In this podcast episode (click here to listen), I share with you the many facets and perspectives to consider when retiring a horse.
Sammy, a retired dressage horse, provided me with the first unusual perspective. His person had no choice but to retire Sammy due to a painful spinal disease called Kissing spine. When two or more vertebrae develop bony projections that cause nerve interference and with that pain. Sammy and his person see each other every day, playing at liberty, learning tricks but they no longer ride.
In one of our phone conversations, Sammy expressed that watching the other horses' being worked' while he 'only' played' was hard for him.
So his person asked if Sammy was interested in retiring at a farm designed for horses like him? She gave me the name and I pulled up the place's website to share with Sammy what I saw. Run-in sheds, large pastures, daily check-in by a person to make sure he was happy and healthy. Weekly visits by his person.
Then, I described a photo of a group of horses in a field who appeared relaxed. I told Sammy that just by looking at their bodies, I could see they were former athletes, just like him.
That piqued Sammy's interest. He was surprisingly excited to hang out in a pasture with other athletes. He explained, "We can all hang out together knowing that we have a similar history. We'll share the understanding that we know hard work and success."
I envisioned Sammy and the other retired horses hanging out like dudes at the local coffee shop, shooting the shit about their time as a quarterback, hitter, or triathlete. Brilliant.
Now, Rio, a retired polo horse I communicated with, had a different perspective and different concerns.
Shortly after Rio was retired, his mood became sullen. Eventually, his person asked me to check in with him to see what was going on.
Turns out, Rio was not sure what had happened. He didn't understand why he was overlooked for training sessions and games. His trainer kept walking right past his stall and nobody brought him in from the paddock. He was wondering why?
Turns out, nobody had told Rio that he was retired. Once we cleared up the confusion, Rio brightened up. However, his wish was not to retire but to stay conditioned and fit. He asked his person to continue to ride him, even if just for pleasure. Rio was not done exercising his body.
That leads me to think about the many reasons why humans decide to retire a horse.
The horse is too old to do the work s/he was purchased for.
The horse has an injury and can't be ridden.
The horse has lameness issues.
The owner has a new horse and no time for the now-retiree.
Horses, especially those who have been amazing athletes in the show ring or on the track, are sometimes not happy to retire or downgrade their workload. A career change can be daunting for superstar horses. Imagine Tom Brady being demoted to playing with the out-of-shape coffee shop dudes. For a superstar horse, becoming a school horse, teaching people who don't know or understand their magnificence can be a letdown.
Yet, horses like Buddy, one of the therapeutic riding horses I was responsible for as the director of a riding center, have shared a different perspective with me. As a former school horse, Buddy’s work as a therapy horse felt like retirement. He was mainly asked to walk around. Had to trot only occasionally. He was often on a lead-line, he didn’t have to think all that much. The new job felt like a vacation compared to his day as a school horse.