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Retiring a young horse... what would you do?

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  • Retiring a young horse... what would you do?

    I have owned my horse since he was 6 months old. He has a swayback (has had it all his life) so I waited a long time to start him. We had the WTC as of 2017 and things were wonderful. He loved having a job! Flash forward to 2018 and he tore his suspensory ligament in his right hind. This was just before we moved to a new barn (from my parents' backyard) closer to where I work/live. Since he was injured, he began developing separation anxiety and other behavioral issues as well.

    I did the PRP injection and the injury did heal. The rehab process has been frustrating to say the least. He is an appendix and full of energy. That coupled with the other behavioral issues he developed make riding at just the walk and some trot difficult. He has become very unpredictable and he has taken to exploding (rearing, bolting) at random things.

    He is still limping and as of the latest ultrasound he has developed scar tissue that the vet says needs stretching out. I have him with the trainer who taught him to WTC now who is helping me work through the behavioral issues but he is still limping quite a bit.

    My main concern is that he just overall doesn't seem that happy at the new barn. He is very social and lives in a small in/out turnout alone there. He currently seems happier at the training barn with a larger turnout and a buddy. My other option is to move him back to my parents' farm an hour from where I live where he could live in a field (coming in to a barn at night) with our other two retired horses. If I did this, he would pretty much be retired as well.

    I am in my late 20s myself and will be hopefully starting a human family soon. Riding just isn't as big a part of my life anymore, but I love this horse so much which is why I keep trying to fix him. I got him when I was 19 without thinking much about my own future. Now I'm what I call a "horse adult", meaning it is just supposed to be a relaxing extracurricular activity and instead it is currently the biggest stressor in my life. If I sent my horse home, he would probably be happier and I would save the $800/month that is currently flying out the window on board. But I would also miss him and feel like I gave up too soon. Either way, he is mine til he dies, if my parents move or don't want to have horses, I'll figure something out for him. I just want him to be happy.

    What would you do?

    Edit: Just want to be clear the training he is in right now is mostly reminding him of his ground manners and to give him a change of scenery (since he has been going so nutty at the new barn). We are being conservative with the riding and doing only what the vet advised (10 or so minutes of trotting per ride).

    Edit again, adding this here: Thank you for all the replies so far! Some of them made me cry! My current BM keeps telling me I just need to be more consistent with him and ride him multiple times a day because he "doesn't respect me". I have been trying to do so but with him exploding over little things like horses walking by the indoor to go in or out (there is no outdoor riding option at this farm), it has been really tough and kind of scary I have been at least working him in hand every day. I just feel like he is trying to say he is uncomfortable and unhappy. He was never quite this reactive before...

    My other question is this: being half TB, he tends to run, like REALLY run, once in a while when in a field. The other two horses are fairly quiet so he usually settles down within a few minutes but it would still be a concern if I was thinking of trying to bring him back down the road. Does anyone have experience with turning their recovering horse out and having them run on their own once in a while?
    Last edited by motherofgoose; Jun. 12, 2019, 05:07 PM.

  • #2
    In situations like this I think you need to think about what kind of life you are wanting to build, as well as how you and your horse would be happiest. And then think about how you would go about creating that life and happiness. From the outside, it doesn't sound like this situation is conducive to that.


    • #3
      I'd take him home, and let him heal and recover. Pull him out in two months and see what you've got.

      My horse also has a hind suspensory injury. If I had the option to bring him home, that's where he would be. These injuries can take upwards of a year, and if he's limping it's clearly bothering him. I think he just needs more time.

      Take him home and love him there. He isn't happy at the new barn anyway, right? Let him enjoy a summer in the pasture, and see what he's like in the fall.

      Good luck to you!


      • #4
        Oh this is an easy answer. If he were mine, back to your parents' farm for a good period of time. Dr. Green and a huge
        Tincture of Time can really help suspensories. It's not unusual for them to take even 2 yrs to heal. If he's limping,
        he's not healed. But it's important to keep him out, 24/7 if possible to help line up the fibers as they heal. Movement is
        good, forced exercise is not.
        You sound like such a caring horse owner and he's lucky to have you. Good Luck with your boy!
        "There is no fundamental difference between man and animals in their ability to feel pleasure and pain, happiness, and misery." - Charles Darwin


        • #5
          I also think pasture time with responsible caretakers is not giving up, but the best chance for a horse to recover. He shouldn't be in training if he limps. Give him a couple years on a field and see how that goes.


