My horse Hope and I have been through a lot. She has been an incredible teacher, challenger, encourager, comforter, listener, and friend. I knew, when I rescued her as a long yearling, that we would have a challenge to keep her sound and comfortable as the neglect she suffered at a young age had left her deformed and crippled. I bought Hope as a partner and an adventure, knowing she had limitations but was not sure how extensive they would be.
At three years old, I got the OK to lightly start her. My vet warned me to go easy and told me he would be surprised if she wasn't crippled by five, but as long as she was comfortable I could ride her. I have done my due diligence to keep that promise through chiropractic, acupuncture, Adequan, massage, supportive shoeing, experts, nutritional support, and supplements. I have kept a close eye on her through the years, and she served me well.
Hope is the horse you can trust to carry you through any obstacle. She will give you hell when you can handle it, or comfort you when you need a shoulder to cry on. I have been so blown away by her intuitiveness as a teacher to adjust herself and safely and cautiously carry a disabled child for therapy, or put an overconfident rider in their place.
This year she turned 10, and she began to stumble. She does not appear lame to one who doesn't know her, she just misplaces a hoof every once in a while. But she has changed. I see it in her eyes, in her posture, in her cautious step. I knew it was coming. She may be sound for another ten years as a trail horse, but not a lesson horse.
As a lesson horse she is invaluable, and replacing her will be impossible. But she has given five good years of work and earned her retirement.
Way too often I see these ads giving away old horses. The kids outgrew it, the horse can't physically do x y or z anymore, they’re moving and don’t want to have to move the horse too, they don’t have time for it any more, etc. I have been anticipating and planning for Hope's retirement since I bought her. I understood the gravity of the commitment I was making even as a 13-year-old. What I don't understand is how old horses who spent their life in service end up in the slaughter pen.
Valentine was a 30+ year-old grey arabian gelding, skinny, covered in melanomas, and left to a violent horrible undignified end - in other words, sent to auction.
He was a gentle soul, who undoubtedly gave his life in service to a human. Even in his condition, he was ridden through the auction, which boasted of his training and willingness. At 30+ he was sound and willing to carry you, even through his own pain and weakness. Somone loved this horse; presumably, more then one person took care of him over his 30+ years. But when his teeth began to rot and he needed care to keep him healthy, he began to starve. With infected teeth that had not seen care in years, he wasted away. Even with food in front of him, he could not chew or swallow. When he was finally reduced to skin and bones, he was sent to the auction to meet his end, alone.
After carrying someone through life, being a willing partner through thick and thin, he was left abandoned in a dirty, crowded concrete lot, far away from any familiar comforts. We rescued Valentine with the hope of offering him a comfortable retirement, but the neglect he had suffered for years was irreversible and the vet made the decision that it would not be worth putting him through all the procedures it would take to get him close to comfortable. He also had extensive tumors which would interfere with his bladder control, leaving him with burns from urine, and which eventually ruptured.
After great consideration, we made the choice to humanely euthanize him so he did not need to suffer any more.
None of my horses will ever get to that point. But what retirement do I have to offer a horse like Hope? Could I continue to use her until she is broken down like Valentine, and then give her away on Craig’s List? Not a chance. It is my obligation to her to ensure her a comfortable retirement, and not allow her to live in pain. So while her pain is manageable she will be retired, and when the day comes that I can no longer offer her relief, I will set her free.
If you have a senior horse, or even a teenage horse near the end of his prime, how could you send him away just because he is no longer useful to you? We are responsible for the horses we own, even horses that only touch our lives for a short time. When you buy an old horse, you are committing to see them through. There is no “easy way out” of horse ownership. Your horse deserves a comfortable retirement, and if that is not possible, a humane and graceful end. That is the kindest gift you can give your faithful partner. It isn't easy, but it is right.
So your children outgrew your pony? You are an adult who knowingly took on the pony, hopefully understanding that your children, like all children, would grow. If your pony is young, then find him a happy home, and prepare their new owners for the senior years - sell him on a contract so you can fulfil your obligation if they ever had to get rid of him. But don’t you dare dump that horse at the auction, or for free on Craig’s List. If you have an older horse you cannot offer a retirement to, or afford to keep, you need to humanely euthanize them. It is your responsibility.
If you have an older horse but just don't have the facility to retire them, send them to a retirement facility. Yes, it’s going to cost you a few hundred bucks a month. But it is your responsibility - no two ways about it. If you are thinking of buying a horse, please take into account the rest of that horse’s life. Don’t just think about the useful years, but plan for the years where you get to give back to that horse.
Hope will be spending the rest of her life with me in retirement; she will still receive the highest standard of care I can give her, she will never go without, and she will live a comfortable life. I hope I have the opportunity to spoil her another ten or fifteen years. I owe her that, and she more than earned it.