When to retire a horse

When I was about 12-years-old, we got a horse named Coco. She was as old as me, but I had a lot of fun riding her through the fields and even into our small town just to walk around. Eventually, because of her age, she went to live out her days with other horses in the pasture of a family friend.

Carey Williams is an extension equine specialist at Rutgers. She says the decision to retire a horse should not be made solely on age. Some 20-year-old horses can be as frisky and productive as those half their age. The health of the horse is the best indicator that it's slowing down. Arthritis is the number one issue.

"Arthritis of joints can impede the level of competition which they may be at, and then various other lameness issues, including navicular disease. That seems to be a big one that progresses a little more and gets a little worse as especially quarterhorses and stock-type horses get older," says Williams. "Back issues, too, is another one."

Some horses are content to spend the rest of their days loafing carefree in the pasture. Others still need mental stimulation and a job to do. If the horse is sound enough for light-level work, there are several retirement options.

"There are a lot of trainers that look for horses to lease to their younger or their more inexperienced students, maybe doing a little light walk/trot, maybe small cross rails," she says. "From there if they're not even able to keep up with some of the jumping, or a lot of trotting or cantering but they're sound to be walked, a lot of therapeutic riding programs look for horses that are a really good temperament to walk around with a disadvantaged rider on them."

Horses are herd animals by nature and don't like to be alone. Another option is to find someone who has just one horse and it needs a buddy.