Monday, February 25, 2008

The Case of the Missing Hay and Shavings

When I talk about the current inflation situation with people, they seem unaware, even confused by my observations. I thought that perhaps this was something that was only hitting horse owners, but even the cost of getting a hair weave went up for me from $45 to $65. The cost of a block of hay rose from $700 to $1,100 in the past year. The cost of a hoof trim rose from $25 to $35 to $45 per horse in no time. Wood stall shavings rose from $5.15 per bag to $6.50 per bag if you are a member of my co-op, or you can buy less cubic square feet for somewhere between $7.00 and $9.00 a bag at the local feed stores. With the cost of everything going up around me and no increase in income in sight, I have to protect my investments.

Several years ago I had a neighbor who was constantly knocking on my door asking for favors. These were not can-I-borrow-a-cup-of-sugar kind of favors. She wanted to borrow my truck and horse trailer -- the only two things I actually owned besides my horses, and I wasn't about to lend them to someone who was uninsured. Each time I got a fresh block of hay or a new stack of stall shavings, she'd knock on my door and beg me to "lend" her some. She always had some kind of "emergency" that was a fabricated sob story designed to play with my sympathies so that I would financially support her. People warned me that she had the reputation of being a mooch, so I stood my ground and repeatedly denied her what she requested. "Don't give her an inch," they said, "because she'll take a mile."

I guess she tired of begging and gave my doorstep a rest for a while. I noticed that she was spending a lot of time at another neighbor's house instead. One day I ordered more hay and my hay farmer mentioned that I was ordering much sooner than usual. He asked if I was feeding my horses more. I wasn't. "I think someone has been stealing your hay," he said.

I shrugged off that thought, as I worked mostly from home and would notice if someone backed a truck down my driveway into my side yard to steal my hay. However, the day after the day I normally drove into the office, I did notice that my haystack seemed shorter. I began thinking about how easy it would be for someone to just skim off the top, leaving the shape the same, and no one would notice. Of course, it would be a lot of work, and the person or people would have to make sure that my other neighbors were not home to witness it.

In addition to my haystack getting shorter, my stall shavings seemed to be disappearing as well. I questioned my family members to see if any of them had been adding extra bedding to the stalls. No one touched the shavings bags unless I specifically asked them to spread some in the stalls. I began developing a bit of paranoia, and when I heard a noise outside at night, I climbed out of bed and went outside in my P.J.'s with a flashlight to investigate. Each time I found nothing but a couple of sleeping horses. I kept inventory to try to obtain proof that someone was actually lifting my goods. I needed to know that it wasn't just my imagination.

One day I looked out my kitchen window to see my needy ex-neighbor, who no longer lived near me, parked in my driveway, sitting in the driver's seat with a pad of paper and a pen in her hand. She was pointing at my haystack and shavings, seemingly counting each bale with her finger. As if she felt that she was being watched, she looked directly into the window at me. Her eyes got really big and she quickly shifted into reverse to beat it out of there. After that incident, I had a suspect. I suddenly remembered her asking me for my work schedule several months before. I thought she was asking so that she'd know when I'd be home to ask for favors. However, it was just the opposite -- she wanted to know when I wasn't home, so that she could rob me.

One thing didn't make sense, though. She drove a little car and did not have access to a truck or trailer, which is what would have been required in order for her to take that many bales from my yard. One day I left for work at the office in the morning on my usual day, only to turn around and head back home because I forgot my bag lunch. I was only gone for about two minutes, but when I returned I found this ex-neighbor backing down my driveway in a truck and horse trailer. When she saw me coming back, she beat it out of there. I found out later that she borrowed that truck and horse trailer from another unsuspecting person who had fallen for some sob story about having to get her horse to the vet hospital right away.

