Second Careers for Senior Horses

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Senior horseYour horse is a superstar, and you’ve got a wall of ribbons and hundreds of trail miles in the log book to prove it. But as he’s gotten a little older and a little slower, you may have started to think about retiring him. While his best years for intense activities may be behind him, he’s still healthy and alert and not ready to head out to pasture.

Older horses aren’t as physically capable as their younger counterparts due to a lifetime of wear and tear on their joints, tendons and ligaments. If your horse is still healthy for his age, but can’t handle the rigors of his former activities, consider finding a retirement career for him. Many older horses accustomed to being in regular work will be happier and healthier with a job than they would be on full retirement. As the owner, you have several choices in finding a niche for your active senior.

A New Lease on Life
You and your horse climbed the ranks of your chosen discipline together. You moved up in the jumper ring, set records on barrels or reached new lengths on the trail. You’re in the prime of your life and ready to keep going, full-steam ahead, but your equine partner can no longer keep up. Still, he is capable of doing those activities at a lower level.

Leasing your horse allows you to find a rider who could benefit from your horse’s years of experience as they work on their own riding skills. Typically the lessee (the person leasing the horse) will pay the horse’s board and farrier costs in exchange for riding privileges, which makes this arrangement perfect for a rider who has an up-and-coming young horse to work, but needs a financial break from caring for multiple horses.

If you would still like to continue riding your horse a bit, you can adapt the lease agreement to a half-lease, sometimes called share boarding. This arrangement typically has the lessee paying half of the horse’s regular costs in exchange for riding on pre-determined days of the week.

Leasing is good for your horse as it keeps him working at a level that is comfortable, not challenging, and it’s good for you because it helps offset the costs of keeping a horse you are no longer riding. Selling a senior horse is not recommended in most cases as horses with limited riding years left are at risk of ending up in a bad situation. Leasing allows you to retain ownership and control over your horse.

Lesson horseA word of caution: If you allow the lessee to bring your horse to a different barn than the one where you’ve kept him, insist on visiting the farm and meeting the manager. Make sure the terms of the lease are spelled out in a signed contract and explain the lease to anyone who will be caring for the horse. It’s rare, but there are cases in which a leased horse has been sold by the lessee, and when the owner wants to take the horse back, he’s nowhere to be found. Ideally, you’ll find a lessee who can keep your horse at his regular home or somewhere nearby so that you can check in on him. But if that’s not possible, be extremely diligent about vetting his new home.

Teaching
A horse with plenty of under-saddle experience is exactly what new riders need to learn the ropes. As long as your horse isn’t a one-person kinda guy who won’t tolerate having a different rider on his back every day, a career as a lesson horse could be a good future for him. This arrangement would work similar to a lease with the lessee in this case being the instructor. Again, you’ll want to make any specific arrangements very clear in the lease agreement. If you only want your horse being used a certain number of days a week or only so many hours each day, for example, make sure the instructor understands and agrees, and have it in writing.

The advantage of the lesson horse gig over a regular lease is that your horse may be used for different levels of riders. If your horse should only be used on the flat, for example, he can tote around beginners indefinitely, whereas in a private lease, the lessee might eventually outgrow him or his abilities.

This situation is ideal if you already board at a farm with a lesson program and can keep your horse in the same place, or if you personally know a riding instructor who could use a lesson horse. Just as with any other lease, if you’re going to send your old friend to a barn that you don’t already know or won’t be able to visit frequently, make sure to get references on the new facility and its manager and check it out for yourself before sending your horse there.

Therapy horseHealing with Horses
When people retire, many of them devote their newfound free time to volunteering with worthy local charities. If your horse is a reliable old campaigner, he might be able to follow that route by becoming a therapy horse.

According to the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH, Int’l), potential therapy horses are evaluated for the following characteristics:

  • Size: Horses are typically between 14 and 16 hands, but sometimes larger horses are needed for heavier riders.
  • Soundness: Most centers will require the owner to provide a vet exam to show that the horse is sound for the work that will be asked of him.
  • Gaits: Ideally, a therapy horse will be able to move freely and will respond readily to voice commands. Horses with smooth gaits are usually preferred.
  • Attitude and manners: It’s very important that a therapy horse is gentle and indifferent toward objects moving nearby or touching him. Because therapeutic activities often involve more than just riding, and some riders will have sidewalkers on either side of the horse, a therapy horse must be able to keep moving forward without being bothered by some commotion around him and on his back.

This career might be ideal for your horse if he’s still sound, but would do better with scaled-back activities. Some students at therapeutic riding centers will ride independently at all gaits, but many centers will have a need for horses that can just walk and jog while being led with a rider on their back.

Keep in mind that some therapeutic riding facilities won’t accept horses over a certain age as they need horses to be consistent in their program. Find out what the conditions are when offering your horse to one of these programs. Will you maintain ownership, or is it a permanent donation? When the horse needs to be fully retired, what will happen to him? Will you be able to visit him during his time as a therapy horse? Make sure you know and agree to all of the details before proceeding.

There are lots of ways your horse can continue to have a happy, productive life into his golden years. Whatever you decide to do, have a clear understanding of all the conditions of the arrangement, and make sure it’s written out and signed by both parties. Avoid sending your horse to somewhere far away or unknown to you, and do your homework on any new facility you lease or loan him to. He’s given you his best years, and with a bit of legwork, you can ensure that he continues to have a great life.

Further Reading
When is it time to retire your horse?
Riding and Training the Senior Horse

1 COMMENT

  1. I think if you have the means, a horse should never retire in the sense that he gets turned out to pasture and does nothing the rest of his life. Think how bored a horse would be who’s always done things! Think how bored you’d be!

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