Your Turn: Retiring my mare, or another way that horsekeeping is not like owning a cat

If you’ve ever been the owner of a chronically intermittently unsound horse, you’ll relate to this story by reader Lori K. Brown.

From Lori:

I’ve been trying not to have to make this decision for a long time. Years. Thousands of dollars. Many trips to several different vets. A chiropractor. Bone scans. Saddle fitting. X-rays. PRP. Ultrasounds. Stall rest. Hand grazing. Hock injections. Insurance claims (I am really really good at these). On and on and on, four solid years of intermittent lameness with matching human mood swings. Since our one and only horse trial in 2008, where Katy and I finished on our dressage score of 36.5 (!!!!), my mare hasn’t stayed sound for more than about two months straight. Yesterday, the vet confirmed my observation that she is lame once again, in the same way that she has been so many times before. And instead of diving back into lameness sleuthing and ‘what ifs’, I finally had to ask The Question: Is it time to get off the roller coaster and retire her?

Katy is 11, a thoroughbred who raced only a few times and left the track seemingly sound, with clean x-rays, a cute face, and a really kind and trainable mind. When sound, she has been a perfect ammy ride – quiet, sane, tries hard to do whatever you ask, forgives imperfect riding, sweet, gentle. I started riding about 10 years ago and she is the first and only horse I have ever owned, after about 5 different leases. Some were sweet, but most were from the Island of Misfit Half Leases – Bucky, Balky, Bitey, etc. Katy was different — not only was she kind to ride and handle, she was just so pretty. I kinda expected my first horse to look like Mr. Potato Head, in exchange for not dumping me on my butt every other day. But strangers stop me to tell me how pretty she is, so I’m fairly certain that this isn’t just my parental bias showing.

Katy and I have done a little lower level eventing, dressage, and trail-riding. She does take grave exception to mini-donkeys and people on trampolines, but she doesn’t mind much else. We think her lameness is the consequence of a pasture accident, but we’ve never been able to conclusively identify the underlying problem. It’s a classic case of mystery lameness that hasn’t been resolved by time off or standard treatments.

So now what?

I live in the suburbs on 1/6 of an acre. That is to say, owning a horse means boarding the horse. And board in this part of the world is not cheap. I could keep Katy where she is now, and still see her a few times a week, groom her, graze her, even walk hack her around the property if I really wanted to. But if I retire her in this area, I won’t have any money left for other riding opportunities. Retiring her will make spending time with her easier, I tell myself, since I won’t be going nuts trying to figure out how to make her sound again. I’ve seriously considered keeping her expensively in reach because I can’t bear the thought of moving her far away.

She’s not fancy enough that anyone wants her babies, and even if they did, does the world really need more thoroughbreds with a cute face, modest pedigree and questionable potential? Probably not. I’m not dumb or cruel enough to think she could be sold to anyone but the meat truck. ‘Companion only’ homes are largely nonexistent, and I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t take care of her myself as long as I can.

I have decided that the sensible thing to do will probably be to send her to live at a friend’s lovely small farm a few hours away in the spring. There, she can be a pasture pet much more economically, and I would have the time and money to do a little riding again. Of course, even if I retire her to a more rural place to save money, I can’t afford to own another horse while she is still eating and plotting her next trip to the vet. But lessons and half leasing would still be more riding than I’ve been able to do in the last few years.

It’s taken nearly a year to get to this conclusion, and I’ve consulted (OK, more like ‘harangued’) trusted friends, trainers, and more experienced horse people before I could get here. Since ‘The Conversation’ with my vet, I’ve burst into tears about a dozen times. It feels like losing a friend. While I know that she will have a nice life in retirement, with acres of lovely grass and a few quiet pasture mates, this decision is still a kick in the gut.


About the author: I’m a 48 year old web developer living near Baltimore, MD. I was a horse crazy little girl with a shelf full of Breyer horses and all the Black Stallion novels who never had the opportunity to do more than the occasional trail ride. About 10 years ago I started taking lessons, and haven’t looked back. 

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