A Horse’s Story: What Will I Do Next?

April 2023

When a young foal is born, its future as a competition, racing, pleasure, or ranch horse is very bright. Many horses receive the best education and care available while they are on their way to peak at whatever discipline they have been bred for.  Some horses do not receive our best, which is for another article.  I’m specifically writing about the well cared for horse.

Some horses go on to achieve major wins and break records.  Some compete for many years all across the country and receive the highest honors.  Some are companions to young people who dream of being horsemen. As trainers we watch these horses rise to the top from their beginnings and if we are lucky, we are still with them as they settle into their golden years.  Knowing a horse for its whole lifetime is a rarity.  The thought of the horses we lose track of weighs heavily on our hearts.

Many horses get to the end of their competition careers or working lives and would be happy to spend the rest of their lives out in a field munching grass.  Some areas of the country have access to land that stretches out and provides a retirement pasture for our older horses.  Some horses, however, have spent their lives surrounded by people and need that friendship.  They may have spent more time around people than they have around horses!  In fact, some competition horses are not very good at “horsing” at all!

Is there a future for my horse when it needs to do a smaller, “step-down” job than what it’s used to doing?

What a troubling question! How simple would the answer be if we were all realistic about how much of our horsemanship training is “riding” and how much should be “horse management”?  If you talk to any master horseman they will all tell you that MOST of what they have learned came from their time AROUND the horse more than just time IN the saddle.  Teaching horsemanship is the perfect job for a retired competition horse.  Seems pretty simple!

Horse management lessons are the job for our older horses.  They can teach all of the horse management lessons we often skip in our quest for saddle time.  These old-timers can comfortably be our equine teachers of show bathing, clipping, braiding, bandaging, specialty feeding and supplements, and disease processes…  Older horses can teach us so much about how horses react, think, and love.

Every horse lover dreams of riding or jumping. They can’t wait to post the trot, canter and gallop across the arena. They can’t wait to feel the butterflies of flying over their first jump! They want to jump higher and higher at bigger and bigger shows.  They want to see a sweet face and pricked ears staring down the barn aisle when they arrive at the barn from work or school.  But there’s so much more to learn!

Horses need “second acts” in their lives.  We all work together to decide what becomes of the horse who needs a new job. The barn owner, manager, or trainer will help a horse transition to a new career of teaching horse lovers.

The riders understand that to be true horsemen, they must learn to take care of the whole horse.

The parents understand and support the value of horse management lessons, because they hope their children will become not only better riders, but also better humans.