How do I know when to retire my horse?
This is a fairly complicated questions to answer - and there are loads of factors to consider here. You have the why’s of retirement and you also have the how’s, and in the end, doing what’s best for your horse.
Some of the best horses that I have known and worked with have retired. Some are leased to less experienced riders that can benefit from a school master. In this case, the horse’s exercise demands are not as great as a show career, and he can stay mobile and fit. Many jumpers continue to jump, just not as high, dressage horses continue to dance, just not at FEI levels. Other retired horses I know have become trail horses, getting to stretch their legs everyday. Still others are simply untacked and turned out.
The soundness of your horse will play a major determining factor in his “twilight years”. If exercise causes pain, you bank account can’t keep up with veterinary treatments, or he becomes sour and resentful of his job it may be time for a shift. You could fully retire him, change his job a bit, or see the world from the trails. Depending on past injuries and current soundness levels, you may find that a temporary retirement is just fine for your horse. You may also have a career ending injury to your horse, making him a great pasture buddy and grooming friend.
The overall health of your horse also plays a role in his retirement plan. He may be as sound as the day is long, but horses can develop chronic diseases that need to be managed. Sometimes these chronic conditions are irritated by exercise.
Don't overlook metabolic disorders - common in older horses, and made dangerous by loads of pasture. It's highly romatic to want your horse to eat lovely grass 24/7, but the older horse likely should never live this way.
Your Veterinarian and Trainer can help you determine what’s best, and remember that it doesn’t have to happen overnight. It can happen over months or years, and in many cases a gradual reduction in physical demands can help your horse. Remember that old saying, “use it or lose it”? Even elderly horses can benefit from exercise when it’s appropriate.
Now to figure out the "how". Is your current barn set up for retired horses?
I often imagine retired horses living out their days in a big field, with buddies, grass, and all of the spoiling that they can handle! Some show barns are not set up for this, and in some parts of the country where land it as a premium, space is hard to find. You will also need to consider how he will get the appropriate amount of exercise. Will the barn that takes care of him in his retirement be able to administer medications, supplements, and the like?
You can consider finding a farm that specializes in retired horses, and in most cases you find some great folks that are super knowledgable about caring for seniors!
*Almost* every horse's dream - a buddy to groom!
Before you make the transition to your horse’s personal retirement, you may want to be sure he’s totally cool about a few things…
How will he do in a new environment or a herd situation? Does he get along with other horses, what’s his pecking order? The low guy in the pecking order may need special arrangements for a buddy.
Do you have a plan for possibly transitioning him to being barefoot? You can learn more about that here in this riveting article.
Is your horse a candidate for a therapeutic riding program? This is an option for many horses that are sound, and it can alleviate some financial burdens.
What other factors did you consider when retiring your horse?