Over the last few years, more and more once well-loved horses are being abandoned. It’s that taboo thing that no one seems to talk about in our sport. We have too many ways to help for us, as riders and owners, to keep dropping the ball on our equine partners.
So what exactly do you do when your horse can’t perform anymore? The lucky ones are taken care of long-term and have a nice retirement, living out their days in peace. When you think about the cost of owning show horses – most people spend anywhere between $2,000 – $8,000 per month on training, showing, shoes, supplements, insurance, and other expenses – it seems like a no-brainer to invest in an affordable retirement once a horse is past his or her ribbon-winning days.
Retirement does not have to be thousands of dollars a month, or a big headache at all. It’s simply a time for them to go back to being a “horse” and no longer a “show horse”. Horses can be simple creatures and live a very happy life just relaxing, and we owe that to them after years of loyal service.
It’s time for them to have room to roam and walk around, sleep under the stars, and enjoy days in pasture with good shelter, fencing, clean water, and quality hay or grass to munch on. Most horses adapt well to a herd situation – having friends in turnout is an enjoyable new experience for many career show horses. Whoever runs your retirement farm will properly match your horse up with the correct friends. Don’t worry, it’s a natural environment for them. They find their pecking order and life goes on, usually very peacefully.
The simple life can be a great life, and an easy life for owners to maintain. A weekly grooming, fly spray, and a fly mask are all the luxuries needed. Most horses in retirement are able to go barefoot unless they require specialized corrective shoeing. Retiring your horse should not be a burden, but a thank you for their countless hours working hard for you.
Keeping horses through retirement can be affordable and doable. Sometimes if you think, “if I don’t go to a fancy dinner this month,” or skip buying that new out, you’ll already have your turnout invoices paid for.
Preparing for our horse’s future is our responsibility as riders. When we make the commitment to own these animals, we are making a commitment to ensure that they are well taken care of for life, in one way or another. Of course, life happens, and situations occur where we aren’t able to keep horses for a lifetime, as much as we might love them. In that case, it’s important to be thoughtful, cautious, and take the time to place your horse in a safe and trustworthy long-term situation.
Be wary of donating your horse to any type of program, unless you personally know how they will be treated and what will happen to them if the program no longer has a use for them. If a horse can still be lightly ridden, you may be able to find them a nice temporary or permanent home as a trail horse – or, even if they are not rideable, they could act as a pasture-pal for another retiree on private property.
If you do have to rehome them, there are a few basic measures you can take to ensure their safety in future years. Always have your horse microchipped, and if placing your horse as a pasture-pal or trail horse, request to keep the microchip registered to your name and information. A microchip is extremely affordable to install and register and provides a safeguard against your beloved horse ending up at auction. If selling your horse, you can include a clause in the bill of sale stating first right of refusal, or even that you will take the horse back no questions asked should they no longer want them. Include clauses that the horse may never be sold at auction and that you must be notified prior to any rehoming efforts.
It pays to be creative to ensure your horse’s safety, comfort, and happiness – after all, they deserve it. Abandonment or being sent to auction should never be a reality for our loyal companions, but it happens more often than you’d think – even the seemingly nicest buyers sometimes end up doing the unthinkable when presented with tough life situations.
If that time has come for your horse to retire and you need help deciding what to do, ask your trainer for advice in finding affordable, safe long-term options. Ask others who have retired their horses for recommendations. Remember – they don’t need to live around the corner – it’s okay to place your horse an hour or two away as long as you trust the facility manager, the horse has access to a reputable farrier and veterinary care, and have solid plans in place for colic and other medical emergencies. Sometimes a monthly drive to visit your horse can be a great excuse for a mini-vacation! It’s also not the end of the world if you can’t visit. Horses, ultimately, are happy just being horses.
It’s up to us as owners and riders to take responsibility for the welfare of our show horses, and it’s up to trainers to help educate clients on the best options. Hopefully, more and more properties will be developed for the purpose of providing affordable retirement, and perhaps even senior discounts on vet and dental services to encourage people to keep older horses until the end of their lives.