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When to retire?

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  • When to retire?

    Looking for some feedback and advice on this tough situation!

    My parents purchased my boy as my event prospect for me ten years ago, he was 12 at the time. He is a 1998 TB gelding, aged 21 now.

    He had competed extensively in Eventing with my coach's husband, but was currently sitting in the field unable to be sold due to behavioral issues. He did not want to jump at the higher levels any longer and was bucking, bolting and having challenges at the mounting block. He was recommended to me by my coach who felt he would enjoy the lower levels. Although I was bucked off on my first ride, I really enjoyed his big jump and beautiful movement, so decided to give him a chance. I was quite keen to have a horse to learn on, and we had a great partnership as we mainly competed at BN for the first year. When I tried to upgrade to training I began seeing the same behavioral challenges- specifically stopping and bolting. My event coach felt he needed a career change. I was quite attached to him, so decided to see what I could do with him in the dressage world.

    I moved out of town to train with a fantastic dressage coach. We made the junior team for NAJYRC and competed up to Prix St Georges. He continued to be spooky but overall was much happier in his new job. While in university we stopped competing but he was ridden consistently, and loved living outdoors. We struggled with some bolting and spooking, but I was able to manage him. We've had many ups and downs, and I've lost and regained my confidence with him more times than I can count.

    He has always been quite sound and overall very healthy. This spring and summer he has had some great days, but also some real challenges. He has been very difficult to catch, and has become increasingly mistrustful of people. His barn manager who feeds him was unable to catch him for the farrier, and my mom who just feeds him treats and brushes him was unable to catch him a few times. He acts very fearful- almost as if he "forgot" who we were. This is not uncommon behaviour for him though. After having him for close to a decade, I do not feel as though he is bonded to me, he does not care for pats, or praise. However, other days he is happy to be caught and brought in. Earlier this month, I went to get on, as per our regular routine. Once he realized I was on top of him he panicked and began "dolphining" around the court yard. He has been challenging to mount since then on random days. This incident has seriously eroded my confidence in him. My confidence was shaky to start as I've landed in the hospital several times, been bolted with and dumped many times by this horse.

    His teeth have been checked, saddle is okay...prescribed previcoxx which did not make a difference. My gut says this is behavioral since he's been doing this his whole life at different time periods. When do you call it quits and fully retire him? He hates hacking so that's not an option. We have pushed through rough patches in the past. I just don't know when to call it quits and stop trying to ride him.
    Last edited by northernlights930; Aug. 2, 2019, 09:38 PM.

  • #2
    I would retire him, but I don't have the budget for the thorough work up he needs.
    Courageous Weenie Eventer Wannabe
    Incredible Invisible


    • #3
      I would guess something physical, but at 21, I'd be inclined to retire him rather than put him through whatever battery of tests it would take to track it down and then treat and then retrain the ingrained behavior. And indeed, if it is a mental or behavioral problem, realistically, you probably aren't going to be able to retrain that ingrained behavior at his age,

      My 24 year old elder statesman has made it politely but firmly clear to me this summer that he no longer enjoys being ridden. It's sad, but he's given me many good years of loyal, if sometimes challenging, service, so he gets to be a pasture potato now.


      • #4
        The porpoise-ing can be an ulcer thing. A lot of the behavior you describe is consistent with ulcers.


        • #5
          Sounds like he's ready for the Gold Watch and Retirement Party.

          I feel your pain. My old man is not as old as yours -- 18, but had a bout of Laminitis two years ago, now we're not only dealing with that maintenance, but IR and Cushingoid as well. It's a struggle to keep his topline strong enough to support his previously injured back. (ex-jumper)

          I was hoping he'd still be good as a school horse, but not in his present condition.

          Also, can horses suffer from senile dementia? Your horse may indeed have ulcers, but might his brain be changing, too? Like human dementia sufferers, perhaps they have trouble remembering who their favorite people are (were)?


          • #6
            We always assume something physical must be wrong, but I believe animals have mental illnesses as well. He sounds like he may be "sundowning" like a dementia patient. Not recognizing people, not understanding his work, etc. You know this horse really well, and what you describe sounds like he has had an unstable streak all his life, and is now in a mental decline that is bringing that streak to the foreground. Just as human dementia brings out aspects of ongoing personality.

            Just a thought. Keep yourself safe, first of all. If you can afford to retire him, that's what I would do in your place.


            • #7
              Have you ever had his vision checked? Retirement can happen anytime you want to do it and if he isn't fun to ride( or dangerous to ride) I would do it now with no guilt.


              • #8
                In general, it's probably retirement time for him. But, it might be worth trying some of the less invasive treatments mentioned here, like treating him for ulcers and seeing if that makes an improvement. Or checking his vision (if you haven't done that recently).

                I also think that animals can begin to lose it mentally, whether for the same reasons as humans or not. But if you have a place to retire him (assuming other treatments don't work) that might be the way to go.

                Good luck.
                "The formula 'Two and two make five' is not without its attractions." --Dostoevsky


                • #9
                  A few strong possibilities no one has yet mentioned:

                  Cervical spine arthritis

                  Kissing spines

                  Lyme disease

                  EPM (dementia symptoms or vision disturbances can present before ataxia)

                  X-rays can rule out the former 2, titers the latter. The first 2 would be automatic retirement; Lyme is treatable; EPM is treatable at vast expense. At 21, he's hitting the limit of his performance years anyway, so I'd be inclined to find him a cushy pasture somewhere close by and play it "watchful waiting." Like a poster above, sometimes they also just plain find a way to tell you they're "Done!" I'd be inclined to listen.