Your number one school master is slowing down . . . You’re so attuned to him that you see subtle changes that are not apparent to anyone else: it’s taking longer and longer for him to warm up, and when he finally does he still has trouble with transitions or collected work. Or, maybe he’s a little off, stopping, or is not able to make it over jumps that were once no-brainers. Yet, he’s a trooper who can be depended on to safely carry around a first-time rider as easily as he can do Second Level lateral work. That’s why you’ve left no stone unturned in your quest to keep him on track. You’ve cut down on his lesson load, kept up with his shoeing schedule, had a round of x-rays, chiropractic and acupuncture treatments, herbal remedies, joint supplements, injections, etc., but his hocks are still stiff, his knees remain noticeably larger and he’s become cold backed . . . You have to face it; he’s had enough.
And, while you’d love to keep him as a pasture pet, you’re operating a business and must move forward; however, the thought of selling this gallant comrade-in-arms after all you’ve been through together is not acceptable, either.
If he’s still sound enough, despite his age, you might donate him to a non-profit organization with a less demanding riding program, such as a therapeutic riding school, or even to a retirement facility. That may be the win-win situation you’re seeking.
If you choose the school route, find a professional, well organized facility that will provide your guy with a next career that won’t place him on the same kind of rigorous schedule that is inherent in a boarding/lesson stable. But, keeping him moving as long as he’s not being pushed is good for an arthritic or navicular horse. Plus, he’ll be in a loving environment filled with adults and kids who will no doubt spend time patting, grooming and generally spoiling him.
Of course, you’ve got to check out the options carefully. Not all programs are as they might seem from their websites or brochures. Ideally, you should visit several times beforehand, with an eye to ensuring the same high standards of care and management you employ at your own barn. And, of course, you need to make sure that the level of work is appropriate for your horse.
The same requirements, sans the riding regime, go for a retirement farm. In this case, though, pay special attention to the turn-out regime. Will your horse be alone, with a companion, or will he be part of a herd? What kind of space will he have? Fencing: is it safe? Water: is it kept clean?
Once you’re satisfied that your horse will be in good hands, you would do well to finalize the deal in writing. Whether you use a lawyer or a boilerplate form that you tailor to fit your needs, make sure that these basic points are addressed:
1) For a therapeutic or educational riding program, determine a trial period: 15 to 30 days should be sufficient, after which be sure to stipulate that your horse will be accepted automatically. If it doesn’t work out for whatever reason, there also should be a provision that specifies who will be responsible for the costs incurred during his tenure.