Sunday, May 22, 2011

Retirement thoughts

Throwleigh Farm
I think alot about retirement.

Oh -- not mine, Harv's.

There is a farm in Virginia, Throwleigh Farm, that is a reasonably priced retirement facility with a decent/good reputation. For $150/month your retired horse is kept at a large, family-owned farm on a many-acred pasture with other old, old guys. Trimming and shots are included. You can't visit without an appointment, though.

There is a place in Pittstown PA called Ryerss Farm, and for a hefty one-time sum ($4-6,000) they'll take your old guy off your hands entirely.  They provide a little more hands-on/individualized care than Throwleight, plus a stall (when needed).  As a non-profit,  they have volunteers and you can visit during their open hours. I donate to Ryerss and Harv is on the waiting list (has been for about 3 years).

 Outsource my own horse's retirement?
Lately I'm thinking that "outsourcing" Harv's retirement is not an option, at least not while it's financially an option for me to keep him myself. Why?
  • Aging has not made Harv lower maintenance. He's never been a high maintenance horse, but I see things now that need to be monitored closely -- his weight, his teeth, his arthritis, for example. No one will care about this more than I do.
  • Harvey loves attention. While lots of retirement places do some interaction with the horses, Harv loves having people around to fuss over him. He's had this all of his life. I don't see changing that.
  • Harv knows me. Since he was nine years old, Harv has had me around, checking on him, fussing over him, riding him, annoying him (pulling his mane for example), feeding him, rubbing his ears.  Turning him over to someone else will feel like abandonment.
  • I want him around. Every day.
Harv is finally starting to look his age, old gentleman that he is. As his health becomes more fragile, he needs his routine, he needs many pairs of eyes on him, and he needs the kind of monitoring a retirement barn will have trouble providing. He will have this as long as I can make it happen.

Final options
I've had casual conversations with a friend. I don't know if either of could actually follow through, but both of us have said that rather than let our horses out of our control in their old age, we'd put them down. Too many horses end up in the wrong hands or in bad circumstances when they're "given away" or adopted out.  Put an old, but otherwise reasonably healthy horse down? I don't know if I could really do this, and whether it is an ultimately selfish act or a thoughtful one, an act of kindness or the ultimate in exerting control over an animal. I hope never to have to put this thinking to the test.


  1. Is Harv still rideable?
    If so... a lot of older horses are very good mounts for people just learning to ride, or people who just want a very dependable horse that isn't going to leap 6 ft in the air when a leaf falls from a tree!
    If you found someone who would be interested riding him, even just a couple days a week, they could help pay for part of his board... and he could continue being a healthy, useful, fussed-over and appreciated old man.

  2. We are lucky to have a few farms that help out with our program, and pasture-board the old, unrideable horses at a lower cost. The lower maintenance ones go out to live at pasture, and anyone who needs more special attention goes to a facility where they can get it. It's nice that the horses can live out there days in a quiet, caring environment.

    That said, I could never send my old guy away. Really, the only way to guarantee the best care is to oversee it/give it directly... And my animals are my family.

    I have seen too many animals spend their last months suffering because of the selfishness or ignorance of humans -- I would rather put down a "mostly healthy" animal (after exhausting ALL other options) than be responsible for or witness that kind of ending. One time is too many.

  3. I've been through this, in theory and in reality. This quote says it better than I ever could:

    "You become responsible forever, for what you have tamed." Antoine de Saint-Exupery

    (And for me this quote excludes the "final option" as well.)


  4. Your link to Throwleigh Farm didn't work. I googled them - have to say I don't care at all for the tone of their website. Ryerss sounds better.

    You might look at Paradigm Farms, located in Tennessee. They have a great blog which provides frequent updates on and pictures of their happy retirees.

    I don't know what they charge - and I can only imagine with the care that they give, there is likely a long waiting list. This is the only place where I would want my horse to retire, hands down.

