When Retirement Isn’t The Kindest Thing

A vet once said to me By the time the horse shows pain, the damage is already severe. Those words sent me down the road of wanting to fully understand equine body language, instinct and psychology. I have now adapted those words to fit what I believe is true, which is By the time a human identifies pain in the horse, the damage is already severe.

The horse is very good at hiding injury or illness because it is a prey animal. A lion hiding in tall grass never steams into a herd of zebra, but selects the animal it is most likely to succeed at killing. No animal will want to expend energy for a useless cause. The likely target will be a zebra that is old, young, weak or injured. Therefore if a horse is retired that is quite obviously lame then I am certain it must know it is vulnerable to attack. Thankfully there are usually no free roaming large predatory animals hunting around the country side of Great Britain. Considering the amount of times I have either stopped, or managed a bolt, I am fairly sure evolution has yet to tell our equine friends this fact. It is evident that the domestic horse has all the same instincts as the wild horse. Of course Homo Sapiens is also a predatory animal, probably the worst, most destructive animal on the planet. Albeit horses can have some trust in their human handlers, some more than others, it will never be 100%.

If a horse is showing catastrophic lameness through an injury, condition or disability then it should be put to sleep, rather than retired. If mother nature herself has decided not to tell the horse he is safe in his paddock, then it could be considered cruel for the horse to live with the stress of knowing he is vulnerable to attack 24/7. Horses generally operate as a herd, the herd is the entity, not necessarily the single horse. In some ways the herd does not care about the single horse, but only the survival of the herd itself. Observe the hierarchal  system, when a person hays a paddock the weakest animal can often not eat. The weakest, most least dominant horse will either only eat the scraps, or eat when the more dominant horses have had their fill. This ensures only the fittest, strongest animals survive, the herd itself stays strong. It may seem harsh but the horse does not care if a weaker animal does not eat, even dies. In the wild the weaker animal is not just a threat to the survival of the herd, but rather its more advantageous to the survival of the equine to build a herd of strong animals. Horses with colic and other life threatening conditions die so it is less common for wild/feral horses to pass on genetic defects.

Therefore it could actually be a very stressful life for a horse with obvious lameness to be retired. Not only does it have to live with the stress that it understands its vulnerable to attack, it will be identified by its herd as weak. There just won’t be a crippled horse in a domestic herd that is the leader, or even 2nd in command, it will be the lowest. The lowest that isn’t getting hay over winter, is sent away from the lush grass over the summer and an animal that is constantly badgered by the higher horses. The very core, the very thing that makes a horse a horse is the ability to run. Nature dishes out specific tools to every species to give it an advantage. The horse was given lightening quick reflexes and the power to run at speed at a moment’s notice. Now imagine for whatever reason that ability is taken away from the horse. The human is prolonging the suffering of the animal for their own selfish reasons, because we love the horse.

No-one wants to be the Grim Reaper. No one wants to face the realisation that the very animal you have loved and cared for over many years will now die from your decision. But horses hide pain to ensure their survival. As harsh as it is, once a horse is showing obvious weakness it already knows its defenceless and vulnerable. The horse you love should not spend its time being in pain and feeling defenceless, the stress of this is unfair, and both physically and mentally cruel.  Those that pass the horse around as a companion, or even worse as a foal factory are not people that love horses. Horses that are riddled with arthritis, and  disorders of the musculoskeletal system will be in agony if forced to produce offspring, they also pass on genetic defects.

If your horse is showing visible signs of discomfort and/or lameness, it might just be kinder to let go. Do not prolong the suffering to protect yourself from a broken heart at the detriment of your equine friend.

Just let go.

8 thoughts on “When Retirement Isn’t The Kindest Thing”

  1. One of the hardest and most difficult decisions we have to make but we have it to do and see our best friends through to the end. I personally feel when a horse, pony, dog – any of our animals are no longer able to enjoy a decent quality of life or do the simplest of things that had always given them pleasure or comfort then we need to call it and let them go.

    I appreciate that for some it’s an almost unbearable thing to even think about but it’s the one time they need us more than they ever have. Never a right or wrong way as such but I would rather call time and let them go a little sooner than wait for them to deteriorate, lose their ability to do the simplest things and become distressed, anxious and suffer any pain.

    We owe it to them to let them go peacefully whilst they are peaceful.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well put, and I agree. We lost our ancient cat recently, she was in her mid-twenties. I think she perhaps had another 6 months in her, but she struggled with toileting and eating. I couldnt bear to keep her in such a state, or bear to lose her. Its such a terrible decision, and very painful whether its a dog, cat or horse.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Your cat was in her mid-twenties??!! 😮

        We had a border collie that lived to be 19yr old and German Shepherd who was 15yrs old but a cat in the mid-twenties trumps that?!

        Had to make an on the spot decision to have my Springer Spaniel put to sleep last year – just shy of her 8th birthday. Long story but she never recovered from an unknown illness that knocked it all out of her and a few days before I could see she had given up. There was no fight in her, nothing of interest or motivation and when she didn’t move a muscle when I grabbed my wellies and woollens I knew she’d had enough.

        Weirdest things with animals though I was talking, saying she could have a nice long sleep and I’ll catch up with her later and i swear she looked at me as if to say “Who are you trying to kid? I’m fine – just so tired.. Ready for a good sleep and then you can come find me later” 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Oh that’s so tragic, sorry to hear that. I’ve seen that same in look, particularly in horses with colic. The owner and vet keep trying, keep trying, keep trying etc, but I can see the horse has the look of death. They have just had enough. Again, people prolonging the inevitable.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I had my beloved cob put to sleep in September, he couldn’t keep his weight on and he kept gently pushing my Arab around the field becourse he needed her to stay with him when he rested, this was getting more than when he grazed. I decided it was better to be a day too early than a day too late. I was satisfied I had made the right decision.

    Liked by 1 person

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