How do you know when it's time for retirement...(long)?
...when it's not obvious?
I just posted over on the "quarter life crisis" thread on the h/j forum and it got me thinking...how do you know when it's time to retire the horse who is still going strong, just getting older?
I'm 25, working full time in career I love, and in grad school. I'll graduate with my MS in May 2011. My mare is a 1994 model, so she's going on 16 soon. I've owned her since she was 4.
I have no desire to sell her, but full boarding when I have no time to really do anything with her seems kind of pointless. DH and I can afford the board, and he doesn't mind, but every time I write the check at the beginning of the month, I think about all of the other stuff I could be doing with the money (or saving it...).
I love the barn where she's boarded, and she gets excellent care. I also pay the trainer to ride her once a week to keep her in some semblance of shape. I'm lucky to get to the barn once a week, and ride maybe once a month. I don't think my mare is suitable to lease...she's nice, but she's just...not easy. I think that's the best description. She's not an easy horse, and she never will be an easy horse. It would take a very specific person to work well with her, and I don't have the time or energy to find that person. And I'd still worry even if I found the perfect person, if that makes sense, after all the stories that have been posted on here.
My mare is in great shape for her age. She's happy and healthy (***knock on wood). She's never really had a serious problem in the entire time I've owned her (***still majorly knocking on wood).
Right now, I'm seriously considering just retiring her in the spring/summer when the weather gets better and she can more easily transition to being out 24/7. Does that seem reasonable? I guess I'm just feeling guilty because... I really don't know? Because it seems like there should be something wrong before I have to make that decision? Because I don't like to give up at anything, and this sort of seems like giving up in a strange sort of way?
Rationally, I know she would be happy. Even if I don't retire her now, she'll be 17 before I have anymore time to give her than I do now anyway...
Just from a quick reading, it sounds like you don't need to make a permanent decision. I can certainly see finding a cheaper place to board where she can be out a lot (preferably 24/7). If you decide when your circumstances have changed that you want to ride her again, there is a good chance that she would be up for at least some riding at 17 after her "vacation", especially since she has always been sound.
My boy has been laid up for the better part of a year with an injury. At 18 he is now in light work (because of MY time constraints) and doing very well. Sure he needs a little conditioning and sharpening up, but he still knows what he did before.
So my thought is to move her if/when you find a place that will take great care of her and will allow her to enjoy being a horse. Then, if you want to ride again, you can try putting her back into work and see how it goes!
My soon to be 22 year old TB went undefeated in every event we entered this year and my daughter had the best score out of over 100 riders in the pony club eventing rally this fall. If we quit on him it would be over but we keep him going at a level that is not a challenge for him and he is doing better than ever.
Don't retire her.
As already noted, you can try giving your mare an "extended vacation" while you deal with "life" for a while. This doesn't have to constitute retirement. You will need to take extra care in bringing her back due to her increased age, but it's certainly not impossible.
One caution I will offer, however: Some horses really don't do well without a job of some sort. Many, many horses do just fine with ample turnout and compatible buddies. But just in case, you might want to be prepared with a Plan B -- maybe a pony clubber or horseless AA who would like to keep your mare in light work while you finish your degree/start your career/etc.
I retired my mare at age 18 after the latest in a series of injuries. She did NOT do well. 24/7 turnout at home with her BFF, daily grooming and attention, really no change other than no more riding. She ate poorly, fretted, dropped weight, and her normally chipper and friendly personality became grumpy and sullen. I noticed she perked up, ate well and acted like her old self after the niece and nephews came over for pony rides ... so back to work she came. I have taken it slow and careful with her, taking nearly a year-and-a-half to get her to a regular 3- to 4-day-a-week schedule of light walk-trot-canter. She is doing VERY well and I now just pray that she will be able to work (in some form) to the end of her days. (She turns 21 next year and looks half her age -- sometimes acts considerably younger than that.)
She's very pretty. I am certainly not the expert on this subject. Frankly, if it were me, I would keep riding when I could ride, but not completely retire her. It isn't that I think that she wouldn't be happy. I think that my own horse would be happy retired or not retired. However, I think that it would be much harder if I retired him, and then got back into riding in, say, 5 years. Your mare will be 17 when you graduate, but you may be happy to ride an older horse at that time. It depends on your goals, of course, but she may be able to be ridden for several years after 17.
