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Responsibility in Retirement

We love horses. We love our horses. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t be engulfed in this crazy sport to begin with! For many of us, riding is a hobby and our horses are our pets. At the same time though, our horses are working pets — they do indeed have a job, whether it’s a trail ride once a week or to perform at an AA show every weekend. So what happens when our horses can no longer do the job required of them? As owners, where do our responsibilities lie?

It’s a very personal question, but one that deserves careful consideration. What is our responsibility in terms of our horse’s retirement?

Bay Hanoverian Stable Window

To make matters even more complicated, your equine’s “retirement” probably isn’t a black and white issue. He’s probably not going to turn 65 (or rather maybe 20 in horse years), stop working entirely and go on Medicaid to travel the world. Maybe as he ages he simply cannot perform at the same level anymore and needs to step down. What do you in that situation? Maybe he becomes injured and can no longer compete in the same event at all. Or, God forbid, maybe he falls sick and needs to be completely retired to pasture ornament status. What then?

And of course, many of us have a finite amount of income to spend on our pets and hobby… and chances are we don’t live on a farm… all of which only serves to complicate the matter further. But the question remains: to what do you owe the animal that has been your faithful companion for 10+ years?

Miniature Horse Runs Through the Pasture

I certainly don’t have the answer and each situation will be unique; this isn’t a one size fits all discussion. Yet… I feel compelled to tell you that I think you owe them something.

Countless times my horse has helped me, kept me safe and saved my ass from serious injury. He’d rather sit in a field and eat grass all day… but he doesn’t. He goes on trail rides, practices canter transitions and jumps solid objects all because I asked him to. These experiences have made us partners, a team. And I believe that you owe your teammates your respect. To truly respect someone, you treat them as you would want to be treated.

So I’m telling you right here, right now, that I think it’s our responsibility as riders and equestrians to have our horse’s best interests at heart. Always. Sure, we make mistakes and sometimes the decisions we make turn out not to be the right ones. That’s part of life. But if you’re not doing all that you can to make the best decision with the information you’ve got, then you’re wrong.

Intermediate Adult Hunters at Equivents

For example, I don’t agree with discarding a horse the second he or she needs a break or to step down. That’s not to say I don’t think it’s perfectly fine to sell a horse that can no longer compete at your level — but if that’s the route you choose to go, I do think you have a responsibility to find your horse a good, high-quality home; not necessarily the first person who shows up with a check. I understand it’s not easy. I know that many times, as equestrians who love our horses, we have to make a hard choice to say goodbye or step down ourselves when our horses need a break.

But making those hard choices is part of the responsibility of being an equestrian.

Love this Horse

What are your thoughts? Do you think we owe our horses anything in their retirement? Do you have a plan for when your horse needs to step down? 


Fly On Over is an equestrian lifestyle blog devoted to connecting horse lovers around the world. By providing equestrians with practical tips and tricks related to horse ownership, discussing training techniques for horse and rider, as well as covering industry news.

25 thoughts to “Responsibility in Retirement”

  1. I think it’s important to do what’s best for you AND your horse. I’ve had a few that couldn’t do the job for me anymore that I donated to a boarding school not too far away from me. They loved those horses, treated them well, and gave them a job they were able to handle.
    I had one horse who wasn’t ready to retire by any means. But we were a terrible match and really both dreaded riding together. I sold him to a trainer friend of mine, who then found a perfect kid for him.
    I had another mare that I had taken in for a friend of mine. When she no longer was working out in my situation I gave her to a different friend of mine who absolutely adores her. She will spend the rest of her days living a lush, pampered life.
    And of course there’s Rio. Rio came down with EPM and while he’s doing quite well, will never be ridden again. In my vet’s opinion, he also cannot go live in a field with other horses as he may not be able to stand up for himself very well. So he lives at my little farm. I only have sand turnout, but he loves to play in there. And we hand graze most nights. He seems happy. I’m fortunate that I can provide a safe retirement for him, and I’m not sure entirely what I would do if I didn’t have my little farm. Thankfully I do.
    Every situation is different. I like to think that most people who are like amateurs like us strive to do what’s best for their partner. Like you said, sometimes we make bad choices but only learn that in retrospect. Some people are dishonest. But at the end of the day (or career) all you can do is try your hardest and hope that you’re making the right decisions.
    Sorry I just wrote a book!

