Saturday, June 20, 2009

Forever Horses

I can see that it's going to be another two-post day - sorry folks, but this post is ready and I can't not post it.

I used to be a "buy the horse/use the horse/resell the horse/buy another horse, repeat" person. In the world of hunter/jumper showing I came from, that was how you moved up - you got a good horse, then a better horse, and so on. That's not how I rode as a kid - then I just rode whatever horses I had or could persuade someone to let me ride and did all sorts of things with them, jumping, Western pleasure, sliding stops and rollbacks, trail rides and dressage, without even thinking about it - when I was a kid every horse was special, and useful, and I could teach any horse to do anything.

As we moved away from the show world, reselling our horses made less sense - I liked them, they were individuals and each of them had abilities and talents. Each one presented training challenges and opportunities. As we stopped selling horses, they started to accumulate - we now have 5.

I have several "forever horses" - these are horses I'm committed to, where my job is to be sure they are taken care of. Maisie, who is my principal riding horse, is young enough and sound enough that I could sell her with a good conscience - not that I have any plans to - knowing that she could have a good home with someone else. Dawn is my younger daughter's horse, and although I'll be taking care of her and working with her while my daughter is away at college, my daughter will eventually have to decide what she wants to do with her. This isn't the case with the 3 others - I need to make sure they are well cared for, for as long as they can live happy and comfortable lives.

I have posted before about the issues I confront in taking care of 5 horses - see my June 7 post "What Do You Do?". This post is a follow-on to that post and you might want to read it now if you haven't already. The whole thing is a struggle for me - I really care about the quality of care my horses receive - perhaps even to the point of being a control freak about it. But I'm getting older, my husband isn't horsey (and I wouldn't want to try to make him be something he's not), and my younger daughter is leaving for college in the fall. What to do, indeed - something has to change, both so I can have time to work with and ride Maisie and Dawn, our two rideable horses, and so that I have enough time and space for all the other things in my life.

(On a side note, there are two excellent posts on related issues - one is by Janet of Mugwump Chronicles and is at Equestrian Ink - "What are We Doing?", and the other is by Marissa at Tucker the Wunderkind - "Horse/Life balance". Read them both and keep the conversation going by commenting at those two blogs.)

So I've thought a lot, done a bunch of checking, and made some decisions. These decisions aren't easy ones - they involve my acknowledging that I can't do everything myself and need to let some things be handled by others. I also am coming to the (uncomfortable) realization that:
  • I can't own every single horse in the world. I love all horses, each and every one, paints, Thoroughbreds, drafts, Friesians, Quarter Horses, appaloosas, and each and every horse breed and type you can imagine. I love horses of all colors (but especially bays!).
  • I'm getting older and so is my husband. My daughters are almost grown and will be gone from home. I can't do as much as I used to be able to do, although I'm still very active. These things won't get better - I'm going to get older.
  • I'm not really able to provide the care 5 horses need, without hiring a lot of help I can't afford. If I care for 5 horses, I don't have the energy to ride the 2 that can be ridden. I don't have unlimited financial resources, although I wish I did.
  • My horses, particularly Norman and Lily, have needs I'm not meeting all that well now.
Although it's hard to make decisions about things like this, I feel that they are right for my horses and me:

Noble (here's the post I did about him on his birthday), my 29 year old retired Quarter Horse (sound and in excellent health), will stay at the barn we are at now as long as it is open - he is doing well and is too old to move easily to another place. I can continue to closely participate in his care. I am also extremely attached to him, since he was my first horse as a adult returning to horses.

Dawn and Maisie, our two riding horses, will also stay at our barn for now, although our facility is far from ideal for me to work with them - there is no indoor arena so riding in the winter (or even when it rains a lot) is sometimes not possible and even then is limited to trails, which I won't be doing with Dawn, at least at this point. I could at some point see moving one or both of them elsewhere, although finding a good place which meets our needs (including my need, which will increase over time, to do less heavy physical labor), at an appropriate cost in our area is a challenge. If I move them somewhere else, I will likely have less say in their care and handling.

