Natural Horse World

Giving Your Horses a Forever Home

What seems like a lifetime ago, before my ‘heart’ kicked in and I was ruled by my head (being practical etc.), I admit with deep feelings of guilt and regret that I sent some of my old horses to the local ‘dog man’ to be ‘put down’. They were no longer of any use to me (couldn’t breed or be ridden) and at the time I thought it was too difficult and not practical to keep them.

Lucky (26) and Pepsi (31) will live together in retirement until they are ‘ready’ to go to horse heaven.

It’s interesting the words we use to cover up for the crime we commit! ‘Dog man’ being the owner of greyhounds who are fed horse meat, and ‘put down’ being slaughtered! Amazingly, the ‘dog man’ was also a horse owner and professed horse lover – he even bred and showed his own horses! But he had no issues with disposing of old, injured or un-wanted horses. The only ‘nice’ thing about it was that the horses were not part of a production line – they were shot in his pasture, munching their final feed.

Nowadays, I would no more do that than take my kids/dogs to be put to sleep just because they were old or had passed their usefulness. So why is it so hard for people to offer their old or no longer ridden/breeding horses a loving and caring retirement? I know for some its a financial issue, but hey, if you have one horse, you need another to keep it company. If you have a few horses, then what’s one more mouth to feed provided you can give them the things listed below?

26yo Armero is retired from breeding but enjoys getting out for a walk to carry feed buckets to the other old folks.

If you look after your oldies, they need not cost you a fortune to care for.  Here’s what I find works well for me and my two ‘old folks’ to keep them healthy and happy.

  1. Keep them in a ‘stable’ relationship with a longtime buddy of similar age if possible. (if you don’t have another retiree, ask friends and maybe you can share in their care to keep two together). Don’t swap and change their friends for convenience sake – emotional bonds that are broken, can cause a horse’s immune system to crash as depression and finally illness sets in.
  2. Give them the feed they need – this may mean a separate pasture with more grass (or less if they are prone to laminitis). It’s important to ensure they aren’t losing out on food by being low in the herd order.
    Feed simple but healthy – a balanced mineral mix, ad-lib hay (or several feeds with chaff a day if they can’t chew hay/grass), a senior feed with herbs if needed, a salt lick, and fresh water that is easy to access (not a slippery or steep sided dam or creek).
  3. Weather protection is important – ensure they have shelter from the elements – a shed they can escape from flies and hot sun that also provides wind and rain protection is ideal. If a shed is not possible then ensure there are trees in their pasture for shade, and provide a rug in winter that is removed daily so they can roll and itch.
  4. Regular hoofcare and dental checks are vital to their long term health. Please don’t neglect your oldies just because they aren’t being ridden. Dental care is especially important as their teeth wear out and possibly become infected due to gum shrinkage.
  5. Give them love and attention daily along with regular grooming/scratching. Retirees deserve and love to be appreciated as much as your best horse – maybe at one time they were your best horse!

    Older horses can be great teachers for younger children if they have been educated and treated well.
  6. Involve them in life around the other horses as much as possible – if they can live alongside the main herd, even better. Taking them for in-hand walks when their riding days are over keeps them fitter and mentally stimulated. Older horses make wonderful teachers for small children or fearful adults to learn ground skills. Some can even play a role in Equine Assisted Therapy providing it is not too demanding. Like wise old people, older horses can have a role to play in our lives if we allow them to.

If you really struggle to keep your retirees, and have enough heart to allow them to live out their days, consider an equine sanctuary or retirement home for horses. It would still be necessary to pay for their up-keep, but at least they could live out their days being cared for in the company of other retired horses.

Remember, ‘family’ is everything to a horse and that ‘Horses are For Life’.

31yo Quarterhorse mare, Pepsi, sports spring flowers after being allowed to feel the freedom from her blanket. If you need to provide a rug for shelter, remove it daily if possible so your older horse can still be ‘a horse’ and enjoy the sun, a little rain for a natural wash, and be able to roll and itch.

5 thoughts on “Giving Your Horses a Forever Home”

  1. Dori Jennings

    This was such a great read and such an important message to get out there which would be great to see on a continuous basis, to remind the younger generation of their responsibility of horse ownership and that it is for life, not just a season or two. I’ve had my quarter horse mare since she was 12. This year she turns 33. In the early days, there was many a time when I thought of passing her on, but that was due to my lack of understanding and knowledge and thankfully I was unable to bring myself to do so. She has taught me so much and what I’ve learnt along the way has benefited me not just with my relationship with her and my other horses, but also in life generally. Yes, there is considerable expense to look after her, but that’s my job and I love it. She deserves it and so many more out there do to. Thank you Cynthia for helping to raise awareness of our older equine friends. 🙂

  2. sonia comer

    I can’t understand how people can just sell horses when they become old, can’t be ridden or they just want something new! Horses aren’t cars, although alot of people treat them like this. A horse can live 25 years or more so if you sell your 7 year old, for example to get a new horse you have no way of knowing what is going to happen to it in later years. Sadly here in France unwanted horses just go for meat, no wonder horsemeat is so cheap, there are so many horses out there who aren’t wanted. I have three including a blind 13 year old. He went blind a year ago through uveitis, so I can’t ride him but he has a good life, in the fields and woods he has known for 4 years, he feels safe and has two donkeys for companions, why should I have him shot or sold for meat, just cos you can’t ride a horse doesn’t mean they have no use. In fact Lu is so calm and knows his way round so well that in the spring and summer he is our ecofriendly lawn mower and just mooches around the lawn keeping it tidy, having a nap when the urge takes him. He gave me 4 years of lovely rides out in the countryside, and helped me get the confidence to get two other horses and learn about horse behaviour, the least I can do is to give him a forever home.

    1. Cynthia

      I think the least we owe our horses is a happy, long life for all they do for us. Thanks for caring enough to keep your blind boy. I love the eco friendly lawn mower description – what a lovely job for him 🙂

  3. So nice to see elderly horses being looked after. We have a bunch of ‘elderly’s, one of whom, my little Ausie Stock Horse, doesn’t realise he is supposed to be ‘old. He’s in his mid twenties but is still sprinting around being an ‘Uncle’ to my foal. They play all sorts of games together. 🙂

    1. Cynthia

      That sounds lovely Cathy. The young ones need older horses to teach them things and the older horses need youngsters to keep the active and young at heart. So glad its working out for you to keep your stockhorse boy.

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