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Advice sought for a ranch retirement plan

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  • Advice sought for a ranch retirement plan

    I'm interested in ideas about how to manage the health and retirement needs of working trail horses. I know "retirement" for a lot of horses in this context used to be at the hands of a meat buyer (although not at this ranch), but there is also a tradition of honoring the service of a workin' horse with going out to pasture in a literal rather than euphemistic way.

    Assume the horses are otherwise well cared for. Assume profits are minimal and that current income is mostly accounted for in overhead.

    If a horse is "retired" to a new home as a pet, could you set up a care fund in lieu of sale $? What kind of contract would you have to guarantee a standard of care?

    What do you think about a percentage of income going to some kind of HSA that stays with the horse?

    Are there pre-existing models out there for this sort of thing? I've seen luxe retirement for high-end school masters, but not following an organized system or plan, and not anything that would work in a working class environment.
    An auto-save saved my post.

    I might be a cylon

  • #2
    You could pay for farrier trims and vet bills for the horse(s), that's what my trainer did with her retired school horse I took on as a pasture companion. It was win-win: I did not have those expenses and she did not have boarding/feed costs. You would probably want to set a limit on how much you'd pay for the vet; or you could just pay for routine care (i.e. shots, teeth floating). With this model, near me, you'd be paying $40 every six weeks (for the trim) and maybe $200 or so once a year for the vet. Pretty cheap!
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    • #3
      PS, on the contract to guarantee a standard of care: contracts really won't protect you. First, you have to find that the contract has been violated (how? by visiting?) and then you have to try to enforce the terms of the contract (how? by suing?)

      I think a better model is to have the horse go out on "free lease" as described above. If you can visit to see how the horse is doing, so much the better. If they are not caring for the horse you could then take it back.

      Without the arrangement I described above, with some kind of payment, I don't think you'll find too many homes for the horses. If you get lucky you might find one or two . . . of course I don't know how many horses you need to retire in this way, perhaps that's all you need. But having their routine bills paid makes the retiree a much more attractive prospect for the pasture home.
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      • #4
        Originally posted by HillnDale View Post
        Are there pre-existing models out there for this sort of thing? I've seen luxe retirement for high-end school masters, but not following an organized system or plan, and not anything that would work in a working class environment.
        Sorry to be dominating this thread, but I guess you can tell retired horses are my business!

        I realized there's an assumption in the above, that the horse is retired elsewhere. Most people/barns retire their horses on their own premises as that is 1) cheapest and 2) because really not many people want a "useless" (i.e. unrideable) horse.

        However, because of all your questions about HSA's etc it sounds like you are wanting to retire these horses off premises. As discussed above you can try to find companion homes for the horses, but those homes are few and far between.

        If you can't find a companion home, and don't want to retire the horse at home, then the only other option is to board the horse somewhere where it can get the standard of care it needs (which varies with retirees). I can't imagine this is cheaper than keeping the horses on the ranch, but maybe you are leaving out some details.

        Retiring horses is quite simple, so I'm not really understanding what "model" you need. Perhaps if you give more details we could be more helpful.

        Anyway, so glad to hear that this ranch is caring for their old horses.
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        • Original Poster

          Thanks for the help! I think the ranch will do best with different options - so not every horse would follow the same plan. I'm sort of just brainstorming.

          Here are some details:

          I haven't been associated with this business for very long, so I've earned some respect and my input is welcome, but I don't get to make any ultimate decisions.

          Because good "guest horses" are calm and experienced, they are usually also older and may have pre-existing conditions before they even start this job. So they either matriculate because they 1- end up not being mellow enough for the task at hand, 2- can't be well maintained in this particular micro-climate and set of working conditions (wet, warm, hilly, basically carrying dead weight), 3- they can still be a trail horse, but not doing the volume of work necessary for this job, or 4- they are truly past their useful life.

          Out of 12+ working horses, given the average age etc, I think it's reasonable to expect to need to retire or sell 2-4 each year. That's more than can stay on the property. We have a few retired horses on site already and attending to their care regularly is a challenge. The small staff is already very busy keeping the working horses in good shape and running the primary part of the business (trail rides).

          It would be nice if really old horses could just hang in pasture on-site for their last year or so, but that's really not an option, and barring acute medical conditions, I think it makes more sense not to keep working the horses right up to the point of totally loss of utility. Downshifting work schedules can also be fraught with peril as horses lose condition and fall off the routine (as is, the working horses are in good shape and really know their jobs which keeps them happy and guests safe).

          It's possible, remotely, that more land could be made available as paddocks or pasture and a kid's or volunteer program put in place to help with the care of the retired horses, but that sounds like a logistical nightmare to me. (Like a care lease, but the ranch taking even more responsibility - just someone to come play pretty pony, prepare old-man-slurry, and put their eyes on the horse, put some Swat on...)

          I don't know the retirement scenarios of all the past horses, but I do know what happens to older horses who lack utility, so even if they were passed on to be a kid's pet, there's really no guarantee they are getting good care from, say, age 28-35. It bums me out when nice horses get used up and get passed down the line and end up rotting in some lot somewhere. No one I work with wants that, but without a plan in place at least some horses will end up on the "cross your fingers and look away" care plan.

          As a child, I boarded for a time at a huge, beautiful ranch that also had a large lesson horse string. Yes, the retirement plan was simple. The meat buyer would roll up with a trailer. Very few people realized that's what was done, but it was a working class family farm. It's now modern times , and I think guests would like to know the horses they use will have a reasonably happy end. The scenario you laid out makes good sense. I guess I was wondering if it's customary anywhere to commit a percentage of business income to the care of horses no longer on the payroll. If it's being done elsewhere, it would be an easier sell, and their would be less resentment about paying money for care if it were normalized, like vacc's and shoes. (Also note the owner is intelligent, kind, and er, a "gentleman farmer" with an eye on the bottom line).

          As the cultural trend has been away from working animals to pet animals, guests often seem unsure if they are making an ethically "ok" decision by bringing their kids for a trail ride. I feel it is ethical, if run ethically, and that farms and animals are good things for kids. So having a solid plan in place may not be a net loss to the bottom line. Maybe we could even have a retirement fund donation jar? I'm just never sure if what goes on in my head is gonna be workable or is just nutty.

          Thanks again.
          An auto-save saved my post.

          I might be a cylon


          • #6
            Can your idea work? Sure, but it will take work to get there. The problem is, how long will those retirees live? You might get volunteers to 'adopt' a retiree for a while, but in my experience, even people who have owned a horse for 20 years, or more, get burned out paying for a horse they can't ride, don't often see, and want to move on. For some people that is 5 years, for some it is closer to 10.

            You might be better off trying to sell them to older re-riders who want a safe mount, to do an occasional trail ride on, or as a husband/guest horse.

            Or market them to the people that are already coming to your place anyway. If a person really falls in love with a particular horse, tell them it is for sale, and don't be greedy about the sale price. It would get one off the Hay roll. The downside to this of course, is you lose track of that horse, probably forever. He could still end up at a meat sale.

            Or, if they have more than a few minor medical issues, give them a few weeks retirement, then put them down. Sounds harsh, but the horse doesn't know it is getting three weeks retirement, or three years. Sometimes that is one hell of a lot kinder than keeping them going.

            It is ultimately the owners responsibility (In this case the gentleman farmer) to pay for a horse's retirement. If you can find a cheap retirement (pasture turnout) he might be willing to fund it. But if he sees it only as a business, I'm guessing that would be a hard sell.

            Good for you OP to try to find a soft landing for these horses. We should all think on it a bit, maybe there is some way to fund it.
            Facta non verba