Retirement Plan

The time has come for Sunny to retire. Which is not a big stretch, as she has been ‘semi-retired’ for the past few years. Nonetheless, my coach informed me a few months ago that it was time for me to start looking for a new, younger horse to bring along and show. So that means moving Sunny out of the training barn, and into a more suitable ‘retirement home’.

This got me thinking. How do we know what kind of retirement facility is best for our senior horses?

Let me start with what I found to be best for Sunny. She is not without her problems (the main one being her magnesium deficiency, now under control, but a part of her life that I must always keep tabs on), so I needed to find a spot that was no more than an hour away. I need to be able to see her at least once or twice a week.

I live in Nova Scotia, on the east coast of Canada. Our winter has a chilly, wet, windy climate, not conducive to the well-being of a hard-keeping hot-house-flower type like Sunny. So her retirement digs had to include a warm stall for night-time, and nice, safe grass turnout for the days.

I’m also what most people would call Extremely Fussy. I like a nice tidy (read: impeccably clean) barn, a barn-owner who will treat a boarder with the same (painstaking) care as she does her own horses, and super-safe facilities. And I don’t like leaving my horse in the care of strangers. So Sunny’s new barn owner was going to have to be someone I already knew. Tall order? Yes, but miraculously a former student of mine, whose barn (and barn management ideas) I had always admired, was in the market for a new boarder. Talk about serendipity!

Sunny moved in around the middle of November. Here she is on her first day, making friends with her new “herd”.

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So, I guess what it comes down to is this: our horses, in their retirement, only need two things:

1. More of the things they need (like grazing and the company of other horses)

2. Less of the things they don’t (like fancy indoor arenas and an onsite trainer)

In your search for the perfect Senior’s Villa, start by listing all of the “deal breakers”; all of the things that you and your horse are not willing to live without. Place the emphasis, of course, on your horse’s needs, but don’t forget your own. This needs to be a situation that works for everyone involved. If there are conditions that you are just not happy with, then mark my words, you’ll find yourself inside of a year doing this all over again (and older horses don’t always settle as quickly as they did in their younger years, so you don’t want to have to move your senior twice).

Once you’ve narrowed down the must-have’s (and the must-not-have’s), put some feelers out there. Certainly, a look through the local classifieds will tell you what’s available, but in this kind of search, you’re better off looking to horse people you trust – coaches, your current barn owner, or other friends who board their horses out – for advice and some good word-of-mouth. A friend or coach is unlikely to steer you wrong, and probably already has a pretty good idea of what you’re looking for.

Finally, once you do find what seems to be the perfect place for your cherished equine senior, make sure that you and your prospective new barn owner are on the same page. Get down to the nitty-gritty details. Will someone be available to change your horse’s blanket if he’s caught out in a cold downpour? Will the barn owner or a staff member be there to hold your horse for the farrier if the barn is to far for you to travel to on shoeing day? If your horse requires daily medical care (for example, application of eye drops or treatment of mud fever), is there someone who can do that for you? Spend a good hour or two, before you make your final decision, just chatting with the barn owner and working through all of these little questions. Remember, your horse is retiring, which means that you most likely won’t be there every day to look after all of these little things, and if the barn staff won’t take care of them, it’s best to find out before moving day.

Moving your senior to a great retirement facility can be incredibly satisfying for both you and your horse. I can’t begin to express the joy I feel when I pull up to the barn and see Sunny contentedly grazing with her new little herd. The time I spend with her now is truly ‘quality time’, with no interference from training agendas and lesson plans. Finding the right barn at which to start down this new road is one of the most important decisions you will make for your aging equine. Take your time, get plenty of input and iron out the details entirely. The perfect retirement home is out there – you just have to go find it!

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