I wished I had come back just a few minutes later so that I could have caught her red-handed and got the police involved, however I had nothing on her other than trespassing. What I didn't understand was how she knew I'd be leaving right then. The next time I had some shavings missing, I spotted her in a borrowed pickup truck in town, and she had the exact same brand of stall shavings that I buy, as well as the exact same number that I was missing, in the bed of the truck. That particular brand was not sold by any feed store in our area. You had to be a member of my co-op to get that brand, which she was not. At that point I wished I had written my name on the shavings bags in permanent ink and there had been an officer nearby to stop her.

On one day when I normally drove into the office, I stayed home because I was sick. I was also sick of all the truckers and tourists turning around in my driveway, so I blocked it by parking my truck sideways. I was standing at the kitchen window getting a drink of water when I spotted another neighbor driving slowly up the street. I wondered what business he had on our end of the road.

As he drove, he acted suspicious, looking around like he was staking out the neighborhood. This was the same neighbor who the mooch had been visiting on a regular basis. This man was focusing so intently on my friend's house across the street that he didn't look when he turned into my driveway. I spit out my water in shock as I saw him heading right into the side of my truck in slow motion. At the last second, he turned his head and slammed on his brakes. He looked at my truck as if disturbed to see it there, then immediately looked up into my kitchen window where he locked eyes with me. He got this expression on his face like he had been busted, and quickly backed up, then drove back down the street much faster than before, raced into his own driveway, and then ran into his house.

That's when I realized that this neighbor and my ex-neighbor were in cahoots, feeding each other information so that they could rob me when I wasn't home. She had asked me for my schedule, gave it to him, and he watched for me to leave on the one day of the week I drove into the office, then notified her if she had a truck and horse trailer ready, otherwise he drove his own truck over. Shortly after that incident, the man moved out of the neighborhood, but I still saw the woman around town, so I never really felt comfortable leaving the house. As mentioned in previous blog articles, my husband installed posts and chains across the end of our driveway, and we put a combo lock on our gate. Soon we will be installing a motion-sensor light that would catch people and vehicles on that side of our house without having to worry about the horses triggering it.

To this day I can't figure out how they got away with it for so long. I'm sure my dogs must have been barking their heads off, and someone had to have heard and looked out a window. I did warn other horse owners that there was a hay thief on the loose, and to please watch my house, but I guess horse owners are too busy mucking out stalls to notice a vehicle that is out of place or investigate the cause of barking dogs. People always tell me I am fortunate that they just made off with my hay and shavings, and not my horses. That is true. Very true. For that reason, when we built our pasture, we did not install a gate near any street. There is only one gate located in the center of our property right in front of our bay window, and I am always sitting in it, if not outside in a fold-up chair watching my horses graze. If I don't have the time to watch over them, I make sure they are behind lock and chain. In the meantime, when my neighbor's go on vacation, I watch over their houses and horses, interrogating every driver who enters their driveways, hoping someday they might return the favor. Or maybe not. It depends on the neighbor.


Callie said...

I think I'd gone straight down to their houses and kicked some damned butts. There is no way I could contain myself as you have done. Oh that just makes me mad! What SOBs!!

thepowerguides said...

I do not understand how these people have the front to do this sort of stuff. I have been looking at a bird camera to set up to capture the birds that come to the feeder and one of the ones I have looked at would be great for this type of thing .

It is movement activated and can capture video or just photos and I like it cos it takes same little SD cards that digital cameras take plus small and easy to disguise , the one I have looked at is Wingscape and must admit part of the justification for me could be part to capture my birds at the feeder and part security, plus I am sure Callie will pinch it sometimes for the horses


Farmgirl_dk: said...

Grrr...I got so angry reading your post. Aside from the fact that what they're doing is a CRIME, just the sheer nerve of these people to enter your property, touch your stuff and, I'm sure, feel fully justified (for whatever reason) in doing so. Did you ever call the police? You've done such a good job documenting all of this, it might be a good idea to add some dates and times to this and send it to your local police department as an FYI - this way, if they decide to return, which has been known to happen -especially if they're desperate, and take stuff again, you have the historical record submitted and the police will go and question them. Sounds like you're doing all the right things, though, to protect your farm and possessions. That really sucks!

