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?
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?
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.
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.
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?