Sunday, August 24, 2014

How do you know when it's time to retire them?

Cash is the only horse we've had long enough that we had to make a decision to retire him. First, I retired him from jumping at age 11, due to a bone lesion. We then focused on dressage for a couple of years, until it became obvious that fourth-level work was too much for him, and he was relegated to being a Training level schoolmaster. At 19, he had a mystery recurring lameness issue high up in his hind end, and we decided to fully retire him. After three years off, he came back sound, and has since been used for very light riding.

Despite the issues over the years, Cash never stopped wanting to work. To this day, he puts his head in his bridle, and you'd better have your act together or he gets impatient for you to get the buckles done. He still loves going on short trail rides, ears perked, a swing in his step. Sure, he's stiff and creaky and not fit, but he still loves to pretend that he can do half-passes and baby piaffe steps.

Red, however, is an entirely different story. At 21, he's been lame exactly once in 11 years, for an abscess. He's not on a single supplement, he's never had injections, and still moves like he's 6. He's fat, shiny, and as bossy as ever. There's just one problem: he doesn't want to work any more.

Red has never let his size stop him from ruling the world and everything in it. Photo courtesy of Azulox Photography.

Red has always hated arena work with a passion. He is absolutely disgusted by repetition - in his opinion, if he did it right, his rider needs to do it right too, and once it's right, everyone can be done for the day. When I've prepared him for shows, I had to be very careful not to over-school him, or he'd just get more and more frustrated. With Red, less is more.

Rider just needs to match horse in talent.

Where he really shines is doing mounted combat, or trail riding, or fox hunting. He loves bossing other horses around in mounted combat, and he and hubby are pretty much undefeated. He totally understands where he's supposed to be and what he's supposed to do on a hunt, and he watches everything carefully and pays attention. Trail rides are the same - he loves cantering through the woods on a nice loose rein, careening 'round the trees. Unfortunately, as he gets older, it's harder than ever to get and keep him fit for hunting. Normally, we do a lot of trail riding and canter sets to prep for hunt season, but this year even trail riding seems to have lost its shine for him. He's actively walking away from anyone who goes out in the pasture with a halter, and he stands to be groomed with a throughly annoyed look on his face.

On a trail ride last winter

I know what you're thinking: work him thorough it! Don't let him get away with it! But here's the thing - something has changed for him. He's not sore, he's not lame, he's in great health, so I don't think it's a physical problem. I think he's just tired of it all, and he's showing us as best he can that he's ready to be done.

Definitely not his favorite thing, but he still looks good doing it.

Hubby, who never ever wants to admit that any of our animals is getting older, took Red on a trail ride the other week. After he got back, he looked at me sadly and said, "Something's not right with Red. I don't think he wants to do this any more."

So we have decided to retire The Feerless War Pony. He'll be moving to a very nice retirement facility about 45 minutes away, where he can boss several other geldings in a 15 acre pasture. We may eventually bring him back home, but for now it seems like letting him hang out in a big pasture and be a horse may be the change he needs. Because at the end of the day, he's given us 110% for the past 11 years, and he deserves the same treatment from us.

Have you ever retired a horse? When did you know it was time?

46 comments:

  1. My 23 year old gelding was a few days into official retirement when he passed away due to a tear in his colon. :( He's the only horse I've owned to retirement age.

    When my current steed tells me the time is right for retirement I hope to give him a lovely retirement. :)

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    1. Aw, I'm so sorry to hear about your gelding. At least he had a few days of the cushy life!

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  2. oh man, it's like the end of an era -- the feerless war pony retiring? i hope he loves his new lifestyle tho!

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    1. I am pretty sure the all-you-can-eat grass buffet, combined with any number of minions to boss, will be his idea of a great time. ;)

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  3. We have a 21 year old "war pony" - 14hh and 1100lbs of Connemara who has an attitude just like Red's - she's been there, done it all, and as far as she's concerned do it once, do it right, move on. Doesn't do mounted combat but excels at polocrosse which is kind of similar - she gets to throw her weight around! She has trained 3 kids, including my daughter over the last 5 years. She's never been lame or sick but at Pony Club this weekend she just "wasn't Angel".. Threw in a couple of stops, lacked "forward" and just didn't want to play. I heard the same "work her through it", "get after her".. Um nope. She's done good service and she will retire at the end of this season. I think she's just done. And fair enough.

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    1. Oh wow, she sounds JUST like Red! And yes, that's exactly it. He's just not himself. It's time for a change.

      I hope your Angel enjoys her retirement!

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  4. We've retired three horses over the years. Starman in his 20s when his ringbone and arthritis made it too painful for him to carry anyone. Jackson, at ten, because he has crappy feet and laminitis. That one is still difficult. He doesn't understand and wants to be ridden. Once in awhile I get on him bareback and ride once around the arena at walk -- and then he's done. Flash is most recently retired, at 18, with soundness issues. My friend's horse, at 14, is going through a "I don't want to do this anymore" phase and she's questioning whether she wants to keep pushing for her bronze medal when her pony so clearly is done with the whole thing. Difficult decisions. I think you are doing the right thing. Red may miss working after some time off; and he may not. He'll let you know either way.

