What to Do?
I just came back here after visiting Hercules the Horse on Facebook. If you don't know his story, here it is in a nutshell. Hercules showed up in the kill pen at an auction. Because he was a gorgeous big guy who looked to have once been a star somewhere, and because the horse rescue folk were there, they bought him. A search for his indentity later revealed he had once been a hardworking jumper/show horse for a fairly well known local trainer who had told people he had been put down. Herc had a foot issue and was recovering from white line disease, but his lameness was certainly not debilitating and he was quite a good candidate for a long and healthy retirement. He is now safe in a good rescue with the promise of a happy life.
Good heavens, he already has a Facebook page, a fan club, and is, apparently being spoiled to death. Oh, yes, he has another badge of honor in his book which is that while he was at the auction, he apparently bit a very unloved horse dealer.
OK, so here's the thing. One day, the horse you own will no longer be rideable. Time or injury will take its toll. What do you do? As some of us know all too well, placing our beloved horse in a new home can be a risky business. Unless we are able to check up on his care, who knows what will happen? There are, unfortunately, too many people out there who are less than honest. So, while it can be a wonderful solution, it can also be a snakepit.
Retire your old horse at home? To my mind the best option, but that means you need the place, you need the money, and you will probably want to have another, more able horse to ride in his place, thereby doubling your horse keeping expenses overall. Then again, keeping a horse at home does definitely cost less than boarding out, and if the retiree needs minimal extra care beyond good food and shelter, it can be the way to go.
Put your horse in a retirement "home?" There are a number of reputable retirement farms for horses. I had a friend who did just that with her retired dressage horse and he lived happily to a ripe old age. But this is still boarding, and while it will probably cost less than full board at a working stable, it is money. Do you have it? Again, if you still want to ride, then you will have the added expense of your riding horse as well--two mouths to feed rather than one.
Give your horse to an adoption group and let them do the legwork of finding a good home? This can work, and it can backfire. The trouble is that right now, most adoption groups are at capacity. Finding a safe place for one more horse is not an easy task. Again, you'd have to make sure the adoption group was totally responsible and reputable as well. There have been some horror stories here too.
Just keep your horse where he is and keep on paying? When I was boarding, that's exactly what I did, since as far as I was concerned, I had no choice. My Russell was no longer rideable, due to navicular, but he was healthy otherwise and more than pasture sound. Since he had given me nearly twenty years of hard work, loyalty, and love, the expense was simple payment in return. I was lucky enough to be able to afford board on two horses at the time, so I could manage, and to this day, I never regret a penny I spent on letting him live out his life in the style to which he was accustomed. BUT!!! This is a big expense.
That leave the less appealing, but perhaps kinder alternative--euthanasia. Years ago, my friend and I took on a young Thoroughbred that had failed at the track and was being given away for free. We eventually found him a good home, but his pasturemate, was euthanized by the racehorse breeder. The second horse was lame, his racing career was finished, and, in all probability, he had little hope for the future as a riding horse. While it was sad, the owner refused to send the horse to the kill pens/slaughter and instead chose to end his life humanely.
I have mixed emotions about this that transcend logic. From all I know of slaughter of US horses, it is far from humane, so I know I would never send one of my horses off that way. But, would I euthanize? With Russell, there was no option. He had gone down and could not get up. He had given up and it was clear the time had some to end his suffering (laminitis). But my PJ was lame from ringbone, but still happy and content in his life. He was well able to get around, had a good appetite, and seemed quite secure. Would I have known when it was time? (PJ also had a serious heart defect which did kill him, but from all I could see and from what my vet said, he died a quick, natural death with little pain.)
I know with the cats I have owned, I have always known when the time had come to give up life for a humane end. I hope I will with my horses should that day come. But is it the answer for a retiree who is well enough to live on and has just outlived his usefulness?
What do we owe our horses? How much can we afford to cherish them? I bless the rescuers out there who save the forgotten horses people have thrown away. In an ideal world there would be no need for rescue. But this is not an ideal world.
I know my Boys have a home here for life. But they are the lucky ones.
What about the others?