Welcome to retirement, Piper. Yes, I’ve decided to retire the horse that I bought one year ago this month. For those of you who missed it, you can read my first post about Piper HERE.
There’s no dramatic story as to why I made this decision. I didn’t get dumped. He didn’t get injured. I simply decided I just didn’t feel good about continuing to ride him. My nagging doubts about his potential physical discomfort as well as our mismatched personalities just won’t leave so we had our final ride at the start of this month.
Many older horses have some physical issues, of course. Maybe stiff, one-sided, a hitch-in-the-get-along when asked to do certain gaits/movements.
Some of that can be worked through by the rider to a certain extent. Or managed by the rider through being attentive to things like footing conditions or length/intensity of exercise. Sometimes farrier or veterinary interventions help. But not always. Riding can be therapeutic for a horse but it can also be damaging. It all depends.
Piper often feels stiff to me when he moves under saddle. And it’s not something I feel he works out of very well as you would expect a horse with mild arthritis to do. He is periodically quite fussy/argumentative with me, too. That might just be part of his bolder, jazzier style, but it could also be him trying to tell me that riding hurts at times.
I generally enjoy the process of getting to know a new horse, even when challenges present. I think Piper and I have certainly had some good moments together. I know I’ve detailed some of those times in my blog posts. Times where I perceived we both enjoyed navigating some of my trail obstacles or taking a stroll through the pasture, for example. But on the whole, I just didn’t reach the point where I consistently enjoyed riding him. Nor did I feel he particularly enjoyed me.
I had of course considered pursuing veterinary intervention. Lameness exam, X-rays, chiropractic work, etc . . . Maybe shoes or hoof boots (his previous owner rode him shod on all fours). But I am cautious about going down a very expensive rabbit hole that may lead to me to the very same conclusion.
Currently, I don’t believe he needs any intervention other than basic health care to be perfectly comfortable at pasture. He gets around just fine without me on his back. But I am thinking in order to ethically continue to ride him, I would want to have a full body workup. And that’s not an expense I can easily absorb right now.
I suppose I could explore different interventions in the future, but the start of Winter in my area is just a short couple of months away. After that, I won’t ride at home again until Spring when Piper will turn 22. That’s not an unheard-of age for a horse to retire anyways. I keep circling around to the same conclusion. It’s time to stop riding him.
But whether I am riding him or not, Piper still has a home with me. I have no plans to sell him. He’s at the age where he needs to be safe, stable and protected, not launched out into the world towards an uncertain future. Of course, I know enough about life now to realize that sometimes realities do not allow someone to keep a horse until end of life. But, Lord willing, I will be able to do for Piper what I’ve done for all the other horses I have owned.
Am I disappointed? Sure. Not many of us who like to ride enjoy not riding. Horses are big, expensive, sometimes dangerous and often long-lived creatures. All that is involved in having a horse of your own is often made worth it by the wonderful riding adventures you experience with them. It is very human to want to get something out of the deal.
At the same time, I personally think that part of being a horseman is practicing good stewardship to the best of your ability. I have the ability to care for Piper and so that is what I plan to do. Hopefully he will enjoy the life of a pasture ornament with me more than he’s done being my riding horse.
These types of decisions are often hard to make. They involve so many factors, and the reasons are so personal. There may not always be a right answer. But if you have an older horse, you may also have to face this decision sooner or later as they age.
If you have your own horse retirement story to tell, please share them in the comments section. Sometimes by sharing your decision making process, you can help someone who is struggling with their own situation. It’s all part and parcel of sharing our lives with horses.