Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Nothing sadder than an old horse for sale

Eclipse in 2006 winning 4th place in 3rd level  region 9 championships
We've all seen ads -- HORSE FOR SALE, $500. 22 year old gelding, many ribbons, show mileage, now sound for trail riding or as pasture buddy, blah, blah, blah.

To the owners: Who's going to buy that horse? Who's going to love and care for that horse more than you, the people he served all of his life? Strangers? 

We learned this as kids
I think it's fitting that many of us horse lovers as children read Black Beauty. The novel has a lesson that we need to remember as adult horse owners.
  • The world is not a kind place for animals, and every time a horse changes hands, its circumstances are likely to worsen. 
  • We owe our horses a good retirement -- however we can make it happen.
Why the tirade?
Probably a number of you have seen the thread on the Chronicle of the Horse, about Eclipse. If you have not read it, grab a kleenex box and have a seat. Eclipse was a successful third level dressage horse in region 9, and his owner sold him, at age 12,  in good faith to what she thought would be a forever home. Fast forward a few years -- the horse changed hands a few times, and about a month ago someone found a posting on Craigslist. SCHOOLMASTER: 17 year old Oldenburg gelding. Solid 3rd level horse, Region Champion. Has been shown 4th level as well. As with many older horses, some minimal maintenance required. $6,000 OBO. It included a link to this video.

Long story short, the seller was a trader who was a "last stop" before the killers/meat truck. This horse was saved through a concerted effort of folks on this list. The former owner was contacted. She and another COTHer jointly purchased "Clipper."

Please note that the original owner is not guilty of dumping an older horse -- she sold the horse at a young age to a reputable place that promised a forever home. And she stepped up to the plate when she found out about his circumstances.

Eclipse's story tells us that we can't ever be certain what will happen to horses we sell, and if we care about them, we need to follow up with them, and take measures to ensure their continued well being. Write in the contract that you want the right of first refusal. If nothing else this will alert you that your horse's circumstances are changing.

The old gray mare...
And selling an old horse? That goes double. The instant they become unuseful, or unaffordable, they're at risk of changing hands again, and it doesn't take long to hit bottom when you're an old horse. We are the stewards of the animals we keep, and our love doesn't mean much if we don't follow through in our actions.


  1. Thank you for writing this. I have a 29-year old German Hannoverian mare (arthritic knees, one eye, retired from riding) living with me, my 23-year old dream horse Hanoverian gelding Keil Bay, an 8-year old QH with PSSM who is a wonderful ride but unable to do the riding my daughter had hoped to do with him, and a 12-year old 12.2 half-Shetland who was my daughter's first pony. The two miniature donkeys came to be companions for the mare. We have our own farm but are at full capacity with this herd - to the degree that I am budgeting carefully to pay for my daughter to ride someone else's horse so she can do the riding she wants to do.

    We'll never sell these horses to buy her a new one. Not only did we make commitments to them but we LOVE them. Not only do we LOVE them but they are extremely attached to each other - they are a bonded herd and I will not break them up.

    Every month I get emails asking if I will take on someone's older, beloved, perfect home only "schoolmaster" so they can go out and buy a younger horse. I have zero sympathy. I'm taking care of mine and the next open slot here on my little farm goes to the next Hanoverian that will be my daughter's horse. If we find one that loves to jump and also loves dressage I'll ride him too!

    Meanwhile, Salina the goddess mare is teaching me all about caring for the aging horse. Keil Bay is still mercifully sound and still an incredible ride for me. Cody has taught me how to manage a debilitating condition to the degree that he is fully sound and able to be ridden daily. The pony is teaching me how to learn to ground drive, and it's entirely possible he will be my grandchild(ren)'s first pony. The donkeys give hugs and prove every day just how attached these equines are. They stand with the mare, one on each side, and guard her. She thinks they are her babies who just look different and never grow up, and they have given her a job - to look after them.

    And my job is to live with them, enjoy their company, and help them pass when the time comes with love and dignity. Just like I would do for any beloved family member.

    1. I have sympathy for the horses you describe, but not for their people. I rather hope Karma comes back to bite them and teach them how it is to be treated as a disposable 'thing'. There used to be a small riding school where I board my horses, and they moved about 600 km away with all their horses just before Christmas. One of my geldings is very good friends with one of theirs, and I agonised for months about what to do and asked my boy many times what he wanted. Near as I can tell he wanted his friend more than me. There is no way the people would have sold their old boy to me, he is family to them, so I let my boy go with the their herd, but he is still my horse. I am paying his board & any medical bills. I can trust the people to look after him and he really likes them, and when his old friend dies we can assess what would be best for him - to stay with the rest of the herd or come back to me. But either way he is my horse. He is the first of my family who has not stayed with me till he died, and I will be responsible for him to the end of his days.

  2. My family just got a 30+ year old Morab gelding for free. He came from an older lady who is closing her youth horse camp. They'd had him for only 4 months and he never even went to camp because he walks too fast. He was left alone in a pasture after living with one other horse for years while the other horses left to work. He became a little neurotic and acted out. They described him as a border collie with no job. They hated him. Before them he belonged to a hadicapped rider for 13 years. Before that we don't know, but we think he was an endurance horse at one time beacause of a brand.

