Some horses tick on well into their golden years with no obvious signs of trouble – so how do we know when it’s time to retire these senior athletes?

[dropcap]M[/dropcap]any horses retire due to an injury that dictates a poor or impossible working life post diagnosis. Leg injuries, back injuries and disease are the leading cause for working and competitive horses being retired. However, some horses tick on well into their golden years with no obvious signs of trouble – so how do we know when it’s time to retire these senior athletes?

The first thing you need to think about when considering golden oldies is that you don’t necessarily want to ride them until they’re broken. Ideally, you want to retire them sound, happy and as healthy as can be relative to their age. If you push it during a horse’s senior years, the chances increase that he will succumb to injury eventually and this could mean that he is uncomfortable or sore while he lives out his last years.

Know when he’s over it

Although some horses are ridden and competed into their late teens or even early twenties, be on the lookout for signs that your horse has had enough. There may not be anything wrong with him physically, but take a step back and evaluate his willingness to be ridden. Does he move to the corner of his stable when you arrive at the door with his tack? Does he seem reluctant to come out the stable or stand at the mounting block? Does he nap for the gate when being ridden in an arena? Has he suddenly started displaying negative behaviour like putting his ears back or swishing his tail? These can be signs of physical discomfort, or it’s purely burnout – too much of the same thing for many years. At this point, it’s time to either consider that you just stick to taking him on nice outrides if you want to ride, or retire him so that he can live out his days in pure happiness.

Physical limitations

As mentioned, your horse may not have suffered a ‘make or break’ injury, but you undoubtedly will need to be aware of your horse’s physical capabilities in his old age. Consult with your vet, farrier, stable manager and physiotherapist on a regular basis and ask them their opinions on your horse’s quality of life. You should get your vet to come do a physical exam twice a year so that you stay on top of things and detect any early signs of trouble.

Managing expectations

As a rule of thumb, whenever your horse reaches 10 to 13 years old, ask yourself where he fits in your riding future. Will this horse retire with you or should you sell him on to his forever home where his next owner can enjoy a few years with him before retirement? Once the horse reaches over 16, it can be difficult to find another home for him.

When it comes to a competition horse, consider the goals you would like to achieve with your horse – within reason – before you retire him. You may want to reach a certain level or complete the show season before it’s time to call it quits. Be reasonable about your expectations – don’t set out to push your horse beyond his limits. You want to retire him on a high!

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