Just like humans retire from their jobs and careers when the right time comes, for horses there also comes a time when they need to throw in the towel. It's just life. However, unlike us, nature hasn’t bequeathed our equine partners with the capability to inform us when they need to let go of the duties and obligations they perform in our lives.
So, if you’re a horse owner, how do you know when the right time for your animal to slow down has come?
Equine Age of Retirement
Just like in human beings, the equine rate of aging also varies a lot. Sometimes you may find a 12-year-old horse who is ready to retire while his 30-year-old counterpart still remains gamely and is able to carry people through tricky terrain with ease. What I'm saying is: never use age as the only deciding factor when considering your horse’s retirement.
Telltale Signs for Equine Retirement
Natural aging, whether in horses or other organisms, occurs one single cell at a time. It's a very gentle and gradual process that most of the time, has little accompanying discomfort. After all, when it occurs gradually, your equine partner may be able to adapt to it in such a way that (s)he just continues to do their job normally.
However, when aging begins to accelerate, then it’s time to start adjusting your horse's daily workload. Otherwise, this will eventually contribute to the animal's physical deterioration. Some of the signs to look for include but are not limited to:
- weight loss
- decline in visual acuity and/or athletic ability
- shortness of breath, dry or mucus-coated manure
- recurrent impaction colic
- degenerative joint disease
- dry coat
- heart arrhythmia
1.) Knowing your equine friend well, helps you easily decipher when it’s time to slow down. Basically, advanced aging is a process that should accompany a decrease in workload.
2.) If your horse reaches a point where (s)he can’t perform or compete without medication, then it’s time to slow down or go into full retirement. NSAID's like Bute, which is the most common pain killer used for age-related conditions, may signal pain relief, but nothing is done to relieve or eliminate the underlying cause of that pain. In addition, Bute and it's said that other NSAID's can also contribute to the acceleration of the aging process.
3.) Always give a listening ear to your horse. Just by his body language, you can determine when (s)he's uncomfortable. For instance, hesitating in a response to a particular cue, failing to take a lead that has never been problematic, or a change in your companion's attitude toward some aspects of day-to-day life may be a red flag for an underlying issue.
The Process of Retirement
Rather than a complete cessation of activity for your horse, which may not even be necessary and could actually be detrimental, you can switch over to things (s)he can do without discomfort. Your 27-year-old Friesian Gelding may not be able to handle arena work anymore. So why not switch to some low impact trail riding? In fact, (s)he may even benefit from this significantly. Maybe cool swims could also help. Or some hand-walking.
The bottom line? You know your horse? Follow his or her lead, and your own intuition.
Image source: flickr.com