  5. If Harv is sill rideable, the best thing you can do for him is to keep riding him. That's better than putting him out in a field where he may or may not regularly exercise himself. I think you are right in realizing he likes you and the routine you have--often completely retired horses don't live long. Dressage keeps horses young, and I sometimes think people retire horses that can still do work too early. If they're a little creaky, so what? Warm up and supplements, plus careful conditioning does wonders, but I think many people just want to move on, even when riding their older horses would be better for the horse, physically AND mentally. Here's a clip from an article on Max Gahwyler including mention of his Hanoverian who lived to 40 and was still being ridden weeks before his death (from COTH):

    ....He taught his horses the movements of dressage--including piaffe and passage--in-hand and then worked on building their muscles so that his horses resembled body builders. "I never had a horse in his 20s that wasn't still doing Grand Prix dressage," he said proudly, explaining how this system kept his horses sound.

    In fact, Gahwyler recently put down his 40-year-old Hanoverian Prinz Eugen. Dresden, his "young horse," is 26. He bought him for $1 as a retired show jumper.

  6. It's really good to hear people considering their horse's retirement needs and trying to find better options for them than just selling them on.

    One of the things that greatly concerns me about many aspects of the horse world is the way horses are so often treated as tools. I'm a novice rider - just trails and playing around at gymkhana games but for the fun, not winning - and have had two' horses for about 18 months, neither of my boys are particularly suited to my current riding ability (bought one because he really didn't like his human bit liked me and I couldn't leave him there, and was given the other one because it was either me or a very uncertain future). They are family, and there is no way in the world I wouldn't keep them unless my circumstances changed to make it impossible. But this isn't what I see in most other 'horse people' around here, so I really applaud your decision.

  7. Have you looked at Paradigm Farms? I just read their blog, but I always enjoy Melissa's entries about the life they live with their retirees.

  8. OK...Harv and you are linked through many years. I loaned my horse to a riding teacher I knew very well with a beautiful farm for a while when I retired him from competition. In a few months it was quite obvious he was very unhappy and missed me terribly. I swore after that I'd never do that again, and paid board on him until the day I had to put him down.

    Now that I have the horses home, there is no question. They stay until the time comes for them to pass on. It is the least I owe them. I can certainly understand people who opt for retirement "homes" for their old horses, especially if space, boarding, or other issues factor in. But that is not the commitment I make to my horses.

    I suspect Harv needs you as much as you need him. I hope you can keep him close until his time on earth must end.

  9. Such a tough decision. I'm with you, I like to keep my horses close to me. I guess I do want that ultimate control. I want to be the one who decides when it's "time", if they don't die naturally. I just don't trust anyone else to make that decision. Who knows your horse better than you, ya know?

  10. I frankly don't understand why you would "put an old, but otherwise reasonably healthy horse down."
    If's he's just old, but otherwise healthy and happy (with proper maintenance), euthanasia does seem incredibly selfish. If he's in pain or has other quality of life issues, it's an act of kindness and part of your responsibility as an owner.

  11. Jenny, Yes, Harv is rideable but not for beginners. He's not hard but he is spooky and sometimes bolts a few strides.

    Hey Virginia, What if I lost my job? Should I give him away to anyone who would take him? Strangers who *seem* caring? Or who ARE caring but what if their finances change? How can you be SURE he'll live out his life comfortably? How will I feel if I learn he doesn't? I'm not being snide, I really want to know what options you think are responsible.

  12. If my horse (now 16) ever becomes too much of a burden for me to take care of but not yet ready to be put to sleep it gives me comfort that there are retirement farms where he could live out the rest of his days in peace. I believe horses are happiest and healthiest when turned out in a large pasture with buddies. Just because they may get more human interaction living in a barn isn't (in my opinion) reason to keep them on stall board if they aren't being worked regularly.

  13. I don't know. Old age does not seem like the time to make a horse stabled all his life learn to live outside in all kinds of weather. Harv runs in the heat, he runs from the bugs, he stands at the gate to come in after 4 hours (assuming no grass). He is having teeth problems and while he weight is okay, i have to watch it.

  14. I agree with CFS about Throwleigh's website tone--definitely not comforting! The stuff about when/how horses die is just macabre and strangely put. (plus the name sounds like Throwaway!)