  2. I completely agree with everything in this post. My parents tend to keep horses their whole lives, so growing up, I only sold one horse (who was young and found a great home). My childhood horse lived out his years at a family friend’s facility. My teenage-years horse is currently my mom’s trail horse. And Rico is retired on my parents’ property.

    With Rico, I felt compelled to keep him his whole life, despite knowing that last year he would have been sellable for a reasonable amount of money (not a whole lot because of his joint and tendon issues, but enough to pay off my debts- this was a hard decision!). But he gave me SO much that I just couldn’t bare giving him any life other than having his own private 2 acre pasture with the kind of care my mom gives to her horses. So I gave that up and decided to retire him myself.

    That being said, I know how expensive horses can get in retirement and do not want to sign myself up for having another horse in retirement while also having a young horse. So with my next horse, I am planning on buying young and selling when the horse is still under 10. I’m hoping to find an AA who has the ability to keep him into retirement, so fingers crossed! But if I’m in the situation where I can afford it, I’d take him back in his older age and retire him myself, just to make sure he lives out his years in a happy place.

  3. I’m SO lucky to have acreage. My ladies will be with me forever despite their age/ability to be ridden. All I do is poke around on them on the farm/occasionally take Paige out, so if they aren’t able to do that, they aren’t sellable anyway. If I wasn’t showing/using Copper for some reason, I’d possibly lease him out to a lesson program or something, but it would be unlikely that I’d relinquish ownership. More likely than not, I’d just let them be horses and be pasture ornaments. 😉

  4. I agree!! My faithful TB gelding I owned in high school was eventually diagnosed with navicular. It was suggested to me (multiple times)that I bute him and put him through the local auction. I found that utterly appalling. He deserved a proper retirement after all the lessons he had taught me and all the times I’d cried into his neck (as an emotional teenager). I didn’t have a horse to ride for many years because I spent all my time focusing on getting him as sound and comfortable as possible. For the last two years of his life he was sound and I was able to enjoy some light trail riding and arena work. I know that horses are expensive but they are a living creature with feelings, I feel like that gets forgotten some times. Great post!

  5. I have always believed that we are the only voice for our horses, and the only way to 100% make sure they don’t fall into harm’s way is to never let them go. I know that’s not always realistic, but if Simon has to step down or I want to move up to a level he can’t do my plan is to lease him out. If he can’t be ridden at all anymore, he’ll get a nice field for a retirement home.

  6. This is such a hard topic and I commend you for bringing it up. We all have different backgrounds in our riding and how we handle this. I really wish I had the parents who wanted to keep my horses until the end but I have parents who even at my mid-thirties still don’t understand why anyone would be in this sport so there was no keeping extra horses around. When I was a kid my trainer had to find me free leases and eventually horses that I was paid to train so I had a constant flow of horses that only saw for a few months or the longest a year. I am now back in riding and in a new discipline. I am growing as a hunter jumper and therefore my needs for a mount are changing and because of this I chose to lease. I cared for and respected my horse last year but I LOVE the horse I am on now! He is for sale and I thought about buying him but then I have to remember his limitations and that he does well at the level we are now but he is older and will not be competing even at this level in a couple of years. I wish I could afford 2 horses (him in retirement and another one for competition) but I can’t and would be in this retirement predicament. Ehhh I started this comment hoping to give some insight but it turned in to me just whining!

