Monday, February 24, 2014

Hard Facts of Life: Aging Horses...

   Thing about gettin' old and gray...  You might not get that much wiser, but you do get some perspective.  Especially when it comes to the lives of horses.  Some things that many horseowners today don't seem to realize, and need to come to grips with.

   Horses don't live forever.  Yes, they last a good bit longer than most house pets.  Improvements in horsekeeping and farriery have extended the useful careers of modern steeds.  But, sadly, they still get old on us.  Maybe not so obvious to the Hunter Girl whose equestrian career is limited to the few years between adolescence and going off to college.  But to those of us who've pulled foals into the world, then buried them at the inevitable conclusion of Old Age, the fleeting nature of the equine lifespan is all too apparent. 

She lived long enough to see the beard go white, and then some.
But the filly got her place under the hill a couple weeks ago.

   Too often owners are in denial about their aging horses.  The geriatric years can slip-up on us.  We look-up and realize that ol' Dobbin isn't up to the kind of use we need from a horse anymore.

   The worst and, unfortunately, probably most common response to this is to try and find the old horse a new home...  Craig's List and other sites are full of old and unsound critters being sold or given-away as "companion" or "light riding only" horses.

   This is irresponsible, and far from a kindness to the old horse.  At best, the folks willing to take the geriatric equine in probably don't know what they're getting into.  They're going to be dealing with an animal whose needs are constantly increasing, while his usefulness decreases.  And, kind hearted as they might be, they don't have a personal debt to the horse.  They didn't get years of faithful service out of him like his prime-of-life owner did.  The horse either winds-up back on Craig's List, or effectively abandoned somewhere to die of slow neglect.

   It's understandable, especially in the current economy, that people might not be able to provide cushy, long retirements for their horses.  (Yeah... We tend to do it here at Prophet's Thumb. But we're not paying board and such on each horse.  And we're just too damned sentimental.)

My faithful stallion, and personal mount for over a quarter century.
Sire of the filly pictured above.  In his last year of retirement.

   If you can't take proper care of your retired horses, perhaps you should heed the Horse's Prayer...

When my useful strength is gone, do not turn me out to starve or freeze,
 or sell me to some cruel owner to be slowly tortured or starved to death;
 but do thou, my Master, take my life in the kindest way...

   Yeah... There are few things harder on a horseman's heart than putting a horse down.  But two of them might be seeing an old horse nobody cares for anymore, or a good young horse going to waste because a decrepit pensioner is filling his 'slot' on a farm somewhere.

   Which brings us to the corollary...  Old horses eventually need to be replaced with new ones.  This is a particular problem in the equestrian world because there is so much lead-time in horse production.  You can't just whip-up a well-broke five year-old overnight like some consumer product.  It takes years of continuous input to get from a sparkle in the old stud's eye to a solid horse who can really earn his oats.  So it's a process that really needs to begin well BEFORE ol' Dobbin needs to retire.  But this requires horseowners to face the mortality of their beloved mounts, which may not be an easy thing to do.

Just to close on a brighter note,
Here are the stallion and his daughter,
back when their final days were still
far beyond the horizon.

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