What Do We Owe Our Horses? Part 2

What about a horse you can’t sell? What do you owe that horse? Again, the best that you can. There are a lot of right answers, but here are some wrong ones:

Inappropriate Retirement
Retirement is a great option for some horses. But, it is not the be-all and end-all answer that some people will claim. To start, your horse has to actually be retire-able. If they’re suffering from some debilitating injury or condition and are in pain, retiring them to is not a kindness. Living out the rest of their lives than a 12×12 stall is also not a kindness. If they can’t have a decent quality of life, please do the right thing and euthanize them. Keeping your horse alive even when they’re in pain because of your emotions makes you an asshole. I had to put my heart horse to sleep many years ago. It was devastating and I still miss her, but it was the right thing to do.

I still miss this horse

Unmonitored Retirement
Do not move your horse somewhere that you cannot check on them unless it’s a well-established retirement home like Paradigm Farm. Even if the farm is local, always establish a death certification requirement. Some kill buyers will front as retirement homes. At some point, they’ll tell you your horse died (probably after billing you for months first) and your horse will have been shipped off to Canada or Mexico. Set up in advance a requirement for a picture and a vet’s certificate be presented if your horse “dies” in their care. Visit often and make sure your horse is healthy and happy. You’re responsible for your horse’s well-being.

Donating Your Horse to a Rescue to Save Money
Having worked at a rescue, I cannot tell you how much I hate people who donate their old horses and then turning around and buy a new one and spend money on that new horse. It’s like taking your old dog to the SPCA and going out and buying a puppy. Please consider that until your horse is adopted, it’s taking up a spot that could have gone to a kill pen pull. If you’re in a bad situation (lost your job, major medical issues, or something like that) then please do consider donating your horse to a rescue. They would like to help you. They just don’t want to take your old horse so that you can go spend your time and money on a new show prospect.

If you want to give your horse away, but you’re worried about them ending up in a bad place, some rescues will work with you to adopt out your horse with you paying their expenses until the adoption occurs. The rescue can help you vet prospective adopted and they will already have the experience and legal setup for keeping track of their adopted horses. Again this is only ethical if you’re paying for the horse’s care until it’s adopted. The rescue may charge the adopters an adoption fee as a safeguard (#2 from yesterday’s post). You do not get this money, the rescue does. Not all rescues will do this and there are a lot of scammers acting as rescues so do your research before going down this route.

Bankrupting Yourself 
Again, I think we owe our horses the best that we can. This does not mean that you should have to spend every dime you have (or borrow more than you have) on your horse. If they’ve been injured or are suffering from an illness or critical condition, you should do what you can afford to do to help them. Now, if you’re too poor to afford a vet call at all or too poor to afford euthanasia, I don’t think you should even own a horse so that’s an entirely different discussion. However, if you’re an average, non-rich horse owner who can’t afford an expensive surgery, procedure, or hospital bill, then I won’t hold it against you for putting that horse to sleep. Many people will disagree with me here. And that’s fine. Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion, but I don’t think we owe horse everything. We owe them the best that we can.

Inappropriate Use/Denial of Treatment
Continuing to use your horse even though it needs retirement is wrong. Denying your horse medical treatment that could benefit it is wrong. I shouldn’t even have to talk about this. I am sure that none of my readers would ever do this, but I have seen people in real life do this. I’m sure we’ve all seen that person show up at a show or come across them on the trails. The horse is lame or skinny or suffering in some way, but the owner is still riding it, or still pushing it further than they should. And I’m not talking about the mildly lame older horse who benefits from the exercise and mental exertion. If your vet says some exercise is good, go for it. I’m talking about the horse that is suffering.

Does better with exercise

There is a woman at my barn who changes vets and farriers every time one of them tells her she shouldn’t be riding her horse anymore. This horse will be laying down in her stall or standing with her head in a corner. Not only does she ride the poor horse, but she leases it out to others to ride it. Most of the leasers are sane enough to realize what’s wrong and they usually stop leasing within a month. She also refuses to have the horse shod or give it the medications recommended by the vet because they cost too much. I have washed my hands of this woman. I don’t own the barn so I can’t kick her out, but I don’t have anything to do with her.