          • #6
            I hope you realize how lucky your are to have "move him to parents' farm an hour away where he can have nice turnout with buddies and trusted care" as an option! Most of us would kill to have that sort of option on the table when thoughts turn to retirement or long-term layup! If that falls below the bar of failing a faithful equine friend, then a good portion of the equestrian world dwells constantly in failure.

            These decisions are always hard (I'm in the midst of a tangle of logistical and horse health questions myself that are torturing me, so I understand the anguish). But you've got more flexibility than the average "horse adult". If you love the horse but riding isn't as big a part of your life anymore, the parents' farm gives you the option to put him back where he's happy, free up resources for your immediate goals (that human family you mention), and basically put off some of the big decisions (do you want to ride more? can he be sound and happy in a situation where you ride him?) until he's had some time to be a horse and hopefully heal, and you've had some time to feel out what the next stage of your adult life might look like. You can always re-evaluate in 6 months or a year or two years if it doesn't feel like the right solution.

            As for feeling guilty about putting him somewhere farther away, many many people keep their horses an hour away. In some metro areas an hour commute to horses is about as close as it gets. If you feel guilty, put some visits on the calendar before you even move him. Most of us who board only see our horses for a few hours a day at most. Their happiness during the other 21-22 hours a day is also important. Don't feel guilty about him missing out on some of your personal attention if it means that he's happier more generally.

            Wishing you some peace of mind, whatever you decide to do in this situation.


            • #7
              "I just want him to be happy" is a great sentiment. And how easy is it when the answer to that problem ALSO involves saving money. Move him to your parents, that's the easiest answer ever, and with the money you are saving, you can apply that to paying someone to come out and do ground work and anything else the vet suggests as part of his rehab.
              Your crazy is showing. You might want to tuck that back in.


              • #8
                Turn him out and see what you have!

                I bought a 3 year old. Horse stepped off the trailer dead lame in the front, dead lame in the back. Completely gimpy behind.

                He sat out in a pasture for a year and a half. Starting riding him again and once his fitness levels improved he turned out to be very sound.

                Lots of horses ive been around that have hind suspensory injures have a better recover/chance of being sound when they go live in a field for a year or two.

                Also im in my 3rd trimester of pregnancy and stopped riding. I wasn’t riding regularly throughout the pregnancy and the horses really didn’t *notice* I didn’t have the energy to work full time then go ride a 4 year old, a 5 year old, and work with my problem horse on top of that


                • #9
                  Send him back to your parents farm. He will have equine company and while you will miss him, he really won't know your not around as long as the food is there( sorry). An extended down time and he may just come back sound.

                  No matter what he will have a better quality of life at your folks place.


                  • Original Poster

                    Thank you for all the replies so far! Some of them made me cry! My current BM keeps telling me I just need to be more consistent with him and ride him multiple times a day because he "doesn't respect me". I have been trying to do so but with him exploding over little things like horses walking by the indoor to go in or out (there is no outdoor riding option at this farm), it has been really tough and kind of scary I have been at least working him in hand every day. I just feel like he is trying to say he is uncomfortable and unhappy. He was never quite this reactive before...

                    My other question is this: being half TB, he tends to run, like REALLY run, once in a while when in a field. The other two horses are fairly quiet so he usually settles down within a few minutes but it would still be a concern if I was thinking of trying to bring him back down the road. Does anyone have experience with turning their recovering horse out and having them run on their own once in a while?


                    • #11
                      You may want to ask your vet about the last part. It sounds like the lesion has healed but you have some scar tissue that is making him not sound. Sure, he's not fit and is still newly in the legging up process (given the 10 minute time frame), but what is the risk of reinjury (or different injury) in the field considering he is already getting some turnout now?


                      • #12
                        Take him off all grain now before you move him. Grassy hay only.

                        Dodge cane here lame. He was full of grain. He reared when the girl brought him out of his yard.

