Stetson spent the majority of his first 25 years giving lessons to new riders. He was a good size for both adults and children, standing at just around 15 hands high. He had a good disposition, didn’t bite, didn’t kick, and was calm under saddle. When he developed Cushings, his owner gave him his costly medication as he was still making her money giving lessons.
When Stetson started tripping, his owner had a vet out to determine the issue. The vet said he had developed neurological issues, possibly due to years of being ridden in a standing martingale. It was obvious he could no longer safely be used for lessons, and his owner stopped giving him his medication, causing him to lose weight rapidly.
Thankfully, Hanaeleh was able to step up and find a place for Stetson. When that new home didn’t work out, Hanaeleh was able to take him and allow him to retire at the rescue.
The trainer who owned Stetson has never offered to help sponsor Stetson in any way. Essentially, once Stetson was no longer able to make money for her, he was no longer useful. Unfortunately, while there are a number of exceptional trainers who DO take care of their horses and plan for their retirement, there are a number of trainers who dump their horses the minute they are no longer able to make them money.
Training Is a Business
We understand that trainers have bills to pay- besides paying for board, vet bills, food, etc. for the horses, they also have to pay their mortgage, car payment, electric bill, etc. While Hanaeleh does not adopt out directly to trainers, we have great respect for those trainers who take care of their animals, most of the time before they take care of themselves.
This past year has been very difficult for trainers who, for several months, were unable to give lessons. Some of them moved their horses to pasture or to less expensive stables for a time. Some leased their horses out. Others had to sell off a few of their horses to care for their other horses. These are difficult decisions to make, but these trainers were proactive and did what was best for their horses.
The same trainers who are proactive in times of crisis like during quarantine also are often the trainers who are proactive about caring for their horses during retirement. Some trainers build in a few dollars for each lesson that goes towards a retirement fund for their horses. Others lease or own a pasture where they can retire their horses safely.
What these trainers do not do is try to dump horses who are ill or lame on unsuspecting buyers, nor do they dump their horses at auction when their horses are no longer useful. They also do not depend upon rescues to take care of their horses when their horses are no longer rideable. The business of horses should ultimately work towards the best care of the horses, not how much money they can make off of their horses’ backs.
An Example of a Great Trainer
Stetson’s previous owner did right by him to the point that she at least did contact us before putting him down or sending him to auction. Depending upon the resources of a non-profit because a trainer didn’t plan for retirement for the horse that made her thousands of dollars, however, is not the definition of a great trainer.
We do know several great trainers who do plan for their horses’ retirement. One of them is Davee Hallinan who runs Good Pony in Los Angeles. She owns several horses, one of whom is Gus, a lovely grey gelding who was networked through Hanaeleh. Gus had a history of abuse, but he is now an integral part of her lesson program. Elizabeth spoke with Davee last summer, asking how Gus was doing and how her lesson program was faring because of the pandemic. Thankfully Davee is one of the proactive trainers, and was able to get through 2020 with her herd intact.
When I asked Davee about her retirement plan for her horses, she explained that she felt that her horses don’t retire because they always have something to teach people. When they can no longer be ridden, they can teach people how to groom or how to lead. Just because a horse cannot be ridden, she said, does not mean they no longer have worth.
Davee also noted that some of the trainers she knows will retire their horses to a pasture or barn where it is much less expensive to keep them (stall prices at the LA Equestrian Center is very pricy!), and others will either sell or give their horses to their clients (who are very aware of any issues the horses may have) when the horses are no longer able to perform.
What to Ask Your Trainer
Lesson horses are the gold standard of horses as far as we are concerned- they are sometimes stubborn, they are sometimes difficult, but they help new generations- old and new- learn how to ride and how to connect with horses. People who take lessons often look for trainers often ask the obvious: discipline, level, and ideology, but they often overlook the horses they are riding.
What people rarely ask their trainer is what happens to their horses when their horses are no longer able to give lessons. What happens when they are no longer able to jump? To run barrels? To even walk and trot around the arena? What is their retirement plan for their horses?
Because let’s be honest: every trainer needs a retirement plan for their horses. If you care about the horses you are riding every week in your lesson, you should care about what is going to happen to him when he can no longer be used for lessons.
Stetson turns 30 years old this year. He is turned out everyday and loves being groomed. He is very attached to his stablemates, and will call whenever we take one of his friends out.
We give Stetson a medication called Pergolide to help with his Cushings, which is expensive, but it is necessary to manage the disease. Stetson is also on a strict diet to manage his insulin resistance. We cannot reverse his neurological issues- the damage is too extensive- but we have him on high doses of vitamin E which does help a little. He’s also given several other supplements to help with his arthritis and to boost his immune system.
Thankfully, with the guidance of our vet, we are able to give Stetson his much-deserved retirement. It may be costly, but when we take on a horse, we do what is necessary to keep him healthy and safe throughout his life.