  15. Jean said what I was going to say, and I also agree with the notion that taking a senior horse from a life he's come to know and expect and turn him out to pasture for retirement is not always the best thing.

    My two seniors (one 28 and retired from riding and one 22 and still totally sound and going strong) BOTH want to be in the barn on hot sunny days with their fans going. I have them at home so have set things up such that they can come in and out as they wish.

    My 28-year old mare has two miniature donkeys which we brought to live with us so she could have company up at the barn - daily turn-out with the geldings had worked fine for her but some days she just doesn't want to venture out with them. The donkeys are perfectly happy to stay in the barnyard and grass paddock with her.

    The kind of individualized care I give could never be replicated even in the ritziest retirement farm - and there is no way I could send one away even if I knew they could.

    For older humans worrying about their last horses - I have a notion of retirement farms where horses AND owners can live. Pool the resources and keep the oldsters together!

  16. I'm with NTAT. I have an older mare who his nearing her well-deserved retirement. I could never send her away. I've decided for her retirement I'm going to (and found what I think may be the right place) find a safe, large pasture, a companion buddy and over-see her care, feeding etc. completely. I actually want to care for her and be closer to her in retirement.

  17. I like the idea of Billie's. That's a retirement village I might be willing to consider.

    First option is to keep them close, I think we all agree. I worry about passing along an old horse, particularly if they aren't suitable for riding. But mostly because of the attachment horses have to their owners.

    Here's to Harv staying home.

  18. I've thought about this a lot as well. My guy is 25 and still going strong, but I've begun exploring for his later years. I will keep him forever and work him as long as possible - whatever movement he can do, anything is better than nothing. Keeping them limber and loose is the best thing you can do. When let loose on pastures to exercise themselves, they won't, and that is why they deteriorate so rapidly once that happens. My trainer said it best: "the longer you keep him fit, the longer he'll live comfortably." I can tell you, he does not look like he is 25; he looks like he's 12.

    However, the reason I've looked is because, living in California, his space is so limited in boarding barns. Due to previous injuries and a bout of cellulitis last summer, his hind legs need to constantly be watched for edema. The more room he has to walk, the better. The search for pastures is incredibly difficult in Southern California!

    Anyway, in my search I found a gorgeous area in North California of a retirement facility that offers the personal touch that I would, if I had the means - 2x daily health checks, nightly walks in the fruit orchard to have their pick!
    So its not "abandonment" retirement or personal care - I'm sure there are other retirement facilities like this that offer the exact care you would. Its just a matter of finding them.
    Either way, I've decided no matter how perfect this place is, I can't be that far from him, especially in his later years. Basically, I'm trying to say there is middle ground somewhere, you just have to find it.

  19. Retirement is such an emotive and contentious issue.

    The vets at my practice (three of whom are personal friends) are all totally anti retirement farms, believing that it's impossible to deliver an appropriate standard of care to older horses for the rates these places charge (usually about half of a normal barn for the same level of care). They'd much rather see an unrideable, unkeepable (for whatever reason) horse quietly and painlessly put to sleep than see them suffer from poor quality of care.

    My boy is an arthritic sixteen and although he's in the best condition of his life right now, I know I'll be lucky to get another five years out of his legs. At that point he'll graduate downwards though more gentle work with extra turnout to complete retirement, until he starts struggling to get up in the mornings or has a bad winter, when he'll quietly get PTS. That's the decision I made for my last horse and I know it was in HIS best interests, no matter what my emotions at losing my horse might be.

    I'm sure there are a few retirement facilities out there that really do offer a superb standard of care - the problem is a) finding a reputable one and b) as Stacey said insuring that the horse's emotional as well as physical needs are met.

