Rest & Re­lax­ation

Choose the right re­tire­ment fa­cil­ity for your se­nior horse with this step-by-step guide.

Horse & Rider - - Contents - BY ABI­GAIL BOATWRIGHT

Choose just the right re­tire­ment fa­cil­ity for your de­serv­ing se­nior horse with this step-by-step guide.

B EAU WAS PER­FORM­ING AT A HIGH LEVEL. HIS OWNER, MARY JEAN GEROULO, boarded him at a top-notch mid-city fa­cil­ity where care of com­pe­ti­tion horses was ex­cel­lent. Time went by. Age and health prob­lems side­lined Beau. It was time for him to re­tire. Geroulo re­lo­cated the big bay geld­ing to a fa­cil­ity in the coun­try that caters to the spe­cific needs of re­tired horses. Now 27, Beau is happy. Geroulo rests easy know­ing he’s con­tent, safe, and well cared for. You might one day need to find re­tire­ment quar­ters for your own se­nior horse. He’s car­ried you through years of com­pe­ti­tion, down miles of trails, and through sea­sons of life. When his ac­tive rid­ing ca­reer comes to an end, what’s the next step? We asked two se­nior-care providers for their best tips to find the right re­tire­ment fa­cil­ity for your horse. Here’s their step-by-step guide. Step 1: De­ter­mine Your Horse’s Needs Older horses of­ten have health is­sues and re­quire daily med­i­ca­tions. For a typ­i­cal board­ing fa­cil­ity, this might be out­side the bounds of ev­ery­day care. But for a re­tire­ment fa­cil­ity, this is an es­sen­tial part of keep­ing those horses healthy.

Roseanna McMil­lan runs White Rock Manor in Lex­ing­ton, Vir­ginia, with her hus­band, James. Be­fore you choose a fa­cil­ity, McMil­lan says, con­sider your horse’s abil­i­ties and needs. Is he pas­ture-sound? Does he need to be blan­keted in the win­ter? Make sure your cho­sen fa­cil­ity can pro­vide top care tai­lored to your horse’s par­tic­u­lar needs.

Dawn John­son owns and op­er­ates Cot­ton­wood Sta­bles, a re­tire­ment fa­cil­ity in Crock­ett, Texas. She cares for sev­eral horses with pi­tu­itary pars in­ter­me­dia dys­func­tion (PPID) and an­hidro­sis—both re­quire care­ful man­age­ment, par­tic­u­larly dur­ing hot Texas sum­mers. Other horses have den­tal dis­eases that re­quire close ob­ser­va­tion and other is­sues that need a watch­ful eye. John­son’s team pays close at­ten­tion to the health of their charges, and if one

is no longer happy or healthy, they’ll work to im­prove his con­di­tions. But John­son also rec­og­nizes when it’s time to have a dif­fi­cult con­ver­sa­tion with the own­ers.

“If I can’t make a horse bet­ter and make him com­fort­able, and if he doesn’t seem happy or healthy, then I’ll con­tact the owner and have a con­ver­sa­tion about hu­manely eu­th­a­niz­ing the horse,” John­son says.

John­son’s fa­cil­ity—25-stall barn, out­door arena (con­verted to turnout), large pas­ture, and sev­eral smaller pas­tures—of­fers a dif­fer­ent kind of at­mos­phere bet­ter suited to the slower tempo of an older horse’s life. Cot­ton­wood Sta­bles res­i­dents spend the ma­jor­ity of their time on pas­ture in groups of two and three horses, per­fect for most se­nior horses that could strug­gle in a larger herd.

“One of their big­gest prob­lems my horse own­ers wanted to ad­dress from pre­vi­ous lodg­ing was group turnout,” she says. “Their horse was the older one, and he was at the bot­tom of the heap. He wasn’t get­ting food, so he was los­ing weight and just didn’t look good be­cause he wasn’t get­ting daily care. Our horses here are han­dled ev­ery day. We are out there feed­ing them, groom­ing them, and clean­ing their feet. And when it comes time for feed­ing, ev­ery­body gets fed sep­a­rately. We don’t just throw a bunch of food out there.”

Step 2: Do Your Re­search— and Be Picky!

“Web­sites and brochures can look fan­tas­tic, but you need to see a fa­cil­ity for your­self,” McMil­lan cau­tions. “It’s worth do­ing your home­work, rather than send­ing your horse some­where that could po­ten­tially be bad for him.”

