posted by
Property Rights Foundation of America®
Founded 1994


by Kit Shy

Like many stories both true and fanciful this one begins once upon a time in a beautiful mountain valley. On this valley lived a rancher who, along with others of his community, had through four generations of hard work literally molded the land into efficient and productive cattle ranches. One fine day the rancher was standing at his kitchen counter with his first cup of morning coffee watching another beautiful sunrise across his fields. This always put him at peace and helped him to start his day's work. As he gazed across his favorite meadow to where his land bordered the county road, Ben, his best horse ambles into view.

Just like the rancher, Ben's roots ran deep in the valley. It was one of his ancestors who pulled the wagon that brought the rancher's great grandfather to this beautiful land more than 100 years earlier. Ben held a special place in the hearts of the ranch family who gave him his home.

As the rancher watched his horse graze along the road fence, a car pulled off the road near the horse and a stranger got out and walked toward the fence. This was a common sight to the rancher as many people stopped to admire the view and the horse who seemed to belong to such beautiful surroundings.

When the man finished admiring the view he returned to his car and drove up to the rancher's house. "Nice horse" said the stranger as he walked up to the porch. I don't suppose you want to sell him. "Nope" said the rancher without anger. Well sir said the stranger I do have a proposition for you if you would be willing to listen. I'm always willing to listen, "shoot" said the rancher. I represent a consortium of interests that are buying horse rights all over the West. "Horse rights," said the rancher. What does that mean? The man leaned back on the porch and began what appeared to be a practiced speech. Our consortium looks at horses in a new and unique sort of a way. You see, we look at a horse as a bundle of rights not just as a horse. This consortium is made up of a meat packer, a glue maker and a large leather company. We view a horse as meat rights, hoof rights and hide rights. These rights all have a value and could only be used after the demise of the equine. Herein lies the beauty of this concept!! A horse owner could sell their "horse rights" and still keep the animal until it died. My consortium proposes to pay you now and assert their "horse rights" much later. The rancher pondered this and told the stranger to call again next week and he would get an answer.

As the week's work went by the rancher often contemplated the stranger's proposal, he even discussed it with other ranchers who had also been approached by the stranger. At the end of the week the stranger returned and after some questions and discussion the rancher agreed to the proposal and shook the stranger's hand. The stranger had the rancher sign a stack of paperwork, gave him a check, wished him good day and left.

The summer went well for the valley community and with the good weather, bumper crops and the considerable financial boost from the "horse rights" consortium the rancher was able to produce a record calf crop. By market time the rancher was looking forward to gathering his herd, selling some and preparing for winter. One crisp fall morning found the rancher saddling Ben for the day's work of gathering cattle. Just as he was about to swing into the saddle his wife hurried up with a letter in her hand and a look on her face that gave him cause for concern. He took the already opened letter from her and began to read. The letter was addressed to him from a New Jersey leather company and went something like this:

Dear sir,

We as owners of the hide rights on one horse in your care known as Ben wish to inform you of our recent research concerning the negative effects of saddles on the quality of horsehide . We feel that your saddling of Ben would decrease the value of our hide rights and would constitute a violation of the contract you signed earlier this year. If you insist on riding Ben you must ride bareback from now on .

Sincerely , Sam Suede
Scuff-Em-Up Leather Goods Company
Bayone , New Jersey

The rancher chuckled as he read this and assured his wife that all contracts had glitches and misunderstandings in their beginnings. He was going to town the next day and he would take the letter to his attorney, a trusted friend, and get his opinion.

The next day he took his paperwork and started down the driveway to town. Along the way he stopped and picked up his mail.—More bad news— In the mailbox was a letter from the Stick-Em-Up Glue Company informing him of recent research that indicated shoeing a horse reduced future hoof glue quantities and if he put shoes on the horse known as Ben it would be a violation of his contract. As you can imagine, by the time he arrived at the office of his attorney the rancher's temper was at boiling point. How can they expect me to gather cattle in the rocky high country without shoes and a saddle on Ben he shouted at his learned and legal minded friend!!! Calm down said the lawyer and let me look at the papers. After about 20 minutes of careful perusing of the stack of single spaced double-sided legalese the wise attorney looked up sadly at his friend of many years. I am afraid there is no way out my friend you have signed on the dotted line and this contract allows the consortium to determine your use of Ben.

As he drove home the rancher went over in his mind all of the good times he had spent in Ben's saddle and how much he would miss those hard but rewarding days. The rancher was an honest man, a deal was a deal, and he put Ben out to pasture for the rest of his days.

Time went on as time always does and the rancher did not hear from the consortium again until Ben died. The rancher trained other horses to replace Ben but never again did he enjoy riding as much as he did in Ben's saddle.

Several years went by and one day the rancher was having his morning coffee and gazing out the window as he always did. He saw a stranger coming up the path to his house. The rancher met him at the door and with his customary hospitality invited the stranger in for coffee. "Nice ranch" said the stranger as he sat down. Don't suppose you would want to sell it. The rancher's nerves went on alert as he politely answered in the negative. Well sir, would you be willing to listen to a proposal. Always willing to listen said the rancher as he left the room. The stranger raised his voice a little so he could be heard. I represent a consortium of "land rights" interests he said. We look at land as a bundle of rights not just a parcel of land. You've got your mineral rights, water rights, scenic rights, grazing rights, development rights and conservation rights just to name a few . ............. The stranger wasn't certain just what scared him the most as the rancher came back into the room.. Was it the shotgun that he carried or the hard look in his eyes. The stranger's feet barely touched the ground as he ran down the pathway. A thoughtful smile slowly spread across the rancher's face as he lowered the shotgun.

I suppose you are wondering what happened to Ben. Well Ben is frozen whole in a customized meat locker in the basement of the district courthouse. You see for the last 10 years the lawyers for the various "horse rights" interests have been battling over how to best divide up Ben's remains.

(Reprinted by permission, 2001)

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