Bob Avila’s Win­ning In­sights: Horse re­tire­ment.

Con­sider my list of do’s and don’ts as you plan for your horse’s post-ca­reer years.

Horse & Rider - - Contents - By Bob Avila, With Juli S. Thor­son Photos by Marc Lax­ineta, DVM

When you have a good horse of your own or in your barn, chances are you want to do right by him when his per­form­ing days are over. But how do you know when it’s time to re­tire him, and what should you do to set him up for “the good life” on his terms?

I’ve helped see to the re­tire­ment of a num­ber of top per­form­ers, in­clud­ing my wife, Dana’s, 19-year-old world cham­pion work­ing cow horse, Brother White (“Preacher”). Based on my ex­pe­ri­ences, and us­ing Dana’s geld­ing as an ex­am­ple, I’ll share ad­vice you can take into ac­count when it’s time for your horse to re­tire. I’ll base my com­ments on show horses, be­cause those are the ba­sis of my busi­ness. But you can ap­ply most of the tips to any horse, re­gard­less of his job.

Re­tire­ment Tim­ing

When a horse is chron­i­cally and painfully unsound, there should be no ques­tion about whether to re­tire him. For sound horses, the an­swer to “when is it time?” de­pends quite a bit on whether an in­di­vid­ual is a stal­lion, mare, or geld­ing.

To me, the best time to re­tire a stal­lion from com­pe­ti­tion, at least one with a breed­ing ca­reer to con­sider, is when he’s on top. This is be­cause the public can be so ruth­lessly neg­a­tive once a good horse starts to get beat. And with so­cial media, the neg­a­tiv­ity has po­ten­tial to get around faster and far­ther than any­one can stop.

With em­bryo trans­plant and use of sur­ro­gate dams, it’s pos­si­ble for top

show mares to con­tinue com­pet­ing while also pro­duc­ing foals. Gen­er­ally speak­ing, though, re­tire­ment time for a show mare co­in­cides with the owner’s de­ci­sion to breed her and make her a full­time brood­mare. If your mare won’t be bred, but will con­tinue in a per­form­ing ca­reer, you can ap­ply my com­ments about geld­ings to her.

With no breed­ing ca­reer ahead of them, geld­ings are the horses most likely to be ex­ploited in terms of re­tire­ment post­poned too long. I’m sure we’ve all seen the old troupers, far past their prime and at risk of in­jury, that still have to run and slide hard, lope through end­less rail classes, turn bar­rels, or run af­ter steers and take the jerks be­cause their own­ers just won’t quit and start over with a younger horse.

Key Do’s and Don’ts

With Preacher as ex­am­ple, here’s my list of do’s and don’ts for get­ting re­tire­ment right.

There’s no one-size-fits-all plan for re­tir­ing a horse. It’s more a mat­ter of know­ing yours well enough to re­al­ize when it’s in his best in­ter­est to end his main ca­reer. Dana re­tired Preacher from cow horse events a cou­ple of years ago, as he en­tered his late teens, be­cause she knew he had too much heart to quit try­ing hard for her; she didn’t want him to get hurt. She still rode and showed him some un­til this year, but in less stren­u­ous events.

Horses are crea­tures of habit, which means they like fa­mil­iar­ity and rou­tine. If your re­tir­ing show horse has been sta­bled most of his life, as Preacher has, it would be a mis­take to jerk his blan­kets and turn him out with pas­tured horses; he’s

not used to any­thing like that, from be­ing out in all weather to hav­ing to com­pete for feed.

DO pro­vide a com­pan­ion. Show horses like Preacher may not spend time turned out in a herd, but they’re still in prox­im­ity with other horses as they’re worked, shown, and sta­bled, and have so­cial needs af­ter they’re re­tired. As Preacher’s com­pet­i­tive life wound down, Dana got him a mini don­key as a pal. They share stall and pas­ture space, play to­gether, and keep each other com­pany.

DO con­tinue with ex­er­cise. Older horses are just like older peo­ple, in that they have to “use it or lose it.” Dana con­tin­ues to ride or longe Preacher regularly, which also keeps her well tuned-in to how he’s feel­ing.

DON’T re­tire your horse cold

tur­key. If you quit do­ing ev­ery­thing and any­thing with him right off the bat, he’s not go­ing to thank you for the gold watch—in­stead, he’s go­ing to be stressed and dis­ori­ented. I’ve known of some great blue-col­lar show horses that got hauled home from the last show and sim­ply chucked out to pas­ture, and that, to me, isn’t right.

DON’T keep your older horse go­ing and go­ing just be­cause you can. The good ones give to us, and sooner or later, as good horse­men, we have to stop tak­ing and re­ward them with a softer life.

As the sun goes down on your per­for­mance horse’s ca­reer, his re­tire­ment plan is up to you. There’s more to it than sim­ply turn­ing him out into a pretty pas­ture.

A mul­ti­ple AQHA world cham­pion, Avila has also won three NRCHA Snaf­fle Bit Fu­tu­ri­ties, the NRHA Fu­tu­rity, and two World’s Great­est Horseman ti­tles. He re­ceived the AQHA Pro­fes­sional Horseman of the Year honor. His Avila Train­ing Sta­bles, Inc., is in...

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