Now here's the big change - at the end of the month (only about a week away), Lily (here's a post about Lily and her story) and Norman the pony (here's his story) will be moving to live with Melissa and Jason at Paradigm Farms in Tennessee - sometimes the blog world and the real world intersect! If you read Lily's and Norman's posts, I think you'll understand why their needs aren't being met now.

My older daughter will be trailering them down in our rig. I'm not taking them down myself because I was afraid I would be upset having to drive all the way home (9 or 10 hours) with an empty trailer - I'll say goodbye to them here and have the other horses to keep me busy. Sending a horse to a horse retirement farm is a big step - there are a lot of bad retirement places and since you don't see your horse all that often it's hard to make sure their care is good - I could do a whole post on that topic based on what I've found out. But I believe that Melissa and Jason run a really excellent operation, and I have confidence that Lily and Norman will receive care that is equal to what I could provide. They will escape our severe winters, be able to be outside (with appropriate shelter and blanketing if needed) in small herds on pasture 24/7. Both Norman and Lily should do better there, and enjoy life as much or more, than they do with me at our barn. Melissa and Jason's place is special, because they are both knowledgeable and pay attention to each horse, and I'm lucky to have access to their place for my horses.

Do I worry that Lily and Norman will miss us? Lily may miss us a little bit, but after she adjusts she'll care about her new herd more. Norman might think about us for the nanosecond he's not grazing, but I doubt it. Will I miss them? Absolutely - Norman is a real character and I have a special bond with and respect for Lily. But I plan to visit them from time to time, and I'll take comfort that they are happy and well-cared for. Pretty soon you'll be able to follow their doings on Melissa's blog!

If you have "forever horses", how are you arranging for their care? - this is a challenging topic for all horse people, I think.


  1. Kate - you have made a difficult decision, but you did it with thorough research. You know they will get excellent care and that they will be happy in their new home. That is what is best for everyone. Relax and feel confident in your decision. You have given them many wonderful years so far and you haven't stopped. It is just a different location, but equally kind to them!

  2. Until recently, my sweetheart and I boarded our mares at a place similar to the place you board, Kate: "too much place, not enough money/time to maintain it." We worked our tails off to keep the place safe for our horses and the other boarders, but it wasn't designed for easy work.

    The economic downturn actually worked in our favor (so far): with no credit card debt, we were able to buy a small place on 5 acres.

    It needs lots of work, but (having learned our lesson from the boarding barn) we are building it so that it will need LESS labor as years pass and we age.

    The next few years will be hard, and money will be tight, but barring Hell and High Water, we will be able to afford the place (and the maintenance on it) and be able to do the work ourselves into our elder years because we're building it with decreasing mobility and strength in mind.

    We're also designing it, not with our two horses in mind (they are gentle on fences and pastures) but with the WORST horses in the world in mind; figuring that at some point we may own one or two of those, and don't want to have to re-design on the fly. Yup, learned that lesson from the boarding barn doing it the wrong way, how did you guess?

  3. Kate know that you are doing the right thing. I will support you any way I can in your decision. You can cry on my shoulder when the trailer pulls out to head to Tennessee.

  4. I have a forever horse, and I have no idea how I will handle the situation as she ages. Currently she is young, and I am still riding her daily. I am loosing sleep at night about bringing my young horse to the same facility at the end of this month and wondering how I will afford to have two horses there. Yikes!

    Sounds like you have made a decision that is best for both yourself and your horses. I'm sure they will be happy in "leisure village".

  5. Kate, that does sound like such a difficult decision, but good for you for making sure to do the research and make the right choice for the horses.

    I am 100 percent committed to providing a forever home for Panama, but he's only four right now so retirement is a long ways away. I want a second horse eventually, or some type of companion for Panama, though I'm considering looking for a pasture ornament because my husband isn't horsey either and it's unlikely he'd ever be interested in riding with me. I hope to be able to someday give a home to an unrideable horse like the alpha gelding at my barn, who needs someone to love him even if he can't be ridden.

    Anyway, my point with this long rambling comment is that this blog post brings up something that I'll have to consider: making sure I don't get more horses than I can care for in their old age. I have a soft spot for neglected horses and I frequently tell my husband, "If I could afford to rescue another horse, that's the one I'd get" (about a different horse every time). But as your post notes, there's a really good reason for me to apply the brakes whenever I start thinking like that. Panama is my best friend, and I can't ever sacrifice the quality of his care in order to satisfy a fleeting desire to own another horse.

