One morning after feeding the horses I came in groggy plopping down on the couch for a few minutes before I began the rest of my day. I mindlessly surfed through Facebook to see if there was anything that needed to be seen when my thumb stopped on a post.
A woman was looking to rehome her thoroughbred that had a life changing issue forcing him to be retired. Immediately everyone told her to put the horse down even though he had many good years ahead of him. His main issue was that he no longer could carry weight on his back. Half of the people said to put the horse down to prevent kill buyers from getting their hands on him, and the other half said to put him down because he no longer was viable for any form of competition.
Well, I have something to say about this.
I believe if a horse isn’t in pain, wants to live, shows joy each day, then you fight for that horse. Racehorses, and all other horses, give so much to us. They don’t ask to run around big ovals or small circles around barrels. We train them for it. and they take part due to their relationship with us. When it comes time for them to be retired, they need us to stand by them and do what is right.
I’m tired of people thinking that a second career has to be some form of competition. There are all kinds of second careers for horses. A horse can be a therapy horse. I helped rehome a thoroughbred with a young girl that suffers from bad anxiety. The horse suffered a double bowed tendon from racing, and he wasn’t supposed to do much of anything anymore. These two coming together changed both of their lives. That is a Second Career.
My friend Sherrie Courtney of the very good Thoroughbred rescue Racing for Home, recently took in a horse named Brooke’s All Mine from Gulfstream Park. After arriving at her place, Brooke became terribly lame, and some thought she might have to be put down. However, Brooke still had that spark of life shimmering in her eyes, and Sherrie saw that. She did everything she could for her after finding out she had several chips and a hole in the cartilage. Brooke ended up having to get arthrodesis surgery. This is a rare surgery, which fuses joints, so several surgeons came to observe it. Because of Brooke, they learned how to do it, and who knows how many other horses Brooke will save. That’s a Second Career.
(Brooke is now walking around quite well, and she recently returned home. If you wish to donate to her rehab needs, please visit Racing For Home’s page at https://racingforhomeinc.com/)
My horse Quarter Horse Harley came to live with us to be a companion for my horse Shandoka. He was a great companion for him, and Shandoka absolutely adored him. I think people underestimate the importance of this role with horses, and it is a perfect job for a horse that suffered a career ending injury or getting old. A companion helps prevent ulcers by reducing stress in the other horses. Horses are herd animals, and they need to have their friends. Being a companion horse is such an important job. That is a Second Career.
Harley is now a companion and teacher to Chaco, Dulce, and Sueño. Harley taught Chaco and Dulce about trail riding and keeps them calm. He will also teach Sueño when it’s his turn. When I trailer Dulce for rides, which can make him very nervous, Harley always comes. Harley keeps him calm in the trailer. That is a Second Career.
Let’s not forget about Peanuts who escorted and kept the great racehorse Exterminator calm on his way to the starting line. Exterminator out lived a couple of Peanuts, but he always had the spirit of this pony by his side. If you compete, your horse that needs to be retired, or a horse looking for a home that can’t be ridden, can go with your horse to competitions to keep them calm and focused. That is a Second Career.
When Chaco became severely lame, and even after he had great improvement after his first Noltrex injection, an a person I did not know wrote telling me that I should put him down….that having a “pasture rat” isn’t worth it. He needed to earn his keep. I must say this was a punch in the gut. Chaco has so much life, loves to play, and always tries to find ways to outsmart me on our walks to snatch grass. He ran for a year after going down in a race with three pebbles lodged in his stifle destroying his cartilage. As far as I’m concerned, he deserves all of the time I can give him, because he gave so much to humans. As long as he wants to live, I will fight for him. He is teaching me so much. That is a Second Career.
When the neighbor’s grandchildren come to visit, they always come down to see my horses when they are on pasture. Chaco, my tallest horse, gently drops his head for them and lets them love all over them. Their mother told them that her kids have never been around horses before. When she asked me what kind of horse he was, she couldn’t believe that a thoroughbred could be so gentle and calm. Chaco is educating young kids and older adults about how amazing thoroughbreds are. He is an ambassador even though he can’t be ridden anymore. That is a Second Career.
Horses make great therapy horses. A neighbor down the road works with unwanted drafts and children with physical disabilities. Horses amaze me in how they can heal broken spirits and minds regarding vets or others who struggle with PTSD. Let’s not forget that incredible video of the OTTB in France that walks the halls of hospitals visiting with patients he decides need him the most. https://youtu.be/XypgQoOBuBk
Horses don’t have to jump, do piaffe’s, or wind their way around barrels to be worth their weight in gold. There are so many second careers that a horse can have, so before you toss a horse away due to an non-life threatening injury, consider what else your horse may be able to do. Talk with your vet about the possibilities. Talk with people in different fields with horses such as therapy horses to see where your horse can fit.
There are all sorts of Second Careers that require no competing or challenging riding.
If you have to rehome your horse for whatever reason, you do need to worry about your horse falling into the wrong hands. There are stories all the time. Here are a few suggestions:
- Don’t give your horse away for free. This brings the bad guys out. If a kill buyer can get a horse for free, they will.
- Write up a contract specific to your horse regarding care, visits by you, update pictures, and how if they decide they don’t want your horse anymore, they contact you first. This will usually chase the bad guys away.
- Get four references. Make sure they can afford your horse. Find out who supplies them with hay. Ask to talk with their vet.
- Talk with other rescue organizations for tips on how to place your horse successfully.
Sherrie Courtney added, “I’ve found that adopting to someone with whom there is some kind of a connection (vet client, trainer’s friend of a friend etc) has worked best for me. So I always know things are ok. I ask for updates (photos) a few times a year so as not to be a pest. Contract can state all of this as mine does.”
When I was struggling with severe exhaustion caused by Covid, I had to lean up against the fence panels to get my breath. I needed to get my horses fed, and my body was fighting me every step, every breath. I tried to not cry, not panic, and breath.
I couldn’t catch my breath.
Chaco walked up to me, put his nose on my cheek, and I felt his breath. His breathing calmed me down, and my breath began to slow down matching his. We stood there breathing together until I got my strength back. He pulled back and looked into my eyes before sauntering off to play with Sueño. His Second Career is all about taking care of all of us, and he is so good at it.