John­son rec­om­mends look­ing at the other horses boarded at your horse’s po­ten­tial new home. Are their feet main­tained? Are they healthy and happy-look­ing? These are good signs your horse will also thrive in this at­mos­phere. Pay at­ten­tion to the same things you look for in a good board­ing es­tab­lish­ment: com­pe­tency of care, ex­pe­ri­enced staff, good ref­er­ences, and a pos­i­tive track record.

“Are the stalls clean? Are the wa­ter buck­ets full? How safe is the barn? How safe is the fenc­ing?” John­son sug­gests you ask. “What do the horses look like? Look for cuts and un­ex­pected limp­ing. Is this some­place you’d want to live for the rest of your life?”

McMil­lan ad­vises ask­ing spe­cific, clar­i­fy­ing ques­tions of the fa­cil­ity owner or man­ager. For ex­am­ple, if you’re told there are 400 acres of turnout pas­ture, ask if your horse’s spe­cific turnout needs will be met. If he’ll be turned out with a large herd and left to fend for him­self, and that sit­u­a­tion doesn’t suit his per­son­al­ity, then the 400 acres hardly mat­ter.

Also con­sider lo­ca­tion, says McMil­lan. If you live in a met­ro­pol­i­tan area, you might be hard-pressed to find a fa­cil­ity with ad­e­quate land to al­low your horse free­dom to move around most of the day. If you live in a very cold or very warm cli­mate, your older horse may strug­gle dur­ing the ex­treme

tem­per­a­tures that he pre­vi­ously han­dled with ease.

Step 3: Se­lect the Right At­mos­phere

Talk to other board­ers to en­sure that you’re com­fort­able with the fa­cil­ity’s at­mos­phere. John­son’s Cot­ton­wood Sta­bles is a re­tire­ment haven for 30 per­for­mance horses that can no longer be rid­den; many are geri­atric. Most of the own­ers of John­son’s charges chose her fa­cil­ity as a long-term res­i­dence for their for­mer show horses.

“When a per­for­mance horse reaches an age where he’s liv­ing with health or sound­ness is­sues and he can no longer do his job, the owner may look around at the train­ing barn and think, is this where I want my horse to spend the rest of his life?” John­son says. “The horse might spend four hours a day turned out and the rest of the time in a stall. And un­less the owner is there to take care of him, the horse might not get in­di­vid­u­al­ized at­ten­tion that a se­nior horse can re­quire.”

John­son main­tains that a horse used to a life of stren­u­ous com­pe­ti­tion is ac­cus­tomed to be­ing pam­pered and kept in a stall, so full turnout isn’t al­ways the best op­tion, at least not to be­gin his re­tire­ment. Com­plete turnout could be a shock to his sys­tem, she says. Con­sider how your horse has been housed through­out his life when plan­ning for re­tire­ment, and ex­pect an ad­just­ment pe­riod. In the mean­time, find a way to keep him mov­ing.

“I’ve learned from work­ing with vet­eri­nar­i­ans that older horses with arthri­tis and other is­sues are bet­ter out and about, mov­ing in­stead of stand­ing in a stall,” John­son ad­vises.

McMil­lan agrees, not­ing that a typ­i­cal show horse might spend 12 or 14 hours with­out mov­ing freely. But for an older horse, in­ac­tiv­ity can cause stiff­ness and stock­ing up.

Step 4: Look for Rou­tine

Hav­ing a reg­u­lar rou­tine boosts your se­nior horse’s health and com­fort level. “Each morn­ing when I go to feed at 7:00, they’re all tak­ing their morn­ing nap in the sun to warm their bod­ies up,” says McMil­lan. “They get their grain and their hay, and then they wan­der out to the wa­terer, which is a re­ally great chance [for me] to ob­serve each horse and see that they’re all healthy and trav­el­ing in a group.”

Cot­ton­wood Sta­bles’ horses have stand­ing far­rier ap­point­ments ev­ery six weeks. A vet­eri­nar­ian vac­ci­nates and floats all res­i­dents’ teeth on a schedule, check­ing for den­tal is­sues and head­ing them off early when pos­si­ble, thanks to this rou­tine.

“We recognize the signs [of not get­ting enough nutri­tion] and can do some­thing be­fore any­thing reaches a crit­i­cal level,” John­son says. “Ev­ery horse has his own bucket that’s color-coded, and each horse is on a dif­fer­ent med­i­ca­tion, sup­ple­ment, and diet. We al­ways check to make sure the horses are eat­ing—we don’t just feed them and walk away.”