    He is completely sound except for some creakyness. He's very well trained and safe for a beginner. He has been a complete gentleman since he arrived at my house and I've never had trouble catching him like the previous owners did. I believe he knows they didn't like him. And he's going to hang out with my 25+ year old ringbone gelding until they are both ready for permanent "retirement".

  3. I'm very lucky that the horse I ride is owned by someone who is committed to keeping him for his entire life. She kept her first horse - who was 30 when he finally passed - for years, even though he was unrideable, and was happy to let him just enjoy life. I know that when I eventually get my own horse (when I'm out of college with a dependable income), I will follow her example and do the same.

    So glad that Eclipse's story had a good ending - I've seen ads similar to those and it just breaks my heart.

  4. That is so sad and just strengthens my resolve to be my horses last home. Got him at age 5/6 and he's 13 now, I may lease him within the barn but never sell him.

  5. Well stated, Stacey. Thank you.

  6. Wow that thread sucked me in. What an incredibly happy ending. Sadly that is not the norm but it sure is nice to see it happen to such a sweet horse that gave so much for so long.

  7. I so agree with you. That is one reason I think ground play is so important. (I'm not talking about just lunging). When my Oberon was hurt for two months, we couldn't ride him. But we continued to do our ground work and now he is walking sideways on the ground for me, doing cazy 8's in front of me, and all sorts of fun things. Owning a horse shouldn't just be about riding.

  8. I am so blessed to have my horses here at home where they will be forever. And I've put them in my will to be taken care of should something happen to me.

    I consider it my honor to keep them all their lives in return for all they have done for me.

  9. I have a 17 yr OTTB, I bought him 2 years ago. When I bought him I made the commitment that this is the last stop - he's got a home for life with me. He's already been passed around to a new home every 2-3 years and it's time for him to have some security in his life. I had to make the difficult decision to move him to a new place in a few weeks due to an increase in board cost and and a baby on the way for me but he's still mine forever.

  10. Thank you, it is so good to hear from people who are committed to their horses and don't treat them as disposable things. I hate seeing how horses are passed around and their friendships broken up.

  11. Every month Horse and Rider's for sale pages have about 1 in 3 ads for over 17's with issues, 1 in 3 babies with no work done leaving very few who i think are in with a good chance of a future. it makes me sad every time to see the oldtimers who deserve care and respect from their masters and the babies who deserve a better start than being labelled "untouched" and "prospect" but given no skills.

  12. Such a great post. This is one of the reasons I hesitate to get a horse, when I'm finally able. I won't be able to let it go to anyone else for fear of this very thing. Your post made me think of the current best-seller, "The Eighty-Dollar Champion: Snowman, The Horse that Inspired a Nation." A great read and I remember watching the Galloping Grandfather ride as a kid. It's a reminder of the beautiful animals people throw away.

  13. This is SO true. It makes me very angry when I see an old horse for sale-especially one that has been in his home a long time and done well. There is a place in hell for the people who do this. Such horses almost never have a happy ending. I have two retired horses right now, and none of the horses that I own will be sold. Even if I have no room for a riding horse because of too many retirees. Doing right by my old friends is more important.

  14. This public service announcement should be reviewed by all horse owners. Thank goodness the older horse was able to make it home again. How absurd to show off the reinbacks, sidepass, and barrel jump. His walk is gorgeous and his halt was square every time. Was the trader trying to show what she had taught him? Give me a break.

    Unfortunately, I have felt the sharp sting of watching lesson horses sold beyond my control. This was especially heart-breaking when the horse had been asked to change jobs and refused to perform. Instead of the animal being appreciated for his skill-set, he was sold abruptly without any information about where he went. Few things have floored me in public like the moment I approached his stall and realized he was gone. It was so wrong and still hurts to think about.

    I hope your message is spread around and taken to heart by many.

  15. I read the entire COTH thread on Eclipse AFTER everyone figured out who he was and his former owner and her friend had stepped up to rescue him, thank goodness! I wound up being rather angry at the people in TN who she sold him to, who promised the "forever home" and peaceful retirement. I'd love to know what THEIR excuse was...

    Being merely a lesson student my whole life, and not an owner, I have had the misfortune of seeing a number of my school horse friends simply go missing one day. It stinks. Any horse of mine - when I finally get one - will be chosen very carefully, because I plan to keep him 'til the end...

    I can hardly look at the rescue website for my dog breed of choice, because there are ALWAYS senior dogs on there who were dumped by their owners because "they got a new puppy." Definitely a special place in hell for a@@hats like that.

  16. I have a 23 year old WB mare. She was retired at 13 due to a slight bone spur. Paddock sound but not ridable. She stays with me.

    Someone had the nerve to ask me to borrow her uterus so that she could get a free service from a particular stallion. The reason she was offered a free service was that her orginal mare was tied down for serving and the poor thing flipped over and broke her neck.

    I won't use the language here that I used to refuse THAT offer.

    Oh and billie - you rock!

  17. Loved this post. This is the reason I hesitate to buy a horse when I'm finally able, I'll not be able to let it go to anyone else for fear of the same fate. As a reader yourself, just wondering if you've read the "The EIghty Dollar Champion: Snowman, The Horse that Inspired a Nation"? A wonderful story about a horse that was, at one point, "thrown away". I remember watching the Galloping Grandfather as a child on TV and never realized the amazing story behind his success. This post reminded me of this fine horse.

  18. I'm looking for an older sound horse that wants a forever home.


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