Back in February of this year, I lost a dear friend and mentor. As the anniversary of her death approaches I am reminded of an unintentional yet valuable lesson that she taught me.My friend and I lived a few hours drive apart. She was quite a few years my senior and while she settled in to retirement my hectic life was just getting going. At one time, she was my employer and it was partly she who taught me about exemplary horse care. But, truth be told, after I graduated college and moved on to a full-time job I saw her herd of horses less and less and then not at all.
I don’t recall ever really consciously registering that my friend was “slipping” mentally as she aged although looking back the signs were certainly there. She sometimes confused facts, dates, details, and stories during our telephone conversations but I simply attributed this to something that everyone experiences as they age. I never questioned that her horses were not receiving the same quality of care that they had always received.
My friend, we’ll call her “J,” had a large herd of horses. Though never aloud, I often wondered why she seldom invested in their training. In fact, she eventually reached a point where she was no longer breeding or showing at all. As expected, as the years passed the horses aged and despite their good breeding and obvious quality they quickly became no more than pretty pasture ornaments. Still, my friend was so meticulous about everything else I never questioned that she might not have a plan as to what should happen to her horses once she was no longer able to look after them.
Then one day, I received a call from her son during which I learned many horrifying truths. It’s a long and sad story that doesn’t have a happy ending but the bottom line is that by the time I received the phone call, my friend “J” had reached a point that, while he had been unable to do so before, her son was necessarily stepping in to take charge of the situation with her horses. Sadly, there was no pre-established plan in place as to what he should do and he lacked the background to establish an immediate sense of direction.
Here’s some things I wish my friend had done well in advance of her need:
- Trained horses are easier to place. Training can help to offset concerns potential new owners might have about a horse’s age. There’s something to said for the older, trained horse. With some thought to the future, training these horses in even just the basics could have helped immeasurably with placement in advance of the need.
- Downsize in advance of the need. My friend often talked about it but for whatever reason never moved forward with this option. Even if you are unable to do so yourself, ask knowledgeable friends to help with writing effective ads, take quality photographs, advertise on well populated sites, and develop a portfolio for each horse detailing his or her show, veterinary, farrier, breeding, and registration records.
- Research and carefully plan out donations. Although this method should not be heavily relied upon, just a few options here include therapeutic riding programs, college research or riding programs, and riding camps. For my friend’s situation, many of these would not have been good options but you may have a horse or horses that exactly fits the bill.
- Consider retirement homes. With careful research and planning, including financial, this option could fit just the right situation. My friend might have made use of this for a small number of remaining horses if she had downsized her herd in advance and done her homework well in advance of the need.
- Euthanasia. As sad as this may seem, old and infirmed horses with little to no training can be difficult or impossible to place. Rather than placing some of the horses in a situation where they faced an uncertain future this could have been a kinder option.
There are many websites that offer advice on estate planning for horse owners that address not only caring for your horse but providing for your property, etc. after you are gone. I encourage you to visit these and consider the options listed above and others as you work out plans for your horse’s care when you are unable to provide it yourself. The need can arise at any time. Whether you become incapacitated, are providing for end of life care, or face financial uncertainty due to a change in your family or job status, you will want to provide for the care of your horses when you are unable to do so.