty-five minutes later, Fire was perfectly comfortable in his stall, on his feet.

Crisis averted.

All three horses seemed strung out, that summer.  It compromised their immune systems.  Their parasite counts went way up.  All of their eyes blew up with allergies--Tanner's face was suppurating plasma. Belle broke into hives the size of wine bottle corks.  Fire threatened to colic every time Belle went into heat.  Drama city!

If you've ever brought home a dog from a shelter, you've experienced separation anxiety.  After one-and-a-half-years in shelters, my dog Gretchen was so glad to be adopted, she couldn't hold her bowels in the car beyond a quarter mile from our house. She figured we were taking her back to the shelter.  I figured this had probably happened to her a few times.  Eventually, we could drive a mile down the road to my son's preschool; then, a mile and a half to the dog park...I'm not saying there weren't accidents.  (There were.) But, six years later, she's right as rain.

All three horses had separation anxiety--and it centered on Belle.  She was the focal point of the herd. The geldings were never far from her.  If I had Belle on a lead, Fire and Tanner would happily follow behind, without any lead attached to them at all.  If they doddled, Belle would call to them, and they would pick up the pace.  If I put Belle in the barn, the geldings would come along of their own accord and settle into their own stalls, which were beside and directly across from Belle.

A few weeks ago, my neighbor up the street asked me to bring my horses to her pasture to chew down her grass, which was copious.  It was a fool's errand, since three horses could hardly be expected to make a dent in so much acreage, though they could founder in the attempt.   (Too much sweet spring grass is bad for horses' feet--go figure.)

But, I wanted to be a good neighbor, so I brought Belle over to their farm first, and then I walked back to my farm and tacked up Fire, who was already rather anxious.

Fire could hear Belle up the hill, so he was happy to go in that direction.  We had a short but fun ride across the lawn and up the hill.  By the time I had Tanner in hand, Belle was already calling to him. We're over here!  Hurry up!  The grass is delicious!  So much grass!

All good. Until... I had to bring them back home.

Running short of time, I worried first about Belle.  She eats with too much gusto, and this pasture was like unlimited Ben & Jerry's with hot fudge and whipped cream.  She had been eating for three hours. I needed to bring her back first.

By the time I returned, ten minutes later, Fire was completely soaked in the cold sweat of panic, and Tanner was racing at top speed up and down the fence line.  All three horses were screaming.

I brought Fire down next, so he wouldn't stroke out.  At home at last, he trotted with Arabian pageantry in triumph through the pasture.

From the hill, I could hear Tanner trilling.


Tanner!!!  Where are you???


Tanner!!!  Get down here right now!!   

I had to pick up our exchange student from school.  I was already late.  Tanner would have to stay where he was for another fifteen minutes.

I felt horrible leaving him there.  Few horse people cogitate from as much acute  empathy as I, which acute empathy I'm told only makes horses crazier.   I reminded myself of this pragmatism over and over as I drove at top speed into town. I used telepathy to assure Tanner that I would come back and had not truly abandoned him.

I am not returning you to your previously solitary life as a horse with only painful memories of a lost herd and the sound of Belle's voice resonating in your ears from an intolerable distance.   

We drove directly to the neighbor's farm.  Tanner was snorting and screaming, all flared nostrils and hot sweat.  I could feel my enormous stress evaporate as I secured him in the halter and led him through the open gate and down the hill.

God forbid, we should anthropomorphise about these dumb creatures.  Let the facts as I've presented them speak for themselves.  Infer what you will.  I, for one, have redoubled my efforts to consider the horses' perspective from a place of empathy.

Our exchange student, by the way, is leaving soon for Brittany, France.  He entered our lives as a stranger, but, sometime over the past ten months, he became a member of the herd.

Of course, we'll miss him, but we'll be busy.  We'll paint the barn.  I will make great strides with Tanner's training as a trail horse. My son has a heavy schedule of enriching summer programs ahead of him.  And Baptiste will return to his real family, in France.  They certainly miss and love him.  Next fall, he will start his first year at university.  He'll be very busy, too.

When someone separates from the herd, humans don't run back and forth along the fence line screaming our heads off. We have the great advantage of keeping ourselves busy.  And of course we are able to communicate complex information with each other that should be enormously comforting, like, Everything's going to be okay.

How much easier it would be if I could explain to Fire and Tanner, Listen, dudes, I'm just taking Belle out for a trail ride.  She'll be back in three hours. 

That would spare them a lot of grief.

But then again, if I said to Belle,  Hey, don't worry!  Tanner is only going to Europe.  He'll return, someday, for a brief visit, probably.  Anyway, you're both very busy with all that hay you have to chew.  

I don't know how that would go over, but I think she might bite me.