                        He cantered for the first 3 days being put in a paddock and he was nearer 20 yo than 2.

                        Really think on having a trainer that tells you to ride a horse that is limping.

                        Horses suffer in silence. They do not yelp like a puppy or whine like a kitten.

                        You would not work him if he yelped every stride being ridden as he limped.

                        It is better to ride 5 minutes a day than it is to ride 35 minutes on a Sunday.


                        • #13
                          In addition to bringing him to your parents’ for some R&R, I’d consider putting him on daily reserpine to keep him a little quieter. It doesn’t work for every horse, but if it works for him, it would reduce the risk of him bolting around the field and also make him safer/easier for your parents to handle.


                          • #14
                            We just put our girl back in work after months off with a suspensories injury. She got it slipping in mud playing, we actually saw it happen. Off to the Vet, got ultrasounded, he recommended plain time off. The longer the better. He and husband (Farrier for many years) agreed they had not seen good recoveries using any of the "new techniques" for faster/better healing of suspensories injuries. Horses just reinjured, worse, with short time off for various treatments now so popular.

                            We took mare back to visit, get new ultrasound every 3 months to check healing progress. Last visit Vet said there was no difference between both legs, no scars, adhesions, same pulse, tendon sizes. OK to start using her again. Weather fell apart so she actually did not get back working until another 2 months had gone by. She is sound now, Trainer did strengthening exercises as mare started work, went slowly to prevent problems. Mare is now fit, working well, no issues with her leg. Had 11 months off total, and is sound, no evidence of ever being injured. No more likely to reinjure that leg, than injuring any of her other legs. It is not a "special" leg after totally healing.

                            During her healing time she had daily turnout during (winter) daylight hours. She likes to run, we saw her actually 3-legging it to play with pasture friends! If leg hurt, she carried it, was smart enough not to " ignore the pain" to reinjure herself. She gets a small amount of daily grain and wet beet pulp, so not working off grain stupids.

                            You have to plan a long enough healing time, so leg can fix itself. Even not limping, our mare WAS NOT READY OR HEALED to use before the long time Vet told us, had gone by. Then a checkup with ultrasound by Vet to SEE what was truly healed inside the leg. Compare the 2 legs for normal against injured leg. Fascinating live pictures!

                            I am with others, you DO NOT ride a lame, limping horse!! Not ever, for any reason. You are making bad into worse.

                            Send him home after getting a Vet evaluation. This will be for comparing as he progresses in healing. I would not spend extra money for any of the popular suspensory treatments, let time do what it can. Get horse rechecked by Vet at regular intervals to look at healing progress. We did every 3 months. As Vet and husband have seen, owners doing the special, expensive treatments, put horse back to work too soon. Leg breaks down again in short times. Owners out a lot of money, some time, still no usable horse. Start Round 2, trying new "magic recommendations" to speed up healing.

                            Some things just can't be hurried. Suspensory healing appears to be one. Leg needs those many months to totally heal itself or the problem comes back fast.


                            • Original Poster

                              Thank you! I have been having the vet do ultrasounds every few months. I've sent him videos of my horse under saddle as well. The latest ultrasound shows no reinjury but a fair amount of scar tissue that needs to stretch (hence the limp). The vet says ride (10 mins of trot spread out through ride) and go over ground poles.

                              I am having a hard time deciding if trying to work through his unpredictable behavior at the new barn is worth it, or if I should just send him home for a little while. Sending him home means putting a bit of a pause on the vet's prescribed rehab. But having him with me is causing me a lot of stress as well and it has not been fun.

                              Also: he IS currently on resurpine and SmartCalm Most of the time he is OK but when he acts up it's like his mind just shuts off and it can be a little scary.


