by Laura Crum
Not so very long ago I read a blog post with a similar title to this, written by a blogger who runs a retirement farm for horses. She had some interesting and worthwhile things to say, along the lines that the horse doesn’t care if the owner is there at the end, and that choosing to place your horse in a good retirement home (and paying the bills for his care) is one of the best things you can give your horse. She also had some (to my eyes) rather scathing comments about people who didn’t want to send their old horses away and who thought it important to be there at “the end”.
Now I agree with some of what this blogger said and from what I can tell, she runs a great retirement farm. But she missed a few important points, in my view. I wrote a comment listing these points, and lo and behold, it was not posted. I don’t know if got filtered by accident, or she just wasn’t willing to post any comments that didn’t entirely second her own opinion. So today I’m going to enlarge on what I said in my “unposted” comment in reply to her blog—because I think it’s important.
First off, the notion that many of the horses at her farm don’t seem to recognize or be interested in their owners when said owners visit makes perfect sense to me. People, when you send your horse to a retirement farm, its exactly the same as selling your horse to a truly good home. From the horse’s point of view, that is. The horse doesn’t know you are still paying the bills, and that you still own him and care about him. From the horse’s point of a view, he has made the transition to a new home and new equine friends and new human owners. The people who run the farm and feed him and care for him are his owners now. He is interested in them (if he’s interested in people at all), not his used-to-be owner.
There’s nothing wrong with this. Sometimes sending a horse to a retirement farm is the best choice for both horse and owner. But its good to be clear about it. This is the reason many of these retired horses at the farm show no particular interest in or recognition of their owner— with whom they may once have had a great bond. If an owner doesn’t mind this transition and knows its what’s best for their horse because they are no longer able to give him a good life at home, more power to that owner.
But…people who don’t feel that they would ever want to send their old horse “away”, are not to be ridiculed. If a person has the ability to keep their retired horse at home (or in a nearby boarding facility) where the horse has plenty of room to move around, the company of other horses, and good feed and care, that is, in my eyes, the best possible choice. No matter how good the retirement farm, it simply doesn’t offer the incredible benefit of looking at your sweet old friend every day, seeing he is happy, and hearing him nicker when he sees you. And, in my view these things are priceless.
I have two retired horses on my property. One is Gunner, who has been featured throughout my mystery series starring equine vet Gail McCarthy. Gunner is 32 years old—I have owned him since he was three (see my February blog post “Feeling Good” for more about Gunner). For ten years Gunner was my main riding horse—we competed at many events, covered many miles. I cannot tell you how happy it makes me to see his blaze face and bright eyes every day.
Gunner lives in a big paddock where he can run and buck and play (and he does) and socialize over the fence with other horses. He has a shed and gets free choice hay (and equine senior feed night and morning). His weight is good, he is sound, and his attitude is happy. I kept him turned out in a neighbor’s pasture for awhile (with other horses) and I honestly think he seems more content here in my barnyard, with all the human and horse activity that goes on. My son and I pet him and give him cookies and though he doesn’t see or hear well any more, he really is thriving overall. So his life is good; and my life is better because he’s with me. I missed him when he didn’t live here and am happier now that he’s home. Gunner seems happier, too. Isn’t that what its all about?
My other retired horse is Plumber. Plumber is also a featured “character” in my mystery series, where his registered name is “Plumb Smart”. My real life Plumber is “Plumb Brown”. Plumber is 23 this year and I bought him as an unbroken three year old from my uncle, who raised him; I did all this colt’s training myself. I have known this horse since he was born—in fact I was the first one to see him. Plumber was my main mount for twelve years and we competed at team roping and completed many mountain pack trips. I gave my little boy rides on Plumber when my child was a toddler. Plumber has lived in his same large paddock on my property for twenty years. He is completely dialed into life here—knows exactly when I am going to turn him out to graze—has involved relationships with his equine companions of many years. He nickers every time he sees me, whether it’s feeding or grazing time or not. Does anyone really suppose that the best thing for Plumber would be to uproot him from his comfortable life and move him to a retirement farm? Even if it was the best farm in the world?
Below you see Plumber about six years ago, when he was 17 years old and still in full use as a riding horse and team roping horse (we retired him at 20, still sound, because he gave us signs that he didn’t enjoy working any more). Look at that sweet face. How could anyone choose to send a horse like this away if they didn’t absolutely HAVE to?