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

All of this happened many years ago, and I haven't had any incidents since. I didn't call the police because everything was circumstantial and it all happened over a period of years, once every few months. I put it all together in my head after the fact. I've looked into cameras and do hope to get one someday. As far as confronting them personally, the man was big, burly, and a schizophrenic. He's long gone -- probably in prison for something else. We called the police on him often when we saw him attacking his son, because we wanted to protect the boy. I sent the woman a letter threatening to sue her for something else she did that I had evidence of, and she avoided me after that. She started trespassing on someone else's property. I witnessed it and notified the home owners, telling them of her history with me, and they did call the police. I'm not sure what came of it, but whatever they did was effective, because she stopped coming around their property.

Jen said...


I'm always paranoid our tack will get just never know with some people anymore.

Twinville said...

I felt sick reading about your experience. I'm so sorried you got take advantage of like that. It's terrible when you can't even trust your own neighbors.

And stealing hay and shavings! That lady didn't deserve to have horses or any pets for that matter, if she can't even afford to provide for them.

I would have felt so unsafe and paranoid in my own home and worrying about my horses.

Which reminds me. I feel very safe living where we are, but one can never be too safe, right?

We are bringing home our new horse this weekend and I intend to purchase a combo lock. I heard through the grape vine that flashy paint horses are a popular horse thief commodity around here and our horse really stands out. I would feel sick and angry if anything awful like that happened to her.

Thanks for sharing your experience. And I'm glad that you and your horses are safe.

Jackie said...

Wow. Speechless. Just speechless. People really make me sick sometimes.

Pony Tail Club said...

That is a horrible story. I feel really bad that they robbed you, but I also feel bad for their horses. I can't imagine that they treat them very well.

BarnGoddess said...

omg! how awful I would have been beside myself with rage.

You are very lucky that is all they stole. People like that deserve NO mercy.

Ive had my horse stolen in '91, not my beloved Scooter who Ive owned for 22 years, it was my roping horse I owned for 2 years.

Streak was stolen and sold, luckily he was branded and tattooed,appendix registered AQHA in MY name.

I got him back but it was an awful ordeal for BOTH of us.

Rising Rainbow said...

Boy some people really have a lot of nerve.

My horses that are at the boarding barn are on self care and we have had problems with hay being stolen from there. At first we thought it was someone within the barn but it actually turned out to be someone driving. But these people were stealing it one bale at a time. Still it takes a lot of nerve.

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

People who store their own feed at boarding facilities definitely are at risk. I suspect the rate of hay being stolen might be on the rise at the moment since it is so expensive. I was always annoyed with this woman who stole from me even before I knew she was stealing from me, because she kept breeding her horses despite not being able to afford hay and shavings. People often saw her cutting weeds and swampgrass from the side of the road, and grass from other people's pastures that had grown outside the fence. She did all her own vet care, since she couldn't afford a vet bill, and all her own hoof care, though she wasn't qualified. As a result, her horses got diseases, and her foals were sometimes born with deformities. I suppose I can't blame a person for loving horses so much that they'd do anything to keep them, but there's a difference between doing what is right for your horses and being flat-out selfish at the expense of others and your horses.

emma said...

I am stunned! What a very complicated plan. It is amazing what some awful people will do just to save a couple bucks! It seems not worth the effort. As Jen mentioned about tack getting stolen - that actually happened to my sister. I often worry at horse shows about leaving horses alone in trailers while we walk courses etc. There are so many horse trailers pulling in and out at shows that noone would notice. It seems the perfect place to nick a horse. I am super paranoid about that. If I were you I would post a notice at your coop and local tack shop about your robbers incase they strike again. Sorry to hear it happened to you!

Scary said...

Oh my Goodness! Go get your hay back. Call the police. Get your shotgun out! That makes me so mad. I'll come and stand g
guard for you.
You should get a sign that says "Tresspassers and theives wont be prosecuted. They'll be shot!"