                              • #16
                                I agree with everyone that turnout is a good option in this situation and does not constitute “giving up.” Would it help if you thought about it as a vacation or the first step in his new rehab program, instead of retirement? It doesn’t sound like he has a great base of fitness to worry about losing, and the training will come back quickly if you can get him sound and comfortable again. Take the pressure off him and yourself for a while. It sounds like he’ll have a wonderful life with your parents!
                                Building and Managing the Small Horse Farm:


                                • #17
                                  Originally posted by motherofgoose View Post
                                  Thank you for all the replies so far! Some of them made me cry! My current BM keeps telling me I just need to be more consistent with him and ride him multiple times a day because he "doesn't respect me". I have been trying to do so but with him exploding over little things like horses walking by the indoor to go in or out (there is no outdoor riding option at this farm), it has been really tough and kind of scary I have been at least working him in hand every day. I just feel like he is trying to say he is uncomfortable and unhappy. He was never quite this reactive before...

                                  My other question is this: being half TB, he tends to run, like REALLY run, once in a while when in a field. The other two horses are fairly quiet so he usually settles down within a few minutes but it would still be a concern if I was thinking of trying to bring him back down the road. Does anyone have experience with turning their recovering horse out and having them run on their own once in a while?

                                  It's always somewhat of a craps shoot with horses and healing, but I've found that my own hot horse is way more explosive and likely to do something stupid and self destructive when she's trying to work through discomfort than when she's getting a little silly in turnout. My poor feeble heart might not agree, but I've found that a dumb sideways spook can be at least as destructive as a bit of straight ahead feel good ad lib galloping.

                                  And whether or not your trainer sees it, I think you know there's a difference between horse owners using possible pain as a cop out reason for not addressing training holes versus knowing your horse well enough that you can infer that extraordinary resistance or dangerous behavior is their attempt to communicate about discomfort. You've spent a decade with this guy, and if you think the problematic behavior you are seeing is abnormal, trust yourself. If you ride a limping horse 2x/day to enforce "respect", you may get a horse that's more submissive due to exhaustion, and there may be a chance you'll get true respect, but if the pain gets worse the behavior might too, and also likely the odds of keeping the horse sound and happy and willing in the long term.

                                  Can you talk to your vet about a "Dr. Green" treatment plan and using the miracle of pharmaceutical science to make a transition back to turnout at parents' home a little less exciting? Can you use food strategically to make calm herd hangouts more appealing than solo sprints? Can you time a transition over a weekend so you can be there to manage the reintroduction to pasture (e.g. by hand grazing first to make the space less exciting, or intervening with boring activities when he gets amped)? There are never any guarantees, but there are probably a few things you can do to manage risk if you decide to go the parents' farm route.

                                  It is obvious that you care about this horse very much and have done all you can to look out for him so far. Regardless of what direction you go, I hope you can trust yourself as you make the next big decisions that fall to you as his advocate.


                                  • #18
                                    If you really aren't sure, I'd recommend getting an opinion from Dr. Carol Gillis. It's what I'm currently doing.

                                    My horse had a hind suspensory injury. At first it was nothing, just 60 days of flat work and shockwave. He wasn't lame, but he went lame 30 days in. Needed another 60 days of walk. I followed what the vet said to a T and sprinkled in some extra time once we had the OK to trot. My horse went lame again. My vet says "while we've improved him, we really can't expect him to be 100% again". I think she feels we do the surgery or we do nothing at all...

                                    So I did a consult with Dr. Carol Gillis. It was $160 for her to review my US (2) and hock x-ray. She has him on 8 weeks of confined turnout and walking only. I would have been close to cantering under my vet's rehab plan. NOT that my vet is wrong by any means, but Dr. Gillis is an expert in this and these injuries do take a long time to recover. Hind suspensories are the worst. I'm sure you've read the recovery percentage.

                                    I can't say whether or not it's made a difference for us yet, but it's given me an option:


                                    • #19
                                      If the horse is just stiff and needs rehab to stretch out the scar tissue he is going to do this far more efficiently on a nice big pasture moving around 24/7 than in regimented doses of work in a barn where he is getting pissy about being asked to work through pain.

                                      ​​They are pretty good at moderating their own exercise in a good pasture setting.


                                      • #20
                                        FYI - I had to take my horse off the reserpine once we started rehabbing under saddle as it made him very weird and reactive.

                                        Also, my horse is on the "out in a field" lameness recovery plan right now and does run around. If it's a well organized herd with a decent leader, the group will usually take a lap once a day and then settle down. I feel that's a lot easier on healing tissue than spinning and pacing in a stall for 10+ hours.