Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Making the Decision to Retire

All of the horses that reside with us at our farm are here to enjoy being retired, and a select few are here to enjoy being a horse for a year or two and then to hopefully go back to work.  We get a lot of questions about why the horses are retired.  Some are retired due to age, some are retired due to injury, some are retired due to permanent damage caused by an illness.  Some are very young, some are quite elderly, most are somewhere in between.  

When does someone make the decision to retire a horse?  Of course that decision is different for everyone.  Some of the horses here could still do light duty work like easy trail riding.  Some of them simply don't have a temperament suitable to being a low level trail type mount.  They might be to hot, too spooky, or simply not enjoy that type of work.  In its way that makes the decision to retire easy.  Sometimes it is simply a matter of an aging horse that is not easily holding up to work anymore.  In other cases the decision was made to retire when the horse was still perfectly sound but their owners felt like they had worked hard for a long time and the time had come to say thank you to their partner and let them enjoy the good life (for all of you who think horses need a job to be happy you really need to come visit our farm). 

With some horses the answer to the question when do you retire them is easy.  The horse has had an injury and they simply are not going to fully recover.  A common term to describe their situation would be "pasture sound."    

All too often it seems the decision is not always as straightforward.  As an example I have friend who has rehabbed her mare from three different tendon injuries (two of them the same injury on two separate occasions).  Any one who has rehabbed a soft tissue injury knows that there is a lot of waiting, hoping, stall resting, hand walking, tack walking, and attempting to keep a very wired and bored horse from going crazy. There is nothing fun about it in my experience.

I have to admit if it was me I probably would not have done the third rehab.  Her mare is now back in full work but I know for me, mentally, I just couldn't handle it.  I would forever be holding my breath waiting for my horse to break again and it would ruin any enjoyment of riding my horse.  Every time I went to ride I would be wondering if today was the day that my horse was going to come up lame again. This is all due to my history of going multiple rounds with rehabbing my own horse.  I'm permanently scarred from the roller coaster that was her soundness.  One time Jason told me it was like watching me be in an abusive relationship.  No matter what I did the horse did not stay sound long term yet I kept trying, hoping, spending the money, putting in the time, always to wind up in the same place again.  I always say it is the hope that kills you because it was always the hope that kept killing me.

Speaking only for myself I can say the day I finally made the decision to retire her was a huge relief.  I felt like the weight of the world had been lifted off my shoulders.  Due to several life circumstances at the time I was not in the position to get another horse to ride.  That was part of what made me keep going on the quest for soundness, because at the time she was my only hope at having a horse I could ride and show.  With the gift of hindsight the only thing I would change about that decision is that I would have made it earlier.  As that whole saga unfolded I felt like I helped finance a new wing at Rood & Riddle in Lexington and had nothing to show for it in the end.

Back to the question of when do you make the decision to retire your horse?  Well, my friend chose to do a third rehab and so far it is working out for her.  I would have made the call to retire when the third injury happened, especially since it was a repeat injury.  I really admire her for being able to go through a third rehab, since by that point you know how hard it can be on you and the horse.  Her horse is back in full work but I would still be stressed waiting for everything to fall apart again. Now when there is anything amiss with one of my horses my hope is always for a very clear cut answer, be it good news or bad news.  I've found I don't like living in the gray area that involves a lot of hoping, praying, lighting candles and chanting, waiting (endless waiting), and lots of expensive diagnostics and treatments to go along with it all.  

A few years ago as I was loading one of my horses on the trailer to go to the clinic for a lameness exam Jason told me that I needed to be sure and tell the vet that the word "well" was banned from the conversation.  As in nothing starting with "well, it could be . . . " was allowed.  Thankfully that turned out to be an easy to diagnose - and easy to treat - issue.  If only it could always be like that!!

I am curious to hear from others who have found themselves on the soundness roller coaster (and if you've never been on it I hope you never EVER find yourself on it) how far do you take it?  Do you have dollar amount that you won't exceed, a timeframe, number of rehabs  . . . ?  Or do you stop when you mentally just can't take it anymore?


Clayton and Stormy hanging out

MyLight and Cuffie


Baby, Trigger and Homer

Sam and Sebastian

Wiz, Renny, Fuzzy and Dutch

Largo and Johnny

Tiny, Rampal and Toledo

Alex, B-Rad and Darby


Lauren said...

