There comes a time with a lot of equestrians when they must ask themselves, “Is he too old to be doing those jumps now? Does he require an easier pace of life?”. This can come at any stage in a horses life. They may have had a successful career for over 15 years, or they may not have even been able to start.
Retiring a horse is not an easy decision, and many factors must be considered before the answer to the question is definitive.
I’m going to tell you Toby’s story.
For me, the biggest thing was listening to my horse. In my case, together my mum and I decided to retire Tobias from full work and competition officially in 2014. This came after an injury in May 2012, where he got into a fight in the field and was so sore he could barely walk.
We immediately called the vet out to see him and with the help of several men from the yard, over 30 minutes later we managed to walk him the short distance from the field to the yard whilst we waited for the vet. The vet agreed he needed X-Rays, gave him some painkillers and bute and arranged for him to be brought up the next day.
One of the hardest things for me, as an owner, was having to leave my boy there despite knowing he was in the best of hands. He got X-Rays which revealed his hock had been damaged in the fight and he developed arthritis at the age of 6. He spent the week there as our vet’s brought in specialist equipment to try and decide the best course of action – which eventually led us down the route of the Tildren and Cortisone injections into his hock. Over the week, he did hydrotherapy three times daily with a gentle walk on the horse walker afterwards.
When Tobias returned home it was back to us. He needed 4 months field rest and afterwards, a strictly followed rehab programme. On Boxing Day 2013 I had my first ‘jump’ back (a 30cm upright) and I was so thrilled no one could wipe that smile off my face!
Over the next few months under the advice of our physio/vet/chiropractors, we continued the rehab programme and I took a horse on loan to have fun on while Tobias was still resting. He had all of summer 2013 off to heal and recuperate while I had fun with Farley. When we moved yards just before the New Year 2014, we brought Tobias back into full work – and he felt better than ever.
This, however, didn’t last long. When he returned into full work he was thriving, I took him XC, and completed my dream of competing in the Interschools competitions on my boy. I got to take him to the beach. It was amazing. After being granted the ride on other horses and competing on behalf of my school, it was a dream come true to finally do it with my one and only.
At the end of April I entered a two phase I had been watching for years and was so excited. I felt confident as he had been flying around the XC schooling less than a month before. He knocked the first fence SJ and ran out of the second fence. Thinking he was just being his cheeky self, I continued to the cross country phase and ended up falling off at fence 6. It went horribly – and it was the last proper show I ever did on him.
“He was going great – the best he had ever felt”
After this Tobias went lame again. Not completely lame, just not 100% right. He was too honest and hid his pain, he couldn’t keep up with the workload of normal riding i.e jumping or strenuous ridden work – but I just knew my boy was uncomfortable. It was then that mum and I decided to semi-retire him to hacking and the odd jump/school work. He began to get better, and is a happy retired field pony living life to the fullest. He adores cuddles, running away from me if I dare come near him with a headcollar and giving kisses.
I knew he was ready after that two phase. You know your horse, your team mate, your partner. They will tell you when they are ready. They may become grouchy, reluctant to move, and seem off in their stables or when you approach them with tack (this may be a bit harder to notice in a mare!!)
Tobias remains a hacking horse even though he is currently out because of a different injury. Should this not completely heal, who knows, maybe he will finally get the full retirement instead of still being ridden on pleasure rides and hacking around the countryside. He loves his life and so long as he is pain free, I don’t care that he can’t be ridden. If he’s happy, I’m happy.
In order to support his joints he remains on supplements and hard feed despite being in very light work.
Retiring your horse of a lifetime is not an easy decision; it is heartbreaking and to this day I miss the horse that I still see everyday. They go from being your partner to being your pet and companion, and despite the several partnerships I have been blessed to have since my beautiful boy was retired, he will remain my horse of a lifetime.
Watch Tobias in action here…
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