I am excited to say that our stray dog that joined us last week has found her home again. Her owner saw one of the signs we had posted about her and came to get her on Monday evening. As it turns our her name is Flossie and she is 13 years old. Flossie was really happy to be re-united with her person. She lives about a mile and a half further down our street. I’m really glad we found her owners. I had mentioned that her back legs looked really arthritic and as it turns out she is on a lot of medication for them, which of course she hadn’t had in five days. Thank goodness for a happy ending!
One of the most common questions that I am asked is why are the horses retired. Obviously some of the residents are here because they are older and were simply ready for retirement for typical age related reasons. If you’ve read this blog much you probably know that a lot of the horses are not particularly old. We seem to have two dichotomies when it comes to retirement ages. For the most part the horses are either in their early to mid twenties when they arrive at our farm, or they are between the ages of 7-14 years old when they arrive for retirement.
It often surprises people to learn that about half of the residents here are in that younger age bracket when they originally arrive for retirement. The inevitable question is then “why are they retired?” The most common reason is soft tissues injuries, especially suspensory injuries. As many of you know, soft tissue injuries, depending on severity and location, can be really hard – and sometimes impossible – to completely heal. A lot of the owners have gone through real heartbreak. They do everything right, send their horses to rehab facilities to take advantage of aqua-cisers and tread mills, employ the latest technologies like shockwave and stem-cell therapy, and the horse ends up breaking down again. Often the horses have re-injured the same area, sometimes they end up having compensatory injuries from bearing more weight on their other legs to avoid fully weighting the injured leg.
The other main reason for retirement is hoof related issues. I’ve seen some feet that were so messed up I couldn’t have imagined ever seeing such wonkiness in a non-neglected horse. One poor guy his heels didn’t even touch the ground and he walked only on his toes up front, and the super duper expensive, best-in-the-area and charged $350 a shoeing farrier was responsible for that mess. He even shaped the shoes to follow the curve up of the heel so the poor guy had no chance of ever standing on his whole foot. I feel like I have seen every possible combination of shoe/pad combination show up here. Various types of bar shoes, pads, wedge pads, rim pads, pretty much if you name the hoof pathology and the typical treatment for it, it has arrived on this farm at some point! I’ve seen heels so high you would have they were wearing spike heels, toes so long they had big dishes in them, severe contraction, uneven angles, trailers on the hind shoes, huge toe and quarter cracks, I could go on and on. Some of the residents have severe navicular and a couple of them have previously foundered. If nothing else you do get to see a lot of hoof pathologies!
All of these horses have people who care about them a lot and employed the top vets, farriers etc. in their area. Many were boarded in very big name show barns. More of the horses show up with really messed up hooves than don’t. I will admit I scratch my head over this. I realize not every horse is genetically blessed with perfect feet, but I also don’t think that most of these horses had hooves that looked anything remotely close to the train wrecks they ended up with when they were foals. You will not convince me they came out of the womb with a lot of this stuff, maybe tending towards some of them but not the extremes they wind up with. Some of the issues can be blamed on metabolic problems. However I’m sorry but a lot of these messes are farrier and vet created. No one seems to trim to the hoof anymore. They are always trying to change the hoof, change the angles, lengthen the toe, raise the heels, etc. Every time a horse shows up with lameness and these awful feet it is always accompanied with “my vet/farrier worked together to come up with a shoeing strategy.
I will admit I often want to ask if they were blind and/or drunk when they decided to trim/shoe the horse this way. What happened to reading the hoof and trimming each hoof individually, and then applying the shoe on top of a correct trim? Why is it such the norm now to try and force our horses’ hooves into a shape or angles that the hoof in question was never meant to have? Speaking from experience with a decent number of retirees out here, these approaches may get you a temporary fix that either gets the horse sound, makes the horse move better, or meets whatever the goal was, but sooner or later it leads to a permanent crash and the horse ends up here, retired. What shocks most owners is that every single horse retired here for hoof issues ends up improving in both hoof form and soundness here while cruising around with their bare hooves.
I realize I am probably going to get blasted for some of my thoughts on hooves and farrier work in my preceding paragraphs. I’m a big girl, I can take it. 🙂
The third most common reason that the horses come here for retirement is arthritis. As with the soft tissue problems this can be another unwanted roller coaster ride. There are almost endless ways to spend money attempting to treat arthritis. Supplements, injections like Adequan and Legend, joint injections, special shoeing, and treatments like acupuncture, chiropractic, etc. Of course that is on top of the money spent on the diagnostics: x-rays, MRI’s, bone scans, so many ways to spend time and money. In this area some horses seem to be just flat out unlucky. When you are being retired from arthritis at 8 or 10, you have to wonder about the genetic component. Sometimes I wonder if it is possible that maybe they hurt themselves as a foal when they were playing, something that probably no one ever saw or realized as it happened in normal foal play, that set them up for early arthritis.
Another cause for retirement is complications from serious illness such as EPM. Yet another tough scenario. You manage to nurse your horse through a terrible disease or illness only to realize that your future together is permanently altered.
Having retired my amazing mare Bridget young myself, I understand what the owners have been through. You literally almost drive yourself over the edge. For me it wasn’t the setbacks that were the hardest, it was the hope that kept killing me. You keep trying, hoping, waiting, spending obscene amounts of money, hauling the horse to different specialists, etc. all while living an emotional roller coaster. I think we’re making progress and feeling a little hope! All hope dashed, all progress gone! Trying something new, I think it may be working! Never mind, it didn’t work after all! Let me tell you this is torture.
Regardless of the problem, I’m not sure what is harder, chasing a diagnosis or trying to find a treatment/rehab plan that works. It is easy to wind up spending a lot of time and money trying to ferret out the root cause. I think what often happens is secondary issues are first identified and treated, and then other problems keep cropping up. As I mentioned, this is all a torturous roller coaster ride from the aspect of mental health, time and money. After all we have a lot invested in our horses, both emotionally and financially. We all want to have a long partnership with our horses, and certainly no one in their right mind would hope to have a horse that winds up as a young retiree.
I applaud and respect everyone who has retired their horse with us. I’m honored to have earned their trust to care for their beloved horses, and I respect the fact that they are willing to provide a retirement. Many cannot afford another horse so they truly are stepping up to the plate for their animals in a big way. I know what it feels like to be on the sidelines with a retired horse. Of course we still love our horses but there is nothing shameful about admitting that you wish you could ride your horse since you are still spending the money! I’m thrilled to be back in the saddle on my own horses this past year and I appreciate it more than ever. I rode other people’s horses but it isn’t the same as with your own horse.
Sometimes it does seem that you can do everything right for your horse, but life happens and disaster strikes. I’m just glad that I have the opportunity to know these amazing horses in a different phase of their life. Wow this post ended up long. I can be quite verbose when the mood strikes me. That is a nice way of calling myself a wind bag.
Enjoying a meal together; Cuffie in the very front (retired due to arthritis and hoof issues), MyLight (retired due to arthritis), Harmony (retired sound at 18 from polo, she is 29 now) and Lily (retired because she developed heaves)