Friday, May 10, 2013

10th May, 2013 Debt Crisis

As anyone in debt will know, and the Government clearly knows, it is much harder to climb out of debt than it is to stay in the black in the first place. Debt always attracts a much higher interest rate than savings invested in a stable plan. It's the same with horse training. When a horse has a debt made up of negative experiences, then the trainer has to work harder to overcome not just the debt but the mounting interest so that it can feel as if the same money is being paid over and over again. In some cases, just like the British Economy it's a struggle just to decrease the deficit and the underlying debt isn't touched at all.

Take the 15 month old colt I am working with at the moment. Nothing short of a lottery win is going to pay off his debt in one go. As a semi-feral, he started off in effect with a student loan; no interest payable but a debt all the same. Since then he has had a particularly bad time at the Drift where for unfathomable reasons he was treated with unusual harshness much to the distress of his owner. Although she complained at the time, she still asked for a head collar to be put on him and of course this had to be forced. This created an enormous debt and over the coming months the interest built up with nothing much being paid off. Like a lot of people she believed and hoped that he would come round to being handled in his own good time and that just being around people and friendly, domesticated horses would teach him that humans could be trusted. She spent a lot of time sitting and talking to him, offering him food from the hand which he took but as soon as he had enough or anyone tried to touch him, he left. That's what he learned to do. She even made a hand on a stick and touched him with that and in time she could touch his neck and face with her own hand. Nevertheless the underlying debt was huge, and actually getting bigger, so that when the head-collar was produced he was having none of it.

Inevitably the time came when he needed to be gelded but a big dose of Sedalin in his feed made no impact on him whatsoever so that when the vet decided to trap him in the side of the field shelter with a five bar gate (!) the colt made a leap for it, crashed through the gate and left. Fortunately no-one was injured, including the colt and unbelievably he is still willing to go into the field shelter and be closed in.

I feel like the Chancellor of the Exchequer at the moment with only a very limited opportunity to reduce the deficit before the need to geld him becomes imperative. He lives next to mares with only stock fencing and a strand of barbed wire to deter him from going in to them. Like most colts he will think he is invincible and so at some time he is going to try it.

The moral maze is do I do what I can or do I walk away and say I may not be able to make a sufficient difference in the time available before he has to be gelded to make that any easier an experience for all involved? Ethically is it all right to try to convince a pony that all is well with the world when I know that he is probably going to have another dire time with the vet which may absolutely bankrupt him?

By contrast, when a horse's 'bank account' is in the black, the owner reaps unexpected benefits from his training in the form of small but regular interest payments - this is latent learning where the horse suddenly seems to really get something or to have made progress on his own. The training investments need to be conservative rather than highly speculative in order to avoid the risk of losing everything and plunging into the red.

(Thanks to Amanda Barton for planting the seed of a horse bank account in my mind).