The notion of giving a child a pony for Christmas is such an enduring one that it’s almost a cliché. It’s not hard to understand why the idea persists. What kid wouldn’t want to wake up Christmas morning to a fuzzy new friend in a big red bow by the Christmas tree? But the British Horse Society (BHS) is warning would-be horse buyers to rethink the idea of making this fantasy a reality.
“We were so disappointed to see such an irresponsible email coming from Horsemart,” said BHS Senior Welfare Executive Lee Hackett. “A horse is for life, not just for Christmas.”
In recent years, horses have been neglected or abandoned in the countryside in the United Kingdom due to the uncertain economy and irresponsible breeders who can’t or won’t take care of the equines they’ve bred.
This story will resonate with horse lovers in North America who have heard the same thing for the past several years. With equine neglect a persistent problem and most rescue organizations operating at or over capacity, responsible owners understand that a horse is not a purchase to be made on a whim.
The email in question promoted horses under £500 (approximately $800) as “great Christmas presents,” but the purchase price is not the most important financial question when deciding to purchase a horse or pony. With a lifespan of 30 years and expensive food, shelter, health care and shoeing needs, even a free horse becomes an expensive purchase. Furthermore, Horsemart received criticism for including ads for young, untrained colts in the email, suggesting that such horses would be a good gift for children.
“Particularly reprehensible is that the horses shown in the email are all young animals designed to pull at the emotions of unsuspecting buyers,” said Hackett. “These horses would need careful handling from experienced people to develop and prepare for their future. They are most certainly not to be exploited for Christmas.”
For parents wishing to make holiday dreams come true, there are several options more responsible and sustainable than becoming a horse owner.
- Riding lessons are an ideal gift for any aspiring equestrian. Children (and novice adults) should learn proper horse care and develop solid riding basics before having a horse of their own, and riding lessons are a good first step.
- For a rider with a few years of lessons under her belt, leasing or half-leasing a horse is a good introduction to ownership, but without the lifelong commitment. A lease allows for more saddle time and offers a taste of the work involved in horse ownership. If the child decides that it’s not for her, the parents won’t be stuck with a pony to unload.
- Many families have opted to make charitable donations instead of giving tangible gifts. Consider making a donation to a local equine rescue. Visiting the rescue later will help illustrate the value of charitable giving while demonstrating why it’s so important to be a responsible horse owner.
The BHS encourages those with the resources and knowledge to properly care for a horse to contact a reputable rescue to help find the right equine partner.