Addiction is defined as "A habit or practice that damages, jeopardizes or shortens one's life but when ceased causes trauma, or a pathological relationship to mood altering experience that has life damaging consequences. "
Most of the time the word "addiction" is associated with mind or mood altering substances, such as drugs or alcohol. However, we now know that there are actions that can be addicting as well: gambling, overeating, shopping, and even sex. The definition of "addiction" has been expanded to include behavior in a broader sense--any type of behavior that a person engages in that they cannot stop doing, even to the detriment of others.
The five symptoms of any addiction are:
1. Unable to meet responsibilities at home, school or office.
2. Continues to use substances or engage in behavior even when it is dangerous.
3. The need increases to engage in behavior or use more of a substance to achieve the same effect or feeling.
4. Has tried but failed to stop using the substance or end the behavior.
5. Continues to engage in the behavior or use the substances even when they are aware of the dangers.
Only answering yes to 3 of the above symptoms consititutes an addiction.
Horses can become an addiction. I know. I am a horse addict.
And I don't mean that in a cutsie "My boyfriend can't keep me away from the barn" sort of way. I was a true addict and like an alcoholic, I will always be a horse addict. So, rather than give a secondary example, I will provide a first-hand account of my addiction, the consequences, and what I now must to do keep my "habit" in check.
I've always loved horses. I grew up with horses, and so when I got out on my own, my goals always included having and showing horses again. The opportunity came when I got out of law school and began making enough money to board a couple of them. Then I found out I was going to move to a place where I could keep my horses on my own land, so suddenly two horses became four. In my mind, I could, so why wouldn't I?
In Arizona, four horses became six, then a move back to Kansas and in in two years six became eighteen. I know it seems ridiculous. Looking back, I completely agree. At the time, though, I kept finding opportunities to get more horses--ones that would improve my herd, ones that I could breed to my stallion, ones that I thought I could ride or show or that just needed to be rescued and put into a good home. I'd buy/adopt trailer-loads of horses at a time, thinking I could do this or that with them, all the while living on the hope that one day all my dreams would come true.
The thing is, I could take care of eighteen. I leased 60 acres of pasture, and in the winter I brought them all home and put them on roundbales of dairy-quality alfalfa. They were fat and healthy. I had land and the room. They all got their needed veterinary care. They were all easy to handle and I worked with the ones that weren't. I had eighteen horses because I could. I bred several mares because I could.
It had never occured to me, that just because I could, didn't mean I should.
I had so many horses the only thing I had time for was to feed them. Only a couple of lucky ones got shelter in the winter. I had to convert my garage into a foaling stall one year because I was so ill-prepared. My house was a mess. Every bit of my freetime was spent on the computer searching for more horses. I borrowed from next paycheck to buy gas to go get another horse two states away. My relationships suffered. Instead of buying basic neccessities (like clothing, food, doctor's visits, haircuts) all my money was spent on just feed for my horses. I couldn't even afford things for them like vaccinations and wormer. Once in a while I would get them caught up on those things, but as soon as I did they were all due again and I couldn't afford it.
I spent a lot of money trying to save horses. I let my emotions lead me to believe I was doing a good thing, when all I was doing was creating an outlet for people who didn't want to take responsibility for their own in-actions--aka, "Just give them to Jessie and she'll fix them." It was emotionally and financially draining, as many of these horses were neglected to the point that they were permanently affected.
I couldn't afford tack to ride in, so I never was able to properly break out a horse, and I could afford to show any. I didn't have any room in my facilities to properly fit a horse to show, even if I could have found the time or money. I was in debt for my hay, to my vet, and to anyone else that would let me get anything on credit. I was eeking (purposefully spelled wrong) out a way of life, always putting horses first, no matter what the cost to me, or even to the horses I loved.
Ultimately, my inability to control my own addiction led to harming those I love most. I leased out horses that did not receive even the basic care that they required and it cost several of them their lives. I didn't face my own responsiblity of putting down one beloved horse that I should have, instead letting her suffer for another year (once again trading judgement for hope). I didn't geld a colt I sold and he ended up in the hands of someone who had no business owning a stallion, so he ran through a fence breaking his back legs. All these things happened because of me--because I was too consumed by my addiction to realize that if I had only owned a few horses, I could have cared for them better, been better-prepared for the unexpected, been able to afford gelding and been able to face my responsiblity to euthanize those that are suffering without any hope of recovery. I now face a lifetime of consuming guilt for these things that I did, because of my addiction.
Today I only have four horses. I am not overexaggerating when I say it is a daily struggle to maintain status quo. I get offered beautiful horses all the time. In fact, I was recently offered, for free, a gorgeous broodmare who I've adored for YEARS. She recently had a colt that I would have owned if I could have afforded him, and I could easily do the same exact cross again for the next few years. This mare produces stunning foals, is a dilute color and a pretty nice pedigree. I really wanted her--I still do. I could easily get her. I have room. I have feed. I make enough money to afford another one to worm, vaccinate, trim, and vet.
But I said no. I said no because just because I can, doesn't mean I should. I said no because she doesn't fit into my current plans. I said no because having that thrill of me getting a new horse only takes away from my concentration on my current ones. I said no because rather than spending money feeding, breeding, and foaling out more horses I can spend that money on other experiences: showing the horses I have, paying down my debt and ultimately taking the trip to Peru I promised my friend several years ago.
Right now every one of my horses has shelter (thanks to the extra funds I had to buy a second shelter). Every one is entirely up-to-date on all their care, including vaccinations, worming, and farrier work. Every one has a winter blanket, a halter of their own, and although it has nothing to do with their health, they are all clipped and well-groomed. My pens have lots of beautiful grass in them because I have plenty of area for the four horses I have, so they are never forced to stand in mud and they always have something to graze on. I have a roundpen to train in, and a fenced arena. I have the trailer I always wanted, a reliable truck to pull it with, and I now have plenty of tack and even show clothes for next year.
There will always be the temptation to get another horse (or three more), but I just have to keep reminding myself how nice it is not to be overwhelmed, how nice it is to look out and see them standing in their shelters, warm and dry on a cold, rainy day, how nice it is to be able to work with every single one of them on a nice day.
Ultimately, I have not conquered my addiction, I've merely got a better handle on it. It will always be difficult to say no to another horse, especially the really good ones, but then when I go out and spend time with Paula, Bambi, Moose, and Fabian, I know that I say "no" for them. They need me a lot more than I need another one of them.