The Right Answers
There are lots of right answers. The right answer depends on your horse’s unique situation. It might be retirement or semi-retirement. It might be switching to a different sport (dressage instead of jumping). It might be selling them to new home. It might be donating them to a riding program or other charity (I donated one of my previous horses to the Park Police). It might be euthanasia. I don’t even know what my plan is for my own horses since I don’t know what will happen to them in the coming years. But I know that I’ll do the best I can.

Do you have a plan for your own horse’s future?

18 thoughts on “What Do We Owe Our Horses? Part 2

  1. TeresaA

    I have plans for both of my horses. I also know (and have experienced) the unexpected turn of events the leads to euthanasia. I've seen people keep horses (and dogs) alive at all costs but in there are far worse things than a peaceful death. I know it's hard to see them go but it's part of being responsible.

    I have different plans for my two horses because of where they are in life. both plans are based on what would be best for them. I also have plans for what to do if I die. It's written out and has been discussed with my husband and children.

  2. jenj

    I had a gorgeous, very talented young horse with horrible headshaking. I worked with my vets (and they consulted with others) for months to try to find something that would help with his pain, but despite sooooo many drugs, supplements, keeping him in a dark stall, getting him a UV mask… nothing really helped enough for him to lead a normal life. He would rub his face until it bled, trying to relieve the pain, and he was dangerous to handle because he couldn't control what he did with his head. I ended up donating him for research on HSing, and they put him down.

    Our two oldsters are at a gorgeous retirement farm and are fat and spoiled rotten. All of our horses are written into our wills and have their own trust funds for their care, and people who have agreed to take them. Although, I'm slightly concerned that someone may off us just to get their hands on Paddy and Brego… πŸ˜‰

  3. emma

    if only we lived in a world where horses never got old or injured…. πŸ™ this subject is pretty hard to think about, but i love your philosophy of doing the best we can – being responsible and ethical, but also realistic.

    i remember being *furious* at some decisions my first barn trainer made about euthanasia – i thought she was too quick to pull the trigger. but looking back on it i see that she was actually incredibly objective and humane for her horses. she had a very clear sense of the balance in a horse's quality of life, and never ever let the scales tip beyond that balance point.

  4. Megan

    This is definitely something I think about. Rico, my GP horse, is happily retired at my parent's ranch and he'll remain there. They offered me this years ago because he is the last horse from my childhood and my parents are just as attached to him as I am.

    For my young guy, if he really can't be sold or if I choose to keep him, I have a place in mind (his breeder's actually) that does extremely affordable full care retirement. It isn't fancy (pasture with trees for shelter), but all of the horses are very well taken care of and the owners live on the property. Anyone in the bay area who wants their contact info can let me know.

  5. Stephanie

    Moe and Gina are still living useful lives, even as seniors. I know a day is coming where they'll be unable to do that any more; if they have a good quality of life, I'm planning to let them live in their pasture until they die. If they suffer some kind of extremely debilitating injury or are unable to enjoy a good quality of life, I'll have them euthanized.

    In the vein of don't donate your horse to a rescue just to buy yourself a new horse, I'd add "don't use a therapeutic riding center as a retirement home". I worked as the equine manager at one for a few years, and it was appalling how many people offered to donate horses that were dead lame, extremely old, or in generally poor health. It's one thing if your horse has arthritis and can't hold up to something like team roping; he can probably handle walking around an arena for an hour a day. It's another thing to ask a center to take your elderly cutting horse whose knees are so bad he can't walk from the pasture to the barn. One man actually dumped an emaciated 29 year old mare in the parking lot because he "didn't want to run her through the auction". (She turned out okay with good feed and a vet visit and is still going strong at 33!) Therapy horses need to be in reasonably good health to perform their job safely and comfortable, and centers aren't exactly swimming in money to spend on vet care!

  6. L.Williams

    Euthanasia is always a humane answer. And the stupid thing is its not that expensive. One of the options people kept floating to me was essentially Inappropriate Retirement for Carlos, but my vet and I knew him well and knew it would be grossly inappropriate, Euthanasia was the only right answer, no matter how much it hurt me.

  7. Olivia

    I actually started typing up a section on donating to therapy places, but the post was already pretty long. And the therapy places will usually just refuse to accept your horse. The therapy places I've volunteered with have a few old retired guys but usually more of healthy, sound horses because that's that they actually need.

