A Guide to Surviving Your Horse’s Retirement

Plaid in his prime, aka earlier this year.

You always think you’re going to have more time.

It’s been almost a month since I took my horse off the trailer; having battled tears back for the two-hour trip from Pennsylvania, where the vet told me my horse had re-injured his suspensory ligament. What did this mean? It meant, at age 20, my horse was going into retirement once again. However, this time, there would be no comeback. Putting my horse into a stall for six months at age 12, nursing him back to flatwork, and, six years later, jumping, was possible. At age 20, putting him in that stall breaks my heart every day. I could never ask him to endure the threat of another re-injury.

I always said, ‘When he tells me it’s time, I’ll retire him.’ Well, that’s easier said than done. You see a date a few years down the line, after you’ve conquered more courses, after you’ve broken a few more rules, after you’ve jumped higher and galloped faster than you ever thought possible. I always thought I’d be ready. I know now that I don’t believe you’re ever ready, not when you have a true partnership. Not when the horse knows you, inside and out, when he trots when the thought comes into your head, when he turns his butt on you in the field, then looks back at you like, ‘well, you’re still coming right?’

So, if you ever find yourself in my position, as I’m sure many of you have, and many of you still will, here’s a guide to keeping your hold on the Earth, and your heart as whole as you possibly can.

Week One, Two, and Three of #RehabSelfies

DO create a hash tag. For instance, #RehabSelfies, where you take photos of yourself and your horse while hand walking in the indoor arena. That way, you can chronicle your depressing journey on the internet. Scratching tally marks on your horse’s stall suffices as well.

DON’T go to horse shows. Helping your friends is noble, but when they get on, and their saddle is wet from the tears you shed after seeing the show jumping course you were prepared to jump, they won’t thank you.

DO have an eating plan. Does chocolate get you through the day? Eat chocolate all day long. I guarantee, once you eat chocolate cake for breakfast, brownies for lunch, and sneak Cadbury milk bars upstairs to have for dinner in bed, you will never want to have chocolate again. Keeping the weight off is good if you ever find yourself back on a horse again.

DO screen the riding offers. ‘I have a friend who has a horse you can ride,’ sounds great, until you figure out that the horse is 6, off the track, might have a brain injury, and doesn’t like cats, other horses, or people.


One of my favorite pictures of Plaid and me. Taken at MDHT during our first and last Training event. Photo by the wonderful and supportive Abby Gibbon.

DON’T take things personally. In the days following, I thought my Ipod was trying to kill me by playing the same sad Postal Service song over and over. Then, I realized I just had the song on my Ipod in four different places.

DO tell your horse how much you love him, every day, even if he did ruin your plans and cost you two shows of entry fees, and yes, you’ll keep him forever, and maybe if you have the money clone him, and wouldn’t that be fun, don’t you want a buddy that looks just like you and oh my god I’m going crazy..

DON’T spend all your time on CANTER, or Sport Horse Nation, where you definitely can’t afford the horses. For some reason every horse I send to my friends is a dark bay, slightly thick Thoroughbred with a star on their face. It seems I have a type.



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