by Laura Crum
This post has been in my mind a long time. Because I occasionally read other blogs (when I have time) and some, particularly Joe’s TBFriends blog, are about rescuing horses. I read this blog and I think, I wish I could take on another horse. I wish I could help Joe in this noble work. And I do believe it is a noble work. But I always add things up and realize I can’t. I don’t have room or time for another horse, let alone I can’t afford the cost. I still feel sad about it. There are so many horses that need help.
I said as much to a cowboy friend the other day, and he looked at me like I was nuts. “Laura,” he said, “you already take care of seven useless horses. What more are you supposed to do?”
Well, I thought about that. I do take care of seven retired/rescued horses. Three were rescued from others for one reason or another, four are horses I rode that were retired due to age or injury. Some of them have been in this group of pasture horses for over twenty years.
My friend said, “How many people do you know that have taken care of a perfectly useless horse for over twenty years?”
That really made me think. I know there must be plenty of others in the world who have done and are doing this. There are people who write for this blog and who write in the comments that I know are taking good care of their retired/rescued horses. But I also know that there are so many so-called “rescues” that come and go, after taking on more horses than they can care for, frequently leaving a legacy of dozens of half starved horses that yet another rescue has to take on.
I thought about what it really means to retire a horse—and believe me, I know. Years and years (sometimes over twenty years) of usually escalating cost, as the horse needs senior feed and more vet care as he gets into his late twenties and thirties. And if you are a responsible horseman, you make sure the horse has pasture or adequate turnout time—it is not doing any horse a favor to keep him in a small pen the rest of his life when he can no longer be ridden. And then, there are the final months/years when you agonize over whether his quality of life is good enough, as he grows more stiff and sore or has health problems. Finally you make the call and with much sorrow, end his life as peacefully as possible, paying quite a bit for this privilige. This, all this, is a huge investment in time and money and emotional energy.
So today I want to send out a huge thank you, not to those who rescue horses, even though I totally admire the good horse rescues out there, but to each and every one who does retire their riding horses when they become too lame or old to use. Thank you so much for your kindness and love. If every horse owner were like you, no one would need to rescue horses. All horses would have a good life.
And I want to make a plea. Please, even if you, like me, can’t afford to take on a rescue horse right now, make a plan to retire the good horses you have when their riding days are done. Selling them to a “good home” does not cut it. Not unless you remain responsible for them and keep checking on them and are willing to take them back if needed. I can tell you dozens of stories of older horses who were sold to a “good home” and ended up going down the road…to an eventual fate we all can guess.
Yes, sometimes older horses do get a good home. Henry got one with me at nineteen years of age. Sunny, too. Because I am going to retire my two good little trail horses when their using days are done, even though I bought both of them as teenage horses. But sad to say, I’m afraid this is the exception not the rule.
So this is the point of today’s post. A huge thank you to all the unsung heroes of the horse world who do retire their horses when they are no longer able to do a useful job, and a plea that more people consider this. I truly believe you will be earning much good karma, if that matters to you. I know it isn’t always easy or convenient. But it’s the right thing to do. Keep your good horses and retire them when their working life is done!
And if you keep a few “perfectly useless horses,” to quote my friend, and have done so for years, I'd love it if you'd write and tell me. I know that quite a few of you do this—it cheers me up to realize I’m not alone. I’m sure we can all share stories both about how expensive and time consuming this can be—and the smile it brings to your face to see your old horse looking and feeling good on green grass. I think, of all the fun things I have done with horses, this may be my favorite. The joy of knowing that my old friends are having a good life—after all the gifts they gave me—well, its hard to describe how rewarding it is. Perhaps some of you can do a better job than I can. Any old horse stories to share?