  20. Dawn over at a Year With Horses has 3 horses retired at Paradigm Farms (she's in Illinois somewhere). From what I can gather from her posts about them, they offer excellent care and frequent updates for the owners. I think I'd want to keep Harv "at home" as long as I possibly could and only go the nursing home route if I absolutely had to. Change is hard enough on a younger horse; but I think you are right to have a plan of action just in case.
    I have to say, I LOVE Billie's idea (let's all retire together! :o)

  21. Here's a shameless plug for my friend's place Weber's Retired Horses. They are in KY and my Jow is there. I boarded with them previously before they moved down to KY. $400 more or less amonth all inclusive and the touch your horse everyday. They have just gotten into the retierment thing, but have owned many senoir horses themselves, definately not a hands off place. Thought I'd share for others out there. It's not an easy decision to make, but I'm very happy and don't worry about Joe there.

  22. I have to agree with Virginia and AmityBee. When you make the decision to buy a horse you know the life span, you know the riding span is shorter, and you know the responsibility you are taking on. I think it is very selfish to end your horses life (who has worked hard for you and loved you) so that you don't feel guilty about selling him. Your horse has bonded to you and relies on you. How do you think they feel when they no longer get to see you anymore?

    IMO when you decide to purchase a horse you take on the responsibility for that horse forever. Ending the horses life to make yours easier shouldn't be an option.

    Sorry if this is a little strong. Please don't take it as me yelling or being snide. I am just very passionate about this topic. My horses will be with me forever. If they become lame or old and I can't afford 2 horses, then I won't buy a second horse and send the other away or kill it. I will wait until I can afford 2.

  23. Shoot, my post just got eaten.

    Throwleigh's site freaks me out on several levels. Their attitude towards vet bills, their lies about trees being as good as a run-in shed, their general tone of know-it-allness, and their high prices for what is basically no care are all red flags for me, and having to make an appointment to see my own horse would be a deal-breaker.

    I'm not familiar with prices in your area but around here, for $90 or so you can get pasture board with the horses brought in twice a day for feeding/inspection at a place with an actual barn. Is there not some option less expensive than a fancy show barn, yet still a living, working barn with riders at it? Or a private citizen with room for a couple of horses for way less money?

    Speaking for myself I couldn't put down a horse that wasn't in pain unless I had no options left. Of course I know I'm spoiled because I have the facilities to simply care for mine for as long as I want. Honestly though, a modest house with barn and several acres and a short commute ended up costing a whole decimal place less than the fancy houses of our friends who live in town. Plus our taxes are lower. As much as horses are a part of your life, may I suggest you put that on the table as an option for the future? Look into it, it may not be feasible but then again it may be more so than you'd think.

  24. Most of you that claim euthanasia is "unfair" have probably not watched an animal suffer a long, slow, painful, preventable death, thanks to a human somewhere along the way who decided A) they could not bear the thought of having them PTS, or B) to send them away so it would not be their problem.

    This mare had an owner who did everything right (kept her nearly 30 years despite the fact that she never won/produced for him, provided for her in his will, etc) and she still nearly starved to death. She was lucky enough to come to us and get a happy last year, but many like her are not as fortunate -- I have seen more than a few whose last trailer ride was the one back to our farm... That's just among those directly connected to my current job, at a non-profit who does not "rescue" as a general rule.

    Trust me when I say that euthanasia is not the worst thing that can happen to an animal. A quiet, swift end at a home they have loved is far fairer than one along an "unknown" road of agony. (And yes, I know that the big E is not peaceful 100% of the time.)

    I'm not saying to immediately euth a horse who is unrideable -- my own senior has been on the verge of retirement several times, and I plan to keep him long after I stop riding him -- but if life throws the unexpected at you, and you have exhausted all other options, it may indeed be the kindest decision you can make.

  25. I definitely think putting an older horse down is MUCH more humane than sending them off into an unknown and uncontrollable fate. My first horse, who I still own, is 29 this year. She is healthy and I can afford to keep her on my farm for her retirement. But if there was ever any upheaval in my life that necessitated cutting back financially, she would be put down. It also states in my will that in the event I die before she does, she is to be put down. There is absolutely NO ONE on this earth that will care for her like me. No one. Maybe I am crazy, but she is just too high needs for me to ever feel comfortable with her out of my daily care.


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