  7. Both of my horses are rapidly approaching old age, so this is an issue I struggle with frequently.

    I certainly believe we owe our horses better than running them through the local auction and crossing our fingers they’ll end up somewhere pleasant. In Oklahoma, there’s more than one auction house that kill buyers frequent, which means Moe and Gina will never end up there by my hand. I think what’s hard for me when I think about selling them is what will happen to them after I find a nice family or a nice adult amateur to buy them. What if Gina pitches a fit and throws someone? Will they think she’s too dangerous and want to get rid of her quickly? What if they don’t want to put the effort into feeding Moe to keep weight on him? Will they ship him to auction?

    I have had Moe for most of his life and mine; I know I owe him a home until death. He is happy to work as a lesson horse and have the attention of teenagers and children lavished on him. If he becomes unsound for riding, but still basically healthy, he will have his board paid until he is no longer healthy, and then I will put him down. Gina has been a good horse for me for several years, and I’m reluctant to sell her because of her age and her temperament. She’ll have a home with me until her life ends, too.

    Keeping two elderly horses around until they die means I can’t get a younger horse to compete on, which kind of sucks. Maybe it’s dumb to hold on to the two of them, but I wouldn’t be comfortable wondering where they’ve ended up.

  8. I completely agree with this post. I think we owe something to our horses that have been our partners. That’s not to say you should never sell a horse but in my situation I bought RB when he was 16 (actually 17 but didn’t find that out til later) and I knew I was going to be his last home. In a few years I will likely have to make some tough decisions about my own riding if he needs to stop jumping or working entirely. He just turned 19 and is sound and happy but you just never know when they will be ready to stop. I will likely continue boarding him where he is now and lease or just lesson if he can’t be ridden at all. I can’t afford 2 horses right now and he is my first priority. Long term goal would be to buy a small piece of land and have him at home. He will have a safe happy retirement and I will never sell him.

  9. I am a forever-home horse owner. Even though Hemie and I parted ways, I’m keeping up with his whereabouts and plan to always be a safety net for him. I plan on having Hannah for her entire life.

  10. I am struggling with this right now… Although I told myself I wouldn’t be making any decisions until next spring.

    My horse suffered a server injury late winter this last year and I am currently rehabbing him, but the prognosis does not look good for him to be sound ever again. He is 11. I love this horse…

    My predicament is that I can only afford 1 horse in my area. I feel like I owe him a solid retirement, but for how long…? He can live another 10+ years at a minimum… I can send him south for retirement where it is a little cheaper, but how would I know he is properly taken care of? I don’t really feel comfortable shipping him off and not seeing him again… I just don’t know what to do…

  11. I’m a little torn on this. As adults, I absolutely agree that it is our responsibility to hang on to our horses and give them their best possible life, or to ensure they go to a good home that will be as good or better for them. However, I had a horse in high school that we ended up selling. He was a show horse, I wasn’t showing, and my parents have never been super involved in the horse world (besides bankrolling everything when I was younger, for which I’m immeasurably grateful), so hanging on to him never even crossed our minds as an option. He took at least two other young people up to the 2’6″-3′ level, and when that became a bit much he was donated to a school program. He’s now getting tons of love at Dartmouth (here he is [Star]!, and they are very good about retiring their horses when the schooling life becomes too much. Now that I’m older I can appreciate just how wonderful it is that my boy has a loving home and a safe future, but it’s tough for a young teenager to think about if their parents/trainer don’t guide them. Sorry for the rambling, I guess I’m not really torn- I think it’s our responsibility as adults to impress upon young people that we are responsible for our animals’ futures, and I wish someone had impressed that on me sooner.

  12. Good post. Tucker will be mine forever, and he’s the first horse I’ve felt that way about. I’ve had him since he was a weanling and I plan to keep him indefinitely. We are in the process of purchasing a (small) farm and plan to build a little shed row that will have a designated stall for Tucker. He may not move there right away, we aren’t sure yet, but it is a HUGE comfort to me to know that I have a plan for him if he gets injured at any point, and for when he is ready to retire, whenever that may be. I think whether it’s time to retire or just time to part ways for any number of reasons, we always owe it to them to find them a home that will be the best possible fit for them.