I'm sure you know this, but I spent a reasonable amount of money trying to dx Ari's lameness. When we couldn't figure it out with simple diagnostics- looking at getting into ultrasound, bone scans etc, I weighed the options of "will this horse ever do what I want him to do?" "Do I REALLY enjoy riding this horse" and "Do I have the money to put into extensive diagnostics when there is a chance fixing the issue will be expensive and lengthy and he will still not be sound" and decided we'd had enough. So now he's a lawn ornament and I expected to see him get sounder as time went out, but that is not the case, unfortunately.

Anonymous said...

Went through pretty much that with Maisie and her hind leg suspensory issues. She did come back well once - it was a long and very tedious process for all concerned - took over 9 months because we kept having setbacks. But when it became clear that due to her conformation - very long pasterns and somewhat straight hind legs - she was likely to keep reinjuring the same area, and in fact did, I just retired her at about age 15.

I'll bet she's pretty happy with my decision since she ended up living with you!

lytha said...

there was a bit of a rollercoaster with baasha's lameness 10 years ago with lots of legend and some cortisone and dropping down to riding shorter distances. but we were in the mountains and there was no easy place to condition - it was when he stumbled, fell, and sent me to the doctor that i really thought it through. it wasn't too incredibly difficult for me because i immediately found a horse to lease to compete on, and was still able to have fun with baasha by ponying him and horse camping with him. i did a couple years of light riding with him in germany, with lots of MSM, but now we live in a very hilly rocky area and it's not possible. if i trailered him 10 miles i could ride him on flat, sandy groomed trails at a walk and he'd love that. but i have no trailer, so he's "pasture sound." which i suppose means he canters around, but only one the right lead, and when he trots, he's grade 2-3.

Laura Crum said...

I always said I'd never do colic surgery and then, just over four years ago, my son's much-loved 20 year old horse colicked and I was told that surgery was needed and the horse was in good shape and would probably come through. Driven by the need to save the horse if possible (my son had lost his loved pony to cancer a little over a year before) I opted for surgery. The money was huge (for me), the rehab took over six months and involved several setbacks, the stress for both me and the horse was enormous. Was it worth it? Yes. The horse has been perfectly sound and happy and healthy for four very good years. Would I do it again? Only for an equally clear need, and equally good prognosis. I would not undertake such a procedure lightly, knowing as I do what it involves.

I have seen some VERY sad and frustrating stories with those soft tissue injuries.

And I have retired horses for all the reasons you mention--including a sound 20 year old horse who just sent me the message he didn't want to work any more. You have to go with your gut and your knowledge of the horse, I think.

Sammy said...

This seems like a good place to ask a question I've had on my mind for a while - the gelding to mare ratio at your farm seems quite lop-sided. Is that by design, or because retired mares often become broodmares, or some other reason?

Melissa-ParadigmFarms said...

I would guess that most of them are shipped off somewhere to be broodmares but I don't really know. Certainly not by design on our part though as I love mares!

jenj said...

My now 24 year old gelding likely injured himself as a 2 year old, prepping for a reining futurity. I acquired him when he was 8, and by 10 he was having days when he was uncomfortable behind. I dropped his workload (no more jumping), and he was fine for several years until he started being asked for significant collection for dressage. That became too much, and we did a 9 month rehab. He came back from that but immediately became sore when asked to collect, so instead he became a low-level dressage schoolmaster. But at 19, he started having some issues much, much higher up, and after several attempts at diagnoses, stall rest, and six months of wondering "how sound would he be today," we decided to retire him. He'd done enough, and I wasn't willing to put him through any more tests to figure out the problem, given his age and past history.

Interestingly, he was 2/3 lame at the trot for about 2 years of his retirement, then gradually became more sound. Now, at 24, he is as sound as he's ever been, and is working lightly 3-4 times per week at Training level dressage. He loved being retired, but he also loves having a job and being fussed over.

He does get a fairly high carrot-to-minutes-of-riding ratio these days, however!

quietann said...

My Morgan mare had a suspensory problem, surgery, and a long rehab that basically took 18 months. This was nearly twice as long as the vet expected but I have a horse who is sound for my purposes.

If it happened again -- especially if it needed surgery for her to "possibly" be riding sound -- I would probably retire her. She has conformation issues that rule out being a broodmare (and at 14, and a maiden, it wouldn't be a good idea to try.)