It’s that time of year again where hundreds of adverts pop up on social media of old, retired horses and ponies are “Free to a good Home.” Now I don’t know about you, but I hate seeing these adverts. These horses have given you the best years of their lives and they deserve to be able to spend out the rest of their days in peace, somewhere they know with people who love them. Giving them away “free to a good home” does not guarantee them a safe and happy future and sometimes what is best for them, is a very hard decision to make.
I wrote this post to give my honest views on what I think your options are as an owner are to your horse if you find yourself in a position where it is impossible for you to keep him without help. Hopefully if you are struggling with how to do best by your golden oldie, this post might be able to give you some things to think about and do the best by your horse.
To start with, I personally think there are 4 stereotypical categories of golden oldies and these categories determine what I think are the best options for an older horse. These categories are:
- Going Strong. These horses might have a few minor health issues and/or need a little more care than your typical horse, but are generally in very good condition and have a few years of a ridden job left in them.
- Happy Hacking Hopefuls. These horses are enjoying the quieter life, still in very light work consisting of the odd hack, teaching a young child the basics or perhaps some in hand or lead rein showing classes. They are likely to have arthritis/stiffness and may struggle to keep weight on. But are generally happy, healthy horses.
- Happily Retired. These horses are completely retired from work, for one reason or another. They are still happy and with a few good years of life left in them but will likely need a bit of extra care, especially over the winter months.
- Ready to Go. This group of horses are on their last legs and are starting to struggle day to day, or will struggle once the winter comes. They probably aren’t enjoying life as much as they used to.
What you decide to do with your golden oldie should be based on which of the above categories they fall into. Next I will talk you through what I believe to be the best and kindest options for the horse involved for each of the following categories.
Let’s start with the first two groups, Going Strong and Happy Hacking Hopefuls. If you are struggling time wise or financially to keep one of these horses I would suggest one of the following options:
- Find a sharer/loaner to help you out. If the horse/pony still has a lot going for it there is likely to be plenty of interest in a well written advert.
- Sell the pony to a good home. A well behaved pony has a lot to offer a new home, just look how old lots of first ridden and lead rein ponies are! If you aren’t able to offer the horse a forever home, another family might. They could have a good few years with him before letting him live out the rest of his days in peace.
- Look for other yards or changing your management to save time and money. Is he currently living in where he could live out? Could you share jobs with someone else on the yard?
- Loan/Sell as a companion, lightly ridden. If the horse doesn’t have a particularly great temperament or isn’t up to doing a huge amount of work anymore, you could look for someone needing a companion pony.
If you decide loaning or selling is the best option for you, do best by your horse by making sure you only send them to the best possible home. Loaners are often expected to provide references to help you make the decision. Make sure you are very clear with any medical or health issues your horse has, so that you can find a new home who really understand the horses needs and can give them the best possible life.
Next let’s look at the Happily Retired horse. This horse likely only has a few years left until he starts to go down hill so moving them to a new home could potentially be quite upsetting to them, especially if they have been where they are for a long time. Because of this, I would personally try and find a way of getting help so that he can stay where he is for the rest of his days. Would he be capable of giving a tiny tot a lead rein lesson for 20-30 mins every now and then? Or would he be safe and sensible for children to spend time grooming? If the answers to those questions are yes, finding a sharer with young children could be an option for you.
Depending on the horse’s individual temperament, rehoming (either on loan or by sale) could be an option. But it shouldn’t be taken lightly and a good owner would do their very best to make sure the horse was going somewhere where he will be happy.
If your horse from any of the first 3 categories would not cope well with a sharer or being rehomed or if there’s no way you can afford to keep him, the option I would suggest the same as that of a horse in the Ready to Go group. This option is a really hard one to make, but in a lot of cases, it can be the best thing for the horse, both mentally and physically. Lots of owners decide to have their beloved horses put to sleep while they still have some quality of life rather than waiting until there is no other option.
Now to a lot of people, putting an old but healthy(ish) horse down is a horrible idea. But if you are in a position where you cannot guarantee that horse a future with you, you do have to think about how well the horse would cope mentally and physically with a brand new lifestyle. Some older horses might only have 1 or 2 winters left in them and many owners make the decision to give them one more summer or good life, then let them go before the winter. In my opinion, it is much kinder to make the hard decision to put an old horse to sleep than to completely uproot their life in the final year or two of their lives.
I think it’s really sad when an owner doesn’t keep a horse/pony who has given them a lot until the end of their days. But I understand that life isn’t that easy and we can find ourselves in a position where we can no longer look after our horses to the best they deserve, especially when they get older. My hope is that this post will help someone struggling to keep their golden oldie a few ideas about the best options for their horse, so that he can have the best life possible until it is his time to head over the rainbow bridge.