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    1. It's tough to retire them so young - I feel for you and Jackson especially. I also think it's easier to make the decision when they start having soundness issues. The "don't want to" is harder. Best wishes to your friend with the 14 year old, and your herd as well!

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  5. Sad! I retired Roz earlier this summer (for the 2nd time). His was due to lameness. He tends to be a cranky kind of horse so it was hard to tell how he felt about it. It's definitely a hard decision to make.

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    1. Haha! Cash has been "retired" multiple times. But he always seems to still want to work, so we just do whatever he seems happy with. I hope Roz's lameness resolves with time off.

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  6. So sorry, Jen. I know Fearless War Pony has a huge part of your hearts. Are you going to replace him so your husband can continue the combat? Maybe a season or so on the range will refuel and regenerate his passion and fire and you can bring him back. Or maybe he'll get fat and more sassy and stay there.

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    1. Nothing to be sorry about, really! Eventually everyone retires, and I'm frankly glad we're able to change things up for Red to do something he will enjoy. Maybe he'll decide he's bored and doesn't want to be retired anymore, maybe not. He doesn't owe us anything so whatever he wants is fine with us. :)

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  7. It sounds to me like you're really good at listening to your horses. Red is letting you know he's had enough. I'd ignore the 'get after him' brigade as well. Who knows, after a year off he may come trotting across the field and shove his nose into the head collar saying 'Get me outta here, I'm bored!"

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    1. Lol, that would be just like him!

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  8. It sounds like you're making the right decision!

    I thought about retiring Moe, because at age 19, he's a little stiff and has spent most of his life running and jumping and he deserves a quiet retirement. But he always wants to work, whether it's toting around a kid for lessons, patiently standing while someone learns to groom, or jumping 3' with me in his back. I figure the day he isn't okay with that stuff is the day he retires.

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    1. It can be very hard making sure the level of work is "safe" for an older horse that really wants to work but shouldn't. I've had that problem with Cash before - he thinks he should be doing all sorts of fancy stuff where really he should just be trotting a few 20 meter circles and calling it done. But as long as he's game and loves what he's doing, keep at it!

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  9. I think retirement is a very personal and situation-specific decision, and since I know Red firsthand, I can definitely agree with your decision to retire him. When I lived in Austin, we had to retire a TB gelding that I did my first show on at age 6 (or 7, can't remember how old he was) because he had terrible feet and ringbone. It was really sad because we could tell that he was confused why he wasn't being ridden anymore, but retirement was the right answer since it was a physical issue. I know your decision isn't a physical one, but a distinct personality change is just as critical.

    I'm sure Red will enjoy a new herd and the bottomless buffet...maybe they can build a locking shed in his new field so he can keep his lock-picking skills sharp? :)

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    1. Oooh, good call on the lock-picking skills! I'll have to see if they can arrange for that.

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  10. Sounds like its red's time. I have never owned a horse to retirement age unfortunately, I thought Carlos would be the one.

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    1. Red seems to think it's Red's time.

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  11. Sounds like you're making the right decision. I've retired one before because I thought the strain of what I wanted him to do was just too much for his body, and I refuse to inject the hell out of one or drug it to make it fit my needs. He lived out a very very happy retirement in a field before dying of natural causes. It makes me happy to know that he enjoyed his golden years, rather than being "nursed along" or made to do something he could really no longer comfortably do. The horse always comes first!

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    1. The horse definitely comes first. Glad you were able to have a happily retired one!

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  12. We just made the decision to retire my big horse, but the circumstances were a bit different. Her horrible attitude makes her unsafe, and then she developed some neurological stuff.

    Big kudos to you for listening to Red, and moving him on to be king of the herd! It sounds like he deserves it!

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    1. Neuro stuff is SCARY. It sucks to have to retire them when they're younger, but still... there are just some things you don't mess with. Hugs.

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  13. Definitely think you're doing the right thing by Reddums. He will LOVE that big open field of grass :)

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  14. I'd like to note the Red really (really, really) shines ALL THE TIME. Even in the dark. On a moonless night. :)

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    1. He is sort of revoltingly shiny, isn't he? That's why one of his nicknames is the Teflon Pony. He rolls, but he's so shiny the dirt just all falls off. Best feature ever!

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  15. I am SO glad you posted this. I've always wondered about this. It's like asking your mom how you know when you're in love - the answer "You'll just know" is impossible to wrap your mind around unless you've "known" before, and if you haven't been there, how are you supposed to know what it is? I guess if you get to know a horse well enough, like you do Red, it makes the difference in decisions like this, but it's still always perplexed me.

    I'm sorry to hear you had to retire him, but I'm glad you have a good place for him. I love good retirement farms for the old guys.