If I were you, (and I know you aren't interested in leasing) but I would check with the trainer who riders about doing a half-lease, and see if she thinks it could work. That way, you might be able to stop paying the trainer to ride her, and have someone else to check on her. I think that would work better for me. Like you, I do not get out to the barn every day. A barn that I can trust to take care of my horse is important. If I moved him to a retirement facility farther away, I wouldn't be able to check on him very often at all. I think that I would worry more about that than a half-lessor riding him in a place that I knew well and trusted. (Not that there aren't excellent retirement facilities out there - but I would expect to spend a lot of time researching, visiting, and making sure I was somewhere I was comfortable with). If you have a good retirement facility closeby, though, that may be the most money-saving option.
As others have brought up some horse love being retired and some hate it. I have a 29 yr old that I have tried to retire many times. He just hates it! Even now he is lunged 2-3 days a week and during good weather walked around the farm.
Does your trainer have students that may like riding her? I lease a horse who is considered difficult to ride. I started just riding her in lessons until we were working well together and then started riding her on my own. She has taught me so much and to everyone's surprise we started showing this year. I think this all works b/c the horse had been with this trainer for a while and the trainer, owner and I are all at the same barn and communicate often. If you trust the trainer you might speak to her about this.
Good thoughts everyone, maybe I should just take the "R" word out of the equation.
To answer some questions, there are lots of lesson-ees, but most of them are kids that are very beginners...can't think of any of them that would be suitable off hand.
I could ask about field board where she's currently at. I don't think they have any others paying for field board, but they do have some retirees of their own living out 24/7. I could continue to ride when I'm able, but I don't really feel that it would be fair to her to ask her to come back into full work when she's 17 after a life of pretty much retirement. Maybe I'll just ride her as I'm able, and as she's able as time goes on and not worry about it.
Depends on the work you would bring her back into after a time off, I retired the dear departed yellowhorse from h/j, dressage when she was about 20 and just hacked her once in a while, which was an adventure since she also was never an easy horse. Anyway about 2 years into retirement, she was feeling pretty sound and zippy so I bought her back to work and she became a competitive trail horse, did many 25 milers.
She lived to 35, I only stopped riding her the last 6 months, you can bring an older horse back to work but it has to be done slowly and maybe not in the former discipline or at a lower level.
I have a 15 year old reiner I tried to semi-retire and he was offended.
He would not pace, but never settled, just kept moving around all the time, looking for something else to do and kind of unhappy.
After a while, I gave in and a friend that trains reiners is now using him as a lesson horse.
The horse is happy again, calm and settled into his preferred routine.
I would listen to your horse.
You could try turning her out and she may do fine retired.
Then, she may fret and not give in easily and get over it.
Then you can go to plan B.
Your mare gets ridden 5 times a month at most?? Isn't she already 'retired?' Or semi-retired? She's already at the status of 'weekend rider' - certainly not fit. All of which is OK, don't get me wrong.
Are you really asking if you should let her be a pasture-puff?
After gotten tossed several times from my green arabs, someone well known from the endurance world had a 16 yr old who had done lots of 100s and 50's, wasn't being ridden by her anymore, and wanted to retire him from competition. This horse was previously owned by a very well known competitor, great blood lines and training. Word of mouth got that I was looking for a quieter horse and she just gave him to me without even meeting me.
Now he is an arab and not a beginner horse. But what a gentleman. We go out for quiet trail rides alone. His trot is not real comfy. He hardly spooks and goes past anything normal on the trail. He let me know he would have no part of a judged pleasure ride with wierd obstacles. He gets an adrenaline rush with horses cantering in front of him (no fox hunting for him, he'd pass the huntsman!). He has a forever home with me. I am ready for very quiet rides now in my life. So sometimes rehoming or finding another rider can work out.
I am going to try dressage lessons on him in the spring. I have a feeling they may have been part of his early training.
Good luck, your mare is just in her prime.
There is no snooze button on a cat that wants breakfast.
I just took one of my rescues, an 18 year old warmbloodly looking Thoroughbred, to a horse show after 2 months of training and she looked great and clearly enjoyed herself. Every horse is different, but in my opinion, 16 is the prime of life! (I run a rescue for the elderly, www.thegoldencarrot.org, so in fact, to ME, 16 is a baby! "-) With the risks out there, and you not having a problem with it financially, I'd just keep her and ride her when you can - everyone needs someone to chill with, and she can be yours! On the other hand, altho you like where she is, why not look into equally nice boarding that just doesn't cost that much? Save a few bucks that way and salve your conscience! Or can you find a less expensive place to put her in winter, and bring her back for the summer and more riding? Anyway, depending on what kind of horse she is, 16 is probably not as old as you think. My crew is 25 and up - and I still ride or have kids ride many of them, which they clearly enjoy. Casey