On elderly horses


After Saturday’s show, I wandered back to the barn area to feed apples to Moe and Gina, who had been patiently napping in stalls since their lesson kids rode them early in the day. As Moe enthusiastically bit into his apple, I petted his sweet face and told him what a good dressage pony he was. I rubbed his sad forelock and assured him that next year we’d have a full eventing season. A friend who was packing up in the tack stall next to us said with a laugh, “Stephanie, you need to get a younger horse!”

She’s probably right. Moe will turn 21 next year. He’s in spectacular health: he’s perfectly sound, has excellent feet, eats regular feed heartily, and is eager to go for a ride. But despite his good health, I know his body won’t last forever. Someday, my bright-eyed, excited partner will be unable to jump and gallop. Someday, I will have to find a new horse to carry me over cross country courses and through a dressage test.

Over the bench.

I could sell Moe and Gina now, while they’re hale and hearty. I could take that money and buy a nice, new, young horse with potential and maybe a little talent. I could stop languishing around Novice level as I have been for the last decade.

But where would they go? I would sell them to nice people, certainly. Gina would go to a nice adult amateur looking for a reliable horse to learn dressage on. Or maybe a teenager just beginning her riding career. Moe would go to some jump-crazy kid; he would teach them to be fearless and brave over every possible obstacle. His rider would race him through open fields, just like I did once.


But what would happen when Gina spooked too hard at something silly and threw her rider?Β What about if Moe finally went lame from years of jumping? If he were injured? I’d like to think their new owners would simply care for them until the end of their days- but too often, horses in this area are sent to the auction houses that kill buyers frequent. I can’t imagine anyone sends a horse there with the intention it will be shipped to Mexico and slaughtered; I imagine people tell themselves someone will buy the horse. Someone will buy it for their child, or as a pasture pal for a lonely horse, or a babysitter for weanlings.

My horses are old; they are not yet decrepit. But even when they are, I will keep them. I will pay their board. I have planned for their retirement. I think that’s the responsibility you have when you own a senior horse.


Do I think it’s wrong to sell horses? Of course not. But I think we’re obligated to find the best homes possible for our horses and to give them the best chance at a long and happy life. For Moe and Gina, that’s with me. I know I can care for them, and I know they’ll have an excellent quality of life until their dying day. I’m not confident another owner would be willing to do that.

Is it frustrating to have elderly horses? Yes. But I wouldn’t trade a single strand of hair on Moe’s homely chestnut body for all the beautiful young horses in the world.

Author: Stephanie

Equestrian, amateur cook, people person.

24 thoughts on “On elderly horses”

  1. I have a senior OTTB and he will spend the rest of his days with me as well. I could;t sleep at night if I passed him along, hoping someone else would do right by him. Too many out there that treat horses like they are disposable.

    1. Exactly- I wouldn’t be comfortable trusting that someone else would provide him with the care he deserves. The last thing I want is for poor, sweet old Moe to spent the last days of his life confused and frightened, milling around an auction lot or packed on a crowded trailer.

  2. Hear ya. I think horses earn their retirement. I wouldn’t be able to do it if I were you. They took care of you, now you’re taking care of them. Good on you girl. β™‘β™‘β™‘

    1. It drives me insane sometimes, especially when I see people on these nice young horses moving up the levels, and here I am on my still-not-quite-trained senior horses! But it isn’t fair to either horse to send them off to some unknown fate at their age, so I’ll just keep learning whatever they’ve got to teach me!

  3. Amen! I knew when I bought Dee I was committing to keep her for the rest of her life as she was already 17. It’s the least I can do for her after she’s treated me so well.

    1. I sort of figured I was stuck with Gina, since I bought her when she was 14! But I’m okay with that, since at least I know she’s not off acting like a fool with someone who’s scared of her.

  4. you have such sweet and fun horses who hopefully have years left to give. glad to hear too that you’ve given so much thought to preparing for their futures πŸ™‚

    1. I’ve tried to give it some real thought! It’s so unpleasant to think about, but I’d rather be prepared and have an unpleasant plan than be taken buy surprised and totally ruled by emotion. (e.g. “BUT JOHNNY MOE IS MY FAVORITE BEST HORSE WE HAVE TO SPEND $15,000 ON SURGERY TO FIX HIM EVEN THOUGH HE IS 35!”)

      1. It is really hard to think about those things, but I too would WAY prefer to have them thought out in advance. It’s just not something I’d like to leave up to chance or, like your example, a spur-of-the-moment, emotional decision.

  5. I love this post and agree with everything you said, but my favorite part is the fact that you wouldn’t trade a hair of MOE for the most beautiful horse in the world. Gina? Well, maybe πŸ˜‰ Jk!

    1. Girl, you know I would trade that bratty mare in like two seconds if I wouldn’t feel SUPER guilty afterward.

      As it is, I constantly tell Moe he is my favorite in front of her, which the barn owner/manager is convinced is giving Gina a complex.

  6. I was just thinking about this the other day. Cosmo is no spring chicken, he’s plenty left in his tank, but one day he will be retired. I knew that when I bought him last year, I would not be able to, not want to, sell him. I will take care of him until his end.

  7. Carlos was the kind of horse that I knew if I sold him at some point he would find himself in a poor situation which is why I kept him. Which is why I planned on keeping him. My one option if his feet had held up, was to lease him 1/2 or full and keep tabs on him always. That could be an option for Moe and Gina. Because i know you aren’t the kind of person to ‘set and forget’ if you leased them out.

    1. Leasing is a good option, and I am definitely in favor of it! I’ve offered a full lease on both horses to their lesson kids, but their parents are not into it. πŸ™

    1. I agree, although I don’t have qualms selling a horse who I feel like has some life skills and a good chance to be productive for someone else, even if it doesn’t work for me. Mine are just too old for me to feel comfortable selling!

  8. This is such a tough topic. It’s not realistic to think I’ll be able to keep and retire every horse I’ll ever have. But it’s important, and my responsibility… my DESIRE, to make sure they are taken care of properly in their old age. And I think I’ve done a good job of that for the most part. There is only one that I’ve lost track of. But she was quite young when we parted ways, so I’m hopeful things worked out for her.
    Rio on the other hand will never go anywhere. That boy has my heart.
    I would really like to lease Jamp for a year or two until he’s ready to retire. He’s getting up there in years, and that way I’ll have the say when he’s no longer a riding horse. He can either stay with me, or I’ll retire him at a lovely farm with actual grass paddocks.
    Sorry I just wrote a book…

  9. I love that you and so many of the commentors have thought forward for their horses. I feel like it should be a requirement for new owners, but so many do not look into it!

  10. 100% agree with this. It’s so scary trusting others to take care of horse. Having a place to retire my not yet old horse to is the main reason I’d one day like a small property of my own.

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