  13. Great subject! As their owners, and riders, it is our job to make sure that they find a happily ever after, whether that be with a new rider, a new job, or retired somewhere living out their days. I realize that the world isn’t perfect, but I hope to be able to provide a loving retirement for any animal I take on, horse or not. We owe it to them!

  14. such an important topic! and so difficult to think about… and is perhaps one of the biggest reasons i’m grateful for my non-owner status!

  15. Bravo, I love the way you laid this issue out and totally agree. I know not everyone can keep retirees, but they can put the effort into an excellant placement. When my Arab suffered a career ending injury at 21yrs old, people asked if I would get rid of him. No way, we still enjoyed quiet rides and he earned his retirement with the family he knew. My other arab came from a former student who was going to college. She thought about sending him to a college program, but my Mom told her she had a responsibility to her nearly 18yr old horse and a college situation was not it. He is now almost 27 and still working, but basically retired.

  16. You and I are on the same page here!

    I don’t think it’s wrong to sell a horse – not every horse you purchase is going to be the right horse for you for the rest of its life, and as long as you do your due diligence and choose your horse’s new owners wisely, there is nothing wrong with selling a horse that can no longer compete at the level you require, or just isn’t a good fit for you. There is no shame in not keeping every horse forever!

    That said, Dino is staying with me until the day he dies. He is not saleable at this point in his life. He’s 17, Cushingoid, and requires expensive medication and careful management. He is very particular about his rider, and is not well-suited to be a child’s pony. He’s also my ‘heart horse’ and the bond I have with that pony is unreal. I promised him years ago that I would care for him for the rest of his life, and I intend to keep that promise, even if it means not being able to afford to ride and compete another, younger pony. I hope to buy my own horse property within the next few years, so the plan is for Dino to retire at my house whenever he tells me it’s time, and to buy a young pony to bring along as D-Money enjoys his retirement years. I think we owe it to our horses to provide them with a good life after their ‘useful’ years are over, whether in our own backyards, in a retirement barn, or by mercifully ending their lives if they cannot receive the care they deserve.

  17. Maybe it’s just me, but selling an unsound horse (even with disclosure) always seems utterly unfair to me – on the horse and on the buyer. Horses who can’t compete at the top anymore but have plenty of experiences? Those are worth good money as packers for newbies, and valuable horses are more often than not well cared for horses. But horses that are chronically unsound – no. Shoot it or give it to a horse rescue.
    I am blessed enough to live on a farm, so my old battle queen of 26 is living out her days as pasture buddy, weanling mom, occasional hack, and undisputed ruler of the herd (despite being the shortest and by fifteen years the oldest). But if I was in the heartbreaking situation where I couldn’t keep her, she would be put on a horsebox and taken to the horse sanctuary.
    I think the toughest situation would be if I could either keep her or keep a horse I could ride but not both. For me personally, with that specific horse, I would absolutely keep her and bum rides off whoever’s nearest. That horse saw me through childhood, puberty and adolescence and all the way into young adulthood. She’s not going to be replaced by some youngster just because it can win ribbons and go on trail rides. But I appreciate that it’s not the same for all of us.

  18. Great topic, and not bad to consider even with a young horse since a career-ending injury could happen at any age. Since I can’t afford to ship my horse over to Firn, I have a back up plan that involves a friend who lives on a farm in Kansas. She doesn’t know this yet, but I have thought about how cheap it must be for her to keep her horses and how I could probably send $ and she could provide retirement services. Thanks for the thought-provoking blog.

  19. I have had a few horses who didn’t work out or who I had bc they needed a place to go and I was an interm home till a permanent owner was found.

    But I think horses that you have for a long time or are a special partner defiantly deserve to live life out with me!