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    1. It's definitely hard to describe how you know, but we've definitely all come to the same conclusion so it's good. I wish we had a place as nice as Paradigm near here, though! That's horsey paradise!

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  16. Awww!! Hope Red enjoys his big pasture. It's hard to make that decision :/

    I'm deciding to retire Rico from the FEI levels at the end of the season primarily due to how many injections it's going to take to keep him going and how much pressure it is on him. I'm willing to inject him now to keep him comfortable, but he'd need them every 4-6 months to keep him this happy. That's expensive! And not fair to him when it's obvious his heart isn't in the FEI ring. He'll drop to the lower levels for a few years if I find the right person to lease him (I want to keep him somewhat fit) and then ideally around then, my mom will need a new trail horse.

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    1. It's not so hard as one might think, when the decision is so obvious. But then, we've done it before with Cash, so I guess the second time around is easier.

      I bet Rico is going to have a wonderful retirement, trying to buck/spook/be silly with some kid who is in awe of riding a GP horse. Makes me smile just to think about it!

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  17. When we decided to retire AJ, he was only 6. We'd only had him for two years, but his decline was pretty rapid and it was clear he needed to be taken out of work completely. He's been retired now for 22 years... lucky boy!

    Hope Red enjoys his retirement. Sounds like he's definitely earned it. :)

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    1. Wow, 6... that must have been VERY difficult. He's such a cute guy, and so lucky to have you as an owner!

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  18. Good for you for listening to Red. Our Reggie is the same. He's perfectly sound at 22, but he just does not want to do it.
    My beloved Hans showed for 11 years, steadily climbing the levels. At our last show, I felt like I was just pushing him through the test. He was such a good boy, he would try to do whatever I asked. SoI knew it was time, and it wasn't fair to ask for more. After that we enjoyed a few years of light riding before he Was too unsound to ride. I adored him. We enjoyed a few more years of total retirement before he died.. I miss him every day.

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    1. Isn't it interesting how at some point, some horses just don't want to do it any more. I'm so glad I'm not the only one that feels this way! Reggie is such a cute guy and so lucky to have his retirement with you. And Hans sounds like an amazing partner. I don't recall ever having seen a post about him - if it doesn't hurt your heart too much, it would be so interesting to hear about him!

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  19. We retired Plumber at 20 for exactly the same reasons. He was still sound but gave very clear signals that he was tired of working. He lives at home with me and I can attest to the fact that he seems quite content (he's now 25). He really does not seem to miss being ridden at all, though he still likes petting, grooming and attention. I think you are making the right choice for Red. I went through the same feelings. As in, there's really nothing wrong with this horse, but he just doesn't want to do this any more. So I know what you mean.

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    1. It seems like some horses are just ready to be done. We always figured that Red would at least enjoy trail rides, but no, even those aren't fun for him any more. So be it... he's given us so much, he deserves to live a life of leisure.

      And Plumber looks amazing!

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  20. I've never fully retired a horse, although Miles is only my second, so it's not like I've had a lot of them. But I think you're right -- Red is trying to tell you something, and I think it's always good to listen :)

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    1. Listening to your horse seems to be a fine line between actually paying attention and not coming across like a crazy lady who thinks she can read horsey minds! LOL!

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  21. You're doing the right thing by listening to what he wants. =) Red is very lucky to have you and your husband as his humans - many others would make him work until he couldn't, rather than when he didn't want to.

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    1. Red is spunky enough that if we didn't get the early clues, he'd ramp it up until we got the point. He has a history of exiting the arena when he thinks he should be done (usually after he's done everything you've asked, five or six times), and we actually retired him from jousting because he let us know it was too much for him (caprioles are no fun to ride, even though they might look amazing from the ground). So we're reading the early signs before he feels the need to make his message any louder and clearer, lol!

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  22. Red is such an awesome horse. I love his spirit and attitude. All horses should be so lucky!

    Harley will be 17 (what?) next year and although he is sound of limb and eager to please, his cough has forced us into an abbreviated version of what we used to do together. As long as he is happy to be ridden, I will keep riding him lightly and always within his health limits. He is still as spunky and sensitive as ever, so I have to find ways to challenge him to keep his brain happy. He likes me to know that he hasn't forgotten anything.

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    1. Spirit and attitude are definitely something one must appreciate. I'm not sure everyone would be so amused by him, lol!

      Harley 17!?!? When did that happen!? It's such a shame about his cough/allergies. Poor guy. He always reminds me of Cash with how hard he tries and how eager he is to please. Keeping the work fun/interesting but still within a "safe" range for their physical abilities is hard with horses like that. I'm so glad he has you as an owner!

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  23. Sounds like the right decision to me. The horse's body is one thing, but I think we have to take into account their feelings and mindset too. I think it's great that you allow your horse to make the choice in the end.

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    1. We definitely try to listen to the boys, even if we don't always get it right the first time!

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