  8. Olivia

    I think it's great that you know the retirement places you'd send your horses to. Plus, you're local and can check on him. Rico's pretty lucky to get to live at your parents' place.

  9. Olivia

    It's so hard to see from the outside what someone else is going through. And trainers who've been through it so many times can certainly seem callous, but they've just got more experience. They've already tried all the options before and they know when it'll work or not.

  10. Olivia

    I remember reading your blog when you went through that with your head shaking horse. That was brutal. But you did the right thing. I actually meant to include donating to a medical study as an option, but forgot. Your post has reminded me about wills. My husband and I both know what to do with each other's horses, but we do need to get our horses written into wills in case we both die at the same time.

  11. Olivia

    It's so hard to see them go πŸ™ But it's the right thing to do sometimes. I've just seen so many people cling to horses who are suffering rather than end their pain and it's not okay.

  12. Olivia

    You did the right thing for Carlos even though it was so terrible. So many people think retirement is always the answer, but it's not. I'm really glad you've shared his story.

  13. Stephanie

    Exactly! It was always hard for me to tell someone "No, we aren't accepting any horses at this time, but thank you for your interest" because I worried about where some of those horses would go. But seriously, we did NOT have the money to just house horses that weren't useful.

  14. Dotstream

    Timely post!
    My sister purchased a gelding a couple years ago to be her dream competition horse. She loved this guy after leasing him for a short period. He was a AQHA congress failure, sold off since the show barn didn't want him.
    She didn't get a PPE, thinking surely he was sound if he was competing congress months before.

    A few months later he began exhibiting a lot of problem behavior, bucking, rearing, bolting backwards, spazzing on the trailer, odd things.
    She did her best to overcome these issues, even contacting previous owners to see if this is normal, it was not. Finally had a vet exam him and vet states he is 'washed up', 'done' and has 101 soundness issues including back trouble, club foot (that you cannot see), heart trouble etc.

    Now, what is the best thing for this horse? *sigh*

  15. Olivia

    That really sucks. I imagine the lost money in the case of an expensive show horse would be particularly galling in addition to the emotional drain. If she can afford to retire him and he's pasture sound maybe go that route. Would his breeders take him back for retirement? Some would. But if he's that unsound, maybe he needs to be pts. I hope she finds the best solution for her and the horse.

  16. Figure

    I took 'Fetti on knowing that she's not a horse I can pass off to someone else. If she sustains some sort of career-ending injury that makes her completely unsuitable as a riding horse, I'd find a local pasture for her to hang out in. Otherwise she's staying with me til she dies, and if that means someday we're relegated to sedate trail rides in the park, so be it: she gets to choose her workload, and when she wants to retire from Serious Work, we'll do that.

  17. RiderWriter

    I am new to your blog and about to become a follower, if only because of these two posts! You did a terrific job of summing things up. I do not own a horse largely because I know all too well the pitfalls and money necessary to do it RIGHT.

    Dotstream's comment above is very similar to a situation I found out last week, that really upset and horrified me. I knew this sort of thing happened but had never encountered it first-hand before. A coworker's mom has a 3-year-old QH mare. She has been in training for Western Pleasure and I was told mom was quite excited about showing her in W/T WP at a pretty big show here weekend before last. However, when I inquired as to how show went I was told, "It didn't." Why? Mare started objecting, strenuously, to being saddled and ridden. So they put her back on ulcer medication (my first thought – what, she's 3 and has ulcers? Guess it happens though) in the hopes of improvement. Nope. So what did they do? Injected her stifles. Come to find out – and apparently mom was NOT informed of this pre-purchase) – this poor mare's stifles were "broken" when she was 2, as a consequence of her being trained for a 2-year-old WP Futurity. >.< So basically, I think this mare is RUINED for life already. At THREE. Not to mention, heaven only knows how much the mom has spent on her purchase, training and care already. What will happen to her? I don't think I even want to ask. Chucking her in a pasture and breeding her is probably the BEST we could hope for. Disgusting!!!

  18. Olivia

    That's terrible. I do really hate how people ride baby horses. Two year olds should not be ridden. I really don't think three year olds should be ridden except for some light backing to make them understand that being ridden is a thing that happens and some easy rides to get used to that aspect of life. I hope the mare can at least be bred. If it was an injury and not a genetic predisposition to unsoundness, she could have a useful life of breeding where a gelding would be truly doomed.

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