  6. To me it sounds like you have made a great decision. I wish there was a retired agistment place in Australia like that because I would have tried to send my 'forever friend' there.

    My husband is in the Defence Force so we move every three years. This is good but our last move was hard. Strides - he was my first horse I have ever owned and he was old. He was only 23yo but had had a hard life before I got him when he was 9yo. He lived with mum when I retired him as she had the room to look after him. Mum sold her place and moved to a place that had no room for horses so he came back to live with my husband and I - 10hrs away. In his retirement he suffered from soundness issues and old age in general. When we found out we were moving 20hrs North to a completely different climate as well we had to decide what to do with him. He was starting to cost a lot to feed, you could have used him as a lead rein but he was 15.3hh and not always quiet. We think he had suffered a minor stroke because in the mornings when we would wake him for breaky it would take a bit for him to find his legs. We made the hard decision to have him put to sleep.

    He looked a million dollars the day we took him to the vets. I am still sad at not having the old boy around but I do not regret my decision. I don't believe he would have coped with the move, the different climate where we are and I couldn't find a suitable agistment place. He was a wonderful horse and I feel blessed that he allowed me in. He taught me a lot and I am glad that I got to say how and when.

    You have made a hard choice but a good one. Not only do we have to think of our horses well being but our own!

  7. Great post - sorry you have to make such tough decisions, but it sounds like the retirement farm is the perfect place for your two. I'm sure they'll receive great care.

    I have a 19yo gelding who is still sound and healthy (for the most part). He has low grade uveitis, but it hasn't affected his vision yet. I'm hoping to get a few more years of light riding out of him - then I'll have to deal with the official retirement situation. Haven't thought too much about it yet - it will depend on how his eyesight fares over the next couple of years... But, it is definitely wise to start thinking about options now...

  8. It's a hard decision but sometimes we have to face the realities of aging and find alternative plans for our horses. I hope it all works out and I'm sure you will miss each other. Glad to see they are getting a good home and will be well cared for.

  9. It is terrible to have to say farewell to your horses! It's a good thing you are in the position and possess the compassion to do it right! I think it's really much more of an issue of where they are going. If you've chosen carefully, you can rest easy (and so will they!) that everything will be OK. I know my friend Bill has sold so many horses, but he always does his best to make sure he sells them to good people. Many of his buyers have kept in touch! One time he saw one of his horses years later and was delighted to hear she had helped all the children in the family learn to ride, and had had two babies! A very full life!
    I'll miss you having a Lily though!!

  10. What hard choices we have when we really love our horses. Sounds like you've made an excellent choice, for both the horses and yourself. You'll be able to enjoy your horses more and still know that Norman and Lily are well cared for.

    I've been pondering the fates of our horses here too. My two boys, Tonka and Scout, will stay with me. I was considering taking Soxy back to her previous owner, who would be happy to have her, because the kids don't ride enough. But when I told my 7 year old son that we'd probably have to put his old horse, Coda, to sleep this fall, he said he wanted to keep Soxy, which made me happy. At his age, fall is a LONG time from now, and he's happy he'll have his old horse for such a long time still. For me, it's too short and is already making me very sad.

  11. Aww, sounds like a hard choice but the right one.

    I consider both of my horses forever horses- my younger mare I got from a friend, and in the event that I can't keep her, I have promised her back to my friend.

    My old guy is a 25 year old arabian. He is still in good health, though he has enough arthritis to make him too lame to ride on certain days, and is a hard keeper. But he still has lots of spunk. I am toying around with the idea of free half-leasing him to someone petite- I am thinking a young teenager with some riding experience (he can be very strong-willed at times). I just don't feel right ri9ding him very much- I'm 5'9 and 170lbs, he's 14.3 and about 800 lbs. In the event that I can't keep him, I hate to say this, but with the economy, I'd most likely have to put him to sleep, unless it was someone I knew and trusted and I could keep tabs on him. I live in fear of him colicking- he's old, and it's unfair to put him through surgery, so if it came down to that, I would put him to sleep.

