Running Free

International Generic Horse Association

Enzo Giobbe & a HorseAid friendEnzo Giobbe ("Gio-Bay"), DP'ing a feature
Never, ever ride like this! (1991)                                  Filming a motion picture (1999)

As former CEO of the IGHA, and the co-founder of HorseAid, I wish to welcome you to our 'Web presence' and share some of the following experiences and observations our organization has noted since we were founded in 1975.

This space is normally reserved for an organization's 'Mission Statement', but we at IGHA/HorseAid don't list any such 'published statement' as we believe the mission of any such organization as ours is pretty much self-evident; the abolishment of all equine abuse and slaughter, owner education in the ways and needs of horses -- including intelligent breeding programs that do not contribute to the equine overpopulation problem, laws severely restricting the commercial exploitation of horses, and 'common sense' humane equine legislation adopted as the norm for all the land.

Registration: While we were founded with the basic goal of recording and registering "generic" ('grade') horses and ponies, our founding trust also made provisions for the registration into our organization of all breeds (and types) of horses and ponies, this provision was effected so that owners of those purebred animals that were denied registration into their respective breed registry would have a second source for the registration of those animals.

Going beyond this basic goal, we would sincerely like to see the registration of every horse and pony foaled into a captive environment, and the accurate recording of those indigenous animals that are not. It makes absolutely no difference to us which registry or organization these animals are registered with, as long as they are registered.

This would benefit both the animals involved and the horse industry in general, as it would allow a significantly more accurate count of what the general horse population consists of (than is currently available from governmental agencies), and their population density. Also, our research has shown that registered horses usually have benefit of better care and more responsible owners.

We have always failed to comprehend why most horse owners fail to register their animals, as the small fee that most associations charge (based, we would assume, as are our fees, on a non profit projected cost of maintaining the records of a registered animal for an average period of 25 years) has to be one of the better values in the horse industry today.

Equine Overpopulation: As real estate continues to be a prime investment opportunity in the U.S., and more and more urban areas are developed to contain a greater population density, the areas available (or zoned) for equine use continues to dwindle. But because the amount of yearly foalings isn't decreasing at the same rate, the ratio of animals to available environment (and thus, horse owners) is decreasing sharply.

The net result is the 'soft' horse market we are now experiencing, with many animals not being able to fetch profitable selling fees, going to the killers, or just going without. We simply don't understand the reasoning behind a breeder (in the best of cases), bearing the added expenses of approximately $400 in extra feed and care for a mare in foal and prior to weaning, just to realize a sale of $200 for the resulting foal.

Many "backyard" breeders breed their animals because they think it would be "nice" to have a "cute" foal, and probably have the very best of intentions; many commercial breeders just breed for profit ('breed for greed'), and which (in our opinion) have the worst of intentions; and in the middle are those breeders who genuinely breed for a specific purpose or established market. Still, they all contribute in one way or another to an ever increasing equine overpopulation that cannot be placed with human companions who want (or can afford) them.

Our HorseAid volunteers see the negative results of this overpopulation almost daily, and while we don't know of any remedy for greed, we believe the most effective remedy for controlling this vast equine overpopulation before it reaches catastrophic proportions is through better owner and breeder education.

Equine Abuse: Most cases of equine abuse (on an individual level), are actually cases of equine neglect. Many horse owners are just not aware of the responsibilities or expenses involved in keeping and maintaining a large animal, or are too young or inexperienced to understand the complexities of caring properly for a horse or pony (and nobody has taken the time to properly educate them in these matters).

Most of the cases of abuse that are reported to HorseAid fall into this category, and while the abused (or neglected animal) cannot make the fine distinction between 'real' abuse and abuse caused by an owner's lack of knowledge (although obviously the animal suffers considerably more in the case of a truly abusive owner/handler), we can (and do) make such a distinction.

It has been our experience that a dollar spent on educating an unknowledgeable owner brings better results to both horse and owner than ten times that amount spent in 'rescuing' the animal from such an owner. Of course, in the small percentage of cases involving real abuse (physical and environmental abuse), we do seek to remedy the situation by the removal of the abused animal(s) from the abusive environment.

We have been much less successful in dealing with abuse (or abusive practices) when it concerns a particular breed or type of event (i.e., some areas of showing, equine competitions, etc.). The reasons for this are many, but are in large part due to the acceptance of such practices as 'normal' by unknowledgeable owners and event spectators, or an unwillingness to make such practices public for fear of the political (and economic) repercussions that might result from such disclosures.

More effective owner/spectator education and abusive practices disclosure -- along with the resulting unfavorable publicity concerning those practices, seems to be the most effective means to achieve reform in these areas.

Rider Safety: While having to relocate an animal for an owner who is either destitute or for other reasons can no longer care for that animal is indeed sad, having to relocate an animal for an owner who has been injured in a 'riding accident' is even more so.

