By Chris, Five Star Ranch Staff Writer
Sometimes deciding when to retire your horse is an obvious decision. An injury or personal situation may force you to transition your riding horse into a pasture ornament. Sometimes the decision isn’t as clear. Some horses “fade” into retirement.
Today there are many different options for horse retirement. When the winning thoroughbred stallion retires, he may spend a number of happy years as a prolific stud before finally being turned out to pasture.
I had a friend who had to retire her favorite riding mare to brood mare status after the horse was accidentally shot by a hunter’s stray bullet. (Yes, the horse was in her own pasture and yes, the hunter was hunting in a no hunting area and no, the jerk was never caught.) Fortunately the mare had world class breeding credentials and phenomenal conformation, and as it turned out she threw fantastic babies. In fact my main riding horse Zippy is one of her offspring.
When my older mare turned 25 we noticed a general slowing down of her whole system. The Glucosamine supplements and good arthritis care probably extended her riding years a bit, but as she began to stumble more frequently, I knew I had to think about retiring her. I considered my options. I knew I could never sell her. She had been my friend for many years. She had been my anchor when my mom passed away. I’d hug on her and bury my face into her neck and she’d quietly stand and occasionally nuzzle me back as if to comfort me. No, she wasn’t going to be sold, I made up my mind she was with me until she died even if it meant I had to eat beans for the rest of my life.
In my case, I was fortunate enough to have sufficient pasture to let her spend the remaining years as part of her herd. She basically moved from riding status to non-riding, but she was able to continue to be old lady of the herd. She doesn’t run with the herd when they do a cold morning frolic, but she ambles along and seems content just to be a horse.
New Business Market – Horse Retirement Facilities
If you have a horse and retirement time has arrived, there are many options. This includes a number of non-profits as well as for profit facilities that cater to elderly horses and their special needs. I spot checked results of a Google search on “retirement horse boarding” and the rates were very reasonable. If you go with a specialized horse retirement facility, make sure the home your select offers pasture time and lots of it. One of the key considerations to keeping your elderly horse healthy is movement. Don’t put them in a place where they will be confined to a stall. Older horses need to be able to move and keep their joints limber. Arthritis will be much worse in a stall bound senior.
Elder Horses Make Good Companions
Another option for horse retirement is to find someone who needs a companion horse. Horses are by nature gregarious creatures. I always feel sorry for the lone horse. It’s not their natural state. You might consider contacting someone who has only one horse and inquiring if they would like a companion horse for their horse. Put feelers out through your horsey network that you have a horse available as a buddy. You may be surprised by the response.
Theraputic Riding Schools Need Mounts
If you retired horse can be ridden some and has a gentle disposition, you might consider donating it to a therapeutic riding facility. I’ve been a volunteer at two different facilities and the care they provide the horses is ideal. If your horse is accepted by the facility you can be sure it will lead of well cared for life and receive ample love.
There are non-profit horse rescue organizations such as Save the Horses who provide care and feeding of horses and offer up adoption and sponsorship programs to cover the costs. Normally these are for rescue horses, but if you cannot maintain your horse, you might explore your options.
Horse retirement doesn’t have to mean you have to sell or put your cherished companion to sleep. With good senior horse care and planning your elder friend can continue to live a productive life. Who knows, the local organic farmer may offer the back pasture in exchange for rich organic manure. Which ever option you decide on, be sure to personally check in on your senior buddy to ensure the care is as you expected.
Excellent Books On Senior Horse Care
The following books are excellent resources for information on how to keep your elderly horse happy and healthy. All give practical advice and describe symptoms of ailments to watch for in the elderly horse. I highly recommend them if you have an older horse in your pasture.