    Good post, and thanks for all your helpful replie on my blog, too. :)

  12. Great post about something we all have to deal with sooner or later. The decisions are always hard to make.
    I have 5 forever horses. Four live 10 minutes from my house. Two of those are ones we ride, a 25 yr old quarter horse with cushings and Jack The other two are retirees, Salty is 23 and has a bum knee and Freedom is in his mid 40s. I have a blind horse that is only 12 and has a lot of years left, he lives in a specially equiped facility 1 1/2 hours away, I visit often and he recognizes the sound of my car still.
    Thanks for stopping by

  13. Kate,

    I'm sure this was a difficult decision for you, but it sounds like you are doing what is best for you and for your horses. Most importantly, you've found a place where Lily and Norman will be comfortable and happy. Even though it will be hard to say goodbye, sometimes we need to do that in order to put the animals first.

    And thank you for pointing your readers to my blog! Once we bring these amazing creatures into our lives, we are continually faced with big decisions and choices, and have a whole new set of priorities to balance. Hopefully we can support each other and figure it all out.

    I hope you get to spend some nice time with Lily and Norman this week. I am sure they will be happy in their new home but they definitely will miss you!

  14. Kate, I think it is wonderful that you have taken the time to really asses the situation. Sometimes it is really very hard to 'fit' it all in and just acknowledging that you can't do it all is very liberating in itself.

    I think you have found a great place for them to retire at and that they will both be well cared for and happy.

    If only every horse had a forever 'human' to take care of them!
    Steph :)

  15. Your decision is well thought out and seems like the right choice for you horses. About 6 years ago I took on my childhood horse for the sole means of retiring him from riding lessons. I do not think I thought it through very well. Unfortunately he came to me with cancer and a heart problem so he only had a 5 year retirement. I don't know what I would have done if he lived as long as some horses. I was younger and brash and did not plan very well. My friend has a horse who is 37, very frail but still hanging in there and plugging along. She really wants to go back to school but can not afford the horse and school. It is really hard to know what the right decisions are because as you said in this horse selling/upgrading culture there are not set standards. Good job giving your horses a great retirement. They are very lucky to have you!

  16. I applaud your efforts to both be realistic as to your own limits and fortunate enough to both afford and arrange to see that these horses are cared for and provided for in the manner of your choice.

    I have gone through the dilemma of caring for horses that have lived beyond their useful life and are approaching the realm of taking resources that could go toward the horses we actually need and use regularly.
    It's never easy.

    Unfortunately these days even the option of euthanasia and rendering are becoming excessively expensive and add to the dilemma of appropriately dealing with an elderly/retired horse.

  17. My boys are all keepers. Now that they are home, my little place is relatively easy to take care of...except with all this mud!! No matter what, they stay with me and when the time comes, they are provided for in my will.

  18. What a great post, Kate! Not easy decisions by any measure, but right and good decisions.

    You see too many horses come through rescue facilities because people hung on too long when they couldn't provide the right things for their horses. (Also for worse reasons, of course.)

    As hard as it would be to give up Bar and Lena, to refuse to admit I couldn't care for them any longer and make them suffer for my own sense of pride would be a far worse thing.

    As you once said to me, trust your instincts.

  19. Thanks to everyone for your comments! It is a hard issue, and one we all have to think about at some time in our lives.

    Jean - thanks for mentioning that horses can be provided for in your will. Particularly if you don't have horsey relations - there is a lady at our barn, who is in her early 70s, still actively riding and her horse is about 20 and from a long-lived breed - she has a trust as part of her will/estate planning so that the horse's needs will be taken care of, with a trustee who is a horsey friend.

  20. What a very difficult decision to have to make. I wish all horse people ared as much about their horses as you do - I think you have done a wonderful thing, and it sounds like Lily and Norman will be heading to a great place. I am similarly having to think about what to do with Blizzid, and it's nice to see the process others go through.

  21. I always feel bad when I'm excited about a now arrival because I know there is a person dealing with a different set of emotions on the other end of the spectrum.

    However, I am looking forward to showing off Lily and Norman on my blog!

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