And yes, I know, my kid and I are not wearing helmets. If I had it to do over again, we would be. But this photo was taken before I began blogging—and interacting with so many horse folks on the internet. No one in my real life horse world wears a helmet—and their kids don’t either. I did buy my kid a helmet (and made sure he wore it always) about a month after this photo was taken—at the same time I bought him a pony for his 5th B-day. And, in my defense, we rode Plumber just as you see for many years, with absolutely no problems. My conviction that Plumber would not dump me, and that I could hang on to my kid if the horse spooked (and he did spook occasionally), was perfectly accurate. And yes, to those who have an eye for detail, I am wearing pirate pants and clogs. I ride in pretty much whatever I have on.
Anyway, Plumber is a very sweet little horse, and he knows who his people are, and it would make me, and I think also him, very sad if I had to send him away.
Mind you, if I couldn’t keep him here for whatever reason, and chose to send him to a retirement farm, he’d get through the transition. Horses do. Sometimes its harder than others and a horse will really mope for awhile, but eventually the new place would be home. But given that I can keep him here in what has been his true home and not force a big transition on him late in life, I think its much better choice for him (and me) to keep him here.
Yes, it’s an inconvenience in many ways. Gunner and Plumber take up two of the four large paddocks that I have for horsekeeping and I get no “use” out of them. But it is more than worth it to me to have them with me—for my sake as well as their sakes. I love them. I don’t want to break the bond between us. I want them to remain “my” horses. And yes, I want to be there at the end—to take upon myself the responsibility of when is the right time to make that choice and to insure that it goes as smoothly as possible. This is not something that I want to give away to someone else, no matter how experienced and well intentioned that person may be. These are my horses. It is my privilege to care for them until the end of their lives. I don’t want to send them away if I don’t absolutely have to. And I don’t think this is a point of view that should be ridiculed in any way.
If I truly didn’t have room for them or couldn’t keep them in an appropriate way, or if I lived in a harsh climate where I felt the winters were too hard on them, I might indeed send them to that retirement farm for their sakes. But in my own circumstances I think it a far better choice to keep them with me, and I feel sure that many others would benefit from making the same choice.
So my point is not that retirement farms are a bad choice. They can be a very good choice, depending on your circumstances. A much better choice than selling an old horse and not keeping track of him (which is a terrible/evil choice, in my view). A good retirement farm is a responsible, loving choice. But the best possible choice is to be able to keep your old horse with you and enjoy his company, and be there with him at “the end”. The rewards of doing this are huge, and I’m pretty sure that others who have followed this path will agree. So…no ridiculing those of us who do NOT want to send our old horses away, and who want to be there with them at the end. Not without a rebuttal, anyway.
Please feel free to give your own thoughts on this subject in the comments.
And…my fourth book, “Roped” is now available on Kindle for 99 cents. I have to say that re-reading this book (which I haven’t read in over ten years) was kind of fun. I almost have to pat myself on the back. The book is set in the ranching/team roping world of central California—the world where I spent my twenties and thirties—and the story brought the working ranches of my youth back so vividly I almost felt that I was there again. The gathers in rough country, the horse wrecks, team roping contests, and hours spent hanging out in the local bar with the cowboys, everybody talking horses….it’s all there. Along with an exciting mystery plot. I mean, even though I knew how it was going to end (duh), I was still pretty gripped.
OK—its silly to blow my own horn. Of course I like the book—it’s my book. But I do think that any of you who have the slightest tinge of interest in the ranching life will enjoy this mystery.
Also, anyone in the continental US who would like a free review copy of my latest book, “Barnstorming,” (12th in the series), can have one by emailing Susan Daniel at firstname.lastname@example.org with your snail mail address. Your only obligation is to post a short review (can be a couple of sentences) on your blog or on Amazon.
And last thing, we FINALLY updated my archaic website, which I’ve pretty much ignored for oh, about the last ten years. It was very 90’s—and that’s putting it kindly. It’s still a work in progress, but thanks to my husband, it now has a slightly more current look and up to date info. We are going to keep working on it over the next couple of months and hopefully it will soon be pretty interesting. Check it out at www.lauracrum.com