Do They Want a Job?
I commonly hear that horses are happiest when they have a job. I have to admit that I have not experienced this for myself with the horses I’ve been around. Throughout the years I’ve had many horses and done a lot of showing. My horses seemed happy to go to the shows, but they seemed equally happy to be pasture puffs. Not once have I ever come remotely close to picking up a vibe of “darn, yet another day where I didn’t get ridden!” from any of the horses here.
I’ve also heard variations on this theme like you can’t ever really retire a thoroughbred. Well, come visit this farm and I have several examples to disprove this statement. Many of the owners have told me their horses loved to be ridden and lived to go to horse shows, that in fact their horses hated it if left behind when the trailer pulled out. They really worried about how their horses would adjust to retirement. A lot of the horses come here with the owners intending to leave them on stall board permanently because their horses hate turnout, or hate something about turnout (day turnout, night turnout, etc.). It becomes very obvious very quickly that whatever their past feelings were about working, going to shows, being turned out etc., that when they are here all they want is to be in the pasture with their friends.
The horses help me prove this point. Some are flat out suspicious when their owners come to visit and instead of being how they used to be with the excited greetings when seeing their people, they are a lot more subdued. Some have even run away when they saw their owners coming where they used to come on the run. Some still walk over happily for petting and treats but all of them lose interest in the visiting when the treats run out. They would rather be with their friends. The horses all like me but I don’t delude myself that is has anything inherent to do with me. I’m the food lately that serves breakfast and dinner regularly and they are thrilled to see me at those times. Outside of mealtimes they aren’t interested in me for the most part unless I have treats. Of course I’m their long lost best friend if I have treats.
I was discussing this a few weeks ago with Gwen the farrier, Amy and Jason. Do horses need a job or do they care at all? We came up with several theories. At a lot of boarding barns, especially show barns, turn out is limited. So working is a chance to get out of the stall and break the boredom. Another factor we came up with was size of turnout. Amy has Lexi boarded at a lovely facility with well-maintained turnouts with nice grass. However the largest ‘pasture’ would be a couple of acres. Here our smallest pasture would be about ten acres with the largest being forty acres, so a lot of room to roam and places to go every day.
Then there is the treat factor. Most of us try to reward our horses after work, and that reward is often in the form of treats. In general most horses are highly food motivated so they know after the work the treats are coming. A key factor that we discussed about life for the horses here is the strong bonding with their herds. The horses are not being taken away from each other for daily riding, nor are they leaving regularly for shows and events. So they get very used to living as a group and become very bonded to each other. The one thought I’ve always pondered is if horses need a job then why aren’t foals and youngsters that are 2 or 3 years old and not being ridden standing around depressed? I mean, they obviously don’t have a job.
I am interested in your thoughts. Do you think your horse or horses in general can be happy in retirement? Do horses need a job? Does it depend on the setting and the circumstances? I ask because I supposedly spend my days with several horses who were supposed to hate retirement, yet they love it. But maybe that is due to a complete change in routine and environment . . . ?
A very clean