    I am blessed that my bff (pretty much sister) has property and any horse I want has a home there so that is where Henry will live out his life when the time comes 🙂

  20. I’m a non-competitive, one-horse-at-a-time sort of gal. I specifically bought Pearl because I’ve seen too many horses go to not-nice places when they no longer work out for a program (she was a school horse). I was hoping we’d have many years of serious riding ahead of us, but she was dx’d with navicular at 16 after a year of “mystery lameness” and is now relegated to very light work. I’m disappointed that our goals were smashed, but there was never a question she’d be a lifer. I don’t think that every owner needs to keep every horse they’re ever ridden in a full service program til the end of their days– there is nothing wrong with selling a still-usable horse who doesn’t meet goals. Once a horse isn’t serviceably sound for a “real job,” I think it’s the responsibility of the last owner to look out for them. I’m fine with leasing to a rider who just wants to putter around, returning to a previous owner who has said they want to provide a retirement home, or sending the horse to a retirement farm with a good reputation that has been thoroughly vetted by the owner, if the horse can thrive in that type of environment. In my horse’s case, there’s approximately zero market for a horse that is walk-trot sound but needs an advanced rider, so she’s staying under my watchful eye. I’d love to have a horse that I could ride more seriously, but my first commitment is to my old lady who’s done so much for me.

  21. I definitely agree with you on this. I’ve been lucky in that my sister has land and that is where my old guy, Ghazal is retired. He lives a life of leisure and while he isn’t pampered by any stretch he is happy and healthy. However, something I know that is controversial and people don’t like to think about is euthanasia. If something were to happen to my sister and I lost the ability to keep Ghazal with her I would do my best to find a place comparable in price and care but if I couldn’t find something I could afford I would have him put down. I know that sounds terrible but #1 I couldn’t afford a “real” retirement home for him along with board for Loki and #2 I would have a really hard time trusting someone to give him to as a pasture companion. I would much rather know that his life ended with dignity and as little pain as possible. Thankfully I’ve never had to make that decision and Ghazal continues to enjoy his retirement but I do empathize with people who have had to make that decision.

  22. I retired Fresno a couple of years ago, and he’s stuck with me forever. I did have a brief time where I tried to find him a suitable home because they are out there, but nothing seemed good enough. He went lame 3 months after I bought him, and I truly think the purpose in me buying him was to ensure he had a good retirement home. I put riding on hold for a couple of years to afford his board, and now I am able to lesson at a local barn to get “my fix” and have him at a self-care barn with 40 acres. It is truly the best of both worlds. I’ve even finally gotten him to a point where he’s sound so we can still go on trail rides.

  23. Good post and timely.
    I have often thought about this. Luckily for me, my sister has her own farm and now I have a 1y/o niece so I am hoping when Paloma really needs to retire from serious work she can become my niece’s graduation from pony to horse and truck her around itty bitty courses from time to time.
    Hopefully, I am not forced to think about this anytime before I/she is ready. Fingers crossed!

    On the partial retirement subject, I would have no issues scaling back ride intensity if needed. I have a friend who would gladly offer her horse for rides if I couldn’t ride Pal at the same level. I would make it work I think.

  24. I am such a softy and so far have kept track of almost all my horses growing up. My favorite pony ever lived on my parent’s farm until the day he died and I promised him I would never send him away. If I am running or riding a horse up until the point of retirement, I think they deserve to have a forever home.

  25. When my parents sold Phoenix in 2001 I made a promise to myself that unless I was selling a horse that was marketable that I didn’t get along with that they would always spend their life with me. I was crushed when Phoenix was sold back then and so upset when I saw what state he was in 9 years later when I got him back. Then I have Stampede who could have been my dream horse (maybe we still have a chance?) but is held back by many physical issues. Both of these horses will spend the rest of their years with me, regardless of what happens with their soundness. I’m willing to sacrifice because they are my responsibility that I took on. We only have so much control!

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