We still continue to see far too many equine related injuries to riders that could have been relegated to 'just a little shaken up', but instead are of a more serious (and sometime fatal) nature, because the rider was not wearing an approved safety helmet (or proper equine riding attire, as in my example above).

We have heard all the arguments about "how unstylish they look", or how "uncomfortable they are", but in truth there is nothing stylish or becoming about a head cast, or comfortable about a concussion. If you don't want to wear a helmet for yourself, then do it for your horse!

Several years ago, HorseAid co-founder Staci Wilson was involved in a serious riding accident brought about by a careless mountain bike rider riding downhill on a steep horse trail with his head down (supposedly done to cut wind resistance, it also cuts out all forward vision).

When Staci started shouting a warning to him, he looked up, and upon seeing a horse and rider "suddenly" appear in his path, panicked -- and ran into Staci and her Icelandic gelding, "Stirnir Nottur" (Starnight), knocking both Staci and the horse to the ground. The bike rider then sped away without offering any assistance whatsoever.

Staci was thrown into a field containing sharp rocks, and knocked unconscious. When she came to, she searched for Starnight, and not finding him, hiked back the two miles to her corral.

Luckily, Staci never rides without an approved equine riding helmet, and in this case that decision undoubtedly saved her life. The helmet's exterior shell had been penetrated to a depth of around one inch by a sharp rock. Had she not been wearing a helmet, it would have been her head that was penetrated by the rock. It was easy to replace the helmet, and not possible to ever replace Staci.

Postscript to Staci's accident: Starnight was so traumatized by being crashed into by that bike, he would forever go into a panic whenever he heard the "whirring" of a bike on the trail, and finally (for his own well-being) had to be retired as a riding horse (he is now a HorseAid companion horse).

After walking back to her corral (Starnight was already there), Staci noticed that her little finger was bent all the way back (obviously broken), so she groomed and fed Starnight (and her other horses) and then sought medical attention for her finger.

While waiting in the hospital emergency room, she collapsed and was taken into emergency trauma surgery. She had ruptured her spleen in the crash (which had to be removed during the five hour surgery), and was slowly bleeding to death internally. She was in intensive care for the first two days (listed in critical condition), but after a ten day stay at the hospital, she went on to make a full recovery.

The hit and run bike rider was never caught.

Equine Charity: While we are first and foremost a chartered equine registry, we ALSO believe every registry has the moral obligation to involve itself in equine related humane issues dealing with both horse and man.

As an example, we sometimes receive complaints of an under-cared-for animal, only to discover an under-cared-for animal and its equally under-cared-for human companion. This is due sometimes to a severe economic situation, but in most of these cases we find a very elderly horse owner, living on a meager pension trying to provide sustenance for both man and beast on very limited resources.

In such cases we generally assign a IGHA/HorseAid volunteer to monitor the well-being of both animal and owner, along with underwriting such basic food and care that both may need. It makes no more sense to us in these cases to remove the animal from the owner (who has had the animal for many years, and may be the only source of company), than it would to remove the human from the animal (who has had the human for an equal number of years).

Such actions should not require an institutional effort from an international organization such as ours, and are much better served on a more local level by neighborhood horse owners and local equine associations who are willing to expand their vision beyond their own pastures.

In the past, the history of horsemanship has been the history of the individual, in more recent times, this was replaced by a 'group' (or breed) 'mentality', in which individualism was discouraged. And yet, it is still the individual who can and will have the greatest impact on the future of the horse world. Beyond the individual there still exists 'the fellowship of the horse' to which we all belong.

And a Fond Farewell...

In winding down my IGHA/HorseAid commitments to pursue my own career more aggressively, I have full confidence that the new CEO and newly installed Board of Directors will be in every way and sense as committed to equine beneficence as I have always been.

Reflecting on my many years as CEO of the IGHA, I realize that all the hard work that our organization of volunteers do day to day, has resulted in a significant beneficial difference to the horses. That fact alone makes all our hard work and many personal sacrifices worthwhile.

My final act as the IGHA CEO is really a parting gift to the horses. Staci and I have founded IGHA/HorsePAC, a political action committee for the horses. No matter how many horses are involved in a rescue, horses are still basically saved "one horse at a time", just as they have always been. The thought that by the single stroke of a pen, all the horses could be protected at once has always intrigued me. This is what led Staci and I to form and initially fund IGHA/HorsePAC.

As we enter the new millennium, I see a renewed effort on the part of equine rescue organizations everywhere to work together to accomplish those goals to which we are all committed; an end to all the horse slaughter and other equine abuses which have been so prevalent in our society for far too long. As the co-founder of HorseAid, it pleases me to realize that so many of the programs and policies we were first to develop are now being espoused by other rescue groups.

My greatest legacy may indeed be that HorseAid has become the font that these progressive horse rescues draw from. This new breed of equine rescue is not afraid to commit to the philosophy that a rescue should be forever, and have contracts and other safeguards in place to ensure that their rescues truly remain "rescued forever".

Enzo Giobbé
Co-founder of HorseAid


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