With all the technology at our fingertips, it is amazing what a simple Google search can dig up. Show records (horses or riders), USEF numbers, breed registries, Facebook groups, forum threads…it isn’t hard to find a wealth of information about anything and everything horse-related.
In the age of oversharing, some parents have adamantly taken to keeping their children off of their social media completely, or very minimally, to protect them and keep them out of the highlight reel that they didn’t agree to being on. But what about our horses? They’re kind of like our kids, right? What are you doing to protect your horse?
Online registries and records are a great way to track down old owners, find out a horse’s past, see their show results, and figure out their lineage if you are in the market for a new horse. But what if those same outlets you don’t want to be publicized?
Welcome to the Horsey Witness Protection Program.
My horse is a rescue. When he was seized, he was taken with a large number of horses, and because of the volume of horses taken, they had to be split up over several rescue barns, as no one facility could house all of them. The first time I went to see him I was given the barn address over the phone. Once I had arrived, I had to sign paperwork stating I wouldn’t tell anyone where the barn was, how I’d gotten there, who I was with, who I met, what I saw, how many horses I saw, I couldn’t take pictures, etc.
I thought it highly secretive at the time, but went with it. It wasn’t until I was signing the adoption paperwork that they told me why. “The owner that these horses were taken from is malicious”, they told me (I’ll never forget their word choice on that one). Apparently, the former owner had been trying to track down their horses and get them back, hence the secrecy.
As someone who had just acquired their dream horse, it was enough to scare me into promising to do whatever I could to protect him.
I renamed him, immediately. Partially because his given barn name was absolutely AWFUL, and partially because I’d come up with a name that fit him–and I wanted him to have a clean slate.
The other suggestion from the rescue was to change his registered name, if I could. Luckily, when the horses were seized, any of the horses that were registered also had their papers taken with them. I contacted the breed registry to let them know of the unique circumstances surrounding the owner transfer (which usually requires signatures from both the previous owner and the new owner), and inquired about changing his name. Unfortunately, in this particular case, it was not possible.
**Note: this was the situation for one particular breed registry. There are different criteria for each breed registry and changing registered names, but it CAN be done in some circumstances**
At that point, I wasn’t too concerned-I wasn’t planning on having to use his registered name for anything in the near future.
Next, I set out to do some research on my new horse. Unsure where to start, I googled his registered name. It took me about 30 minutes, and in that time I found where he’d been bred, researched the breeder, found a forum that described when and where he’d been sold and descriptions of him at the time, found a YouTube video of his sire and looked up his show record, gone back in his pedigree to find some really awesome ancecstors, and found pictures of him as a baby and yearling. I found his previous owners on multiple social media websites.
And it was TERRIFYINGLY easy.
I knew that I had to protect my horse and the footprint I made online with him.
I don’t use his barn name when I post about him on any of my social media accounts. He has another nickname I use; I have friends that have to ask what his name is when they meet him because I so rarely use his actual name.
And when it came time to show, I knew I couldn’t use his registered name. I wanted to show in recognized classes, which meant that our show record would most definitely be online. A friend helped me come up with a very clever misnomer for a show name, which I like significantly more than his registered name anyways.
I’ll only have to worry about his registered name as his show name if I ever choose to show in breed shows. Since we compete in a discipline that isn’t typical for his breed, breed shows aren’t really on our radar right now.
We’ve been to multiple barns, shown, traveled, live in a different state now and he’s been with me almost 4 years–but I never am any less careful with her online representation.
I know most horse owners aren’t in a situation where they need to think about these types of things, but I also know it’s something I didn’t really consider until I owned a rescue horse (and until I started to dig around and found out how easy it is to whip up information).
Monitoring his presence on social media lets me brag on my horse and his accomplishments and share cute pictures without there being a blatant trail behind us if the wrong people wanted to follow it. He might not be in hiding per se, but he has turned over a new leaf, and is a completely new horse.