Step 4: Bud­get for Costs

As you nar­row down your choices, con­sider cost of care. Cot­ton­wood Sta­bles charges a flat rate for all care—in­clud­ing med­i­cal main­te­nance, blan­ket­ing, stall clean­ing, bathing and groom­ing, spe­cial­ized feed­ing, and more. Each horse’s in­di­vid­ual shoe­ing

and ve­teri­nary costs are ex­tra.

“There’s no ques­tion: horse own­er­ship is not a cheap pur­suit, but we try to keep our fees down,” John­son says.

In ad­di­tion to monthly board fees, con­sider and clearly com­mu­ni­cate with your horse’s care­taker the amount of ex­tra­or­di­nary ef­fort you’re will­ing to pay for when it comes to ve­teri­nary pro­ce­dures and care. These costs add up and can com­pro­mise your horse’s well be­ing for the long term.

“If your horse col­ics, do you want the vet­eri­nar­ian to treat him with surgery or other more ex­treme meth­ods, or is eu­thana­sia fea­si­ble?” McMil­lan asks. “Is go­ing to the hospi­tal some­thing you want for the horse? Your horse’s care­taker should know what you’d want in an emer­gency. Hav­ing those con­ver­sa­tions ahead of time helps the owner pre­pare for the pos­si­bil­i­ties, and the barn man­ager to know what ev­ery­one’s wishes are.” Af­ter you’ve moved your horse into your cho­sen re­tire­ment fa­cil­ity, es­tab­lish rea­son­able com­mu­ni­ca­tion pro­to­cols with the fa­cil­ity owner or man­ager. Then ask for reg­u­lar up­dates on your horse’s con­di­tion.

“I joke with my own­ers that I’m run­ning a sum­mer camp,” McMil­lan says with a smile. “They might not get a let­ter from their cam­per, but a pho­to­graph and an up­date from the re­tire­ment fa­cil­ity isn’t un­rea­son­able to ex­pect. It’ll help you keep an eye on your horse’s body con­di­tion and feet. Plus, this is a horse that’s taken care of you, and you love him enough that you’re giving him a com­fort­able re­tire­ment. You don’t want to send your horse some­where and then find out six months later he’s the lowest one in a herd of 30 and isn’t al­lowed to get to the wa­ter trough with­out get­ting beaten up. That’s why it’s so im­por­tant to re­search where you send your horse and have good com­mu­ni­ca­tion.”

Geroulo chose Cot­ton­wood Sta­bles, lo­cated 2½ hours away from her home, be­cause the horses were turned out in small groups in large fields with ac­cess to grass and shade trees. She val­ued John­son’s horse­care ex­pe­ri­ence and at­ten­tion to each horse’s con­di­tion, and she ap­pre­ci­ated John­son’s clear com­mu­ni­ca­tion re­gard­ing her horse’s health.

“I cried and cried when I left him with Dawn,” Geroulo ad­mits. “Beau was with me through dif­fi­cult jobs, through moves, go­ing to law school, be­ing treated for can­cer. To send him away, it felt like I was giving up on him. But it be­came ob­vi­ous quickly that he’s re­ally happy there.”

Geroulo vis­its Beau sev­eral times a year; she’s re­lieved that the el­derly geld­ing is thriv­ing. She also feels re­as­sured by the weekly emails and pho­tos she re­ceives from John­son about her horse.

“These horses that have gone to shows with us and car­ried us around most of their lives, liv­ing in barns be­cause it’s con­ve­nient for us,” Geroulo says. “I think they de­serve the best that we can give them when they re­tire. That, to me, is a place where they can go out on grass with the sun on their back, with the best care we can pos­si­bly give them.” 

FAR-LEFT: Fa­vor small-herd turnout so your se­nior can get food and wa­ter with­out anx­i­ety. TOP-RIGHT: A run-in shed pro­vides your horse a dry, warm place to get out of the el­e­ments, while al­low­ing free move­ment. BOT­TOM-LEFT: At White Rock Manor, each horse re­ceives a cus­tom diet with sup­ple­ments and med­i­ca­tion as needed. BOT­TOM-RIGHT: Pas­ture com­pan­ions keep each other ac­tive.

A show horse is ac­cus­tomed to pam­per­ing and at­ten­tion. En­sure that the re­tire­ment fa­cil­ity is will­ing to ease into a slower-paced life­style, adding more turnout time in­cre­men­tally so your horse can ad­just.

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