A Hot Mess

I imagine I’ll probably get chewed to shreds for this… but I need some input.
I have a 16 yo OTTB that my parents got me about 10 years ago. I was beyond grateful that they paid for all of his expenses until I got married a year ago. Now that I am completely responsible for him I obviously took on all of the costs that go with him.
He was leased out for the past two years while I finished up school and I got him back in January. While he was on lease he developed the need for hock injections and was diagnosed with kissing spine. He was fairly sound with injections and equiox and went through treatment for the kissing spine. I was pregnant when I got him back so haven’t ridden him since to see how he is now, but I imagine he won’t be back to his old self without surgery.
He’s currently on pasture board at a small farm 15 mins from me, but now that I have a baby, I never have any time to go see him and I don’t imagine that changing anytime soon. Board is $400 plus $30 for the extra feed he requires and about $170 for hay during the months it’s needed. I have no idea when I’ll be able to return to work and we have barely been scraping by to pay his board and other costs, especially with his recent colic episode.
Looking for ideas on what to do with him… I obviously can’t sell him because he’s pretty much a pasture ornament at this point. I think he would be okay to be ridden if it was just trail riding or walk/trot work so I was thinking maybe donating him to a therapy facility. But he is high maintenance so I don’t think a therapy facility could afford a horse like him.
I love him very much but I just don’t see how we can afford him much longer and even if I could I don’t have much time to give him anymore. Any thoughts or recommendations?

This is a tough situation, for both you and your horse. Would maintenance costs be less if he wasn’t being ridden?

Could you surrender him to a reputable rescue to be placed as a pasture companion? When my riding horse’s pasture buddy died I adopted a horse from the Humane Society to be his new companion. The new horse has kissing spine and can’t be ridden, and I knew this when I got him. His bad back doesn’t bother him out in the field, so there’s no maintenance other than routine feed, farrier, and vet. It has worked out perfectly for all of us–adopted horse has a forever home, riding horse has a buddy, and I have two horses that I love dearly.

You could also put out the word at your barn that you would sell the horse to the right home for a really good (cheap) price.

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I would try to place him, but high maintenance companions don’t have much of a market. Although you might get lucky. I would not have a problem with euthanasia if nothing else pans out. God is not a bad owner.

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My opinion will not be popular. Being unable to afford an older horse, in terms of emotion, finances and time, is a valid reason to put him to sleep. You cannot, in all honesty, sell the horse, however cheaply, because that passes the problem on to someone else and, as you would no longer own him, you would have absolutely no control over his future. Similarly, passing him on to a therapy centre just passes on the responsibility and costs for him onto an organisation that probably runs on a shoestring. He might manage walking along a trail under a novice rider but he is already high maintenance because of painful structural problems - that is the very root of your problem. His health will not improve as he ages. The costs will certainly increase. The emotional pressure on you, and so on your husband and new baby, will increase. Sometimes the hardest decision is also the best decision for the horse.

I still regret a horse that the Club Committee decided would be “retired to a lovely home”. That home broke up one year later and I have no idea what happened to a horse that was permanently lame due to injury My fear is that he was drugged up and sold as a riding horse because he was a grand looking animal.

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I was in a similar situation to yours years ago, but with a grade mare. I tried to sell her, but was limited because she was grade and couldn’t be used for broodmare due to lack of papers. I tried to donate her to a therapeutic riding facility and they all said no. I tried to give her away to someone looking for a companion, but none were willing to provide the maintenance needed. I ended up donating her (large tax write off) to a vet facility specializing in breeding where she is a recip mare and THRIVING with her babies. The vet facility and the owners who lease her each year love her and request her again and again. The vet facility sends me a yearly update, as per our agreement.

With a gelding, you are even more limited. Kissing spine is a tough one too. I understand your dilemma with the financial aspect and sympathize with your need to find him a new home. I’m not sure there are suggestions I can make that you haven’t already considered, but Im hoping the best for you. It’s worth a shot to advertise him as transparently as you can and see if you get any bites.

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I will second what @Willesdon says - euthanasia is not the worst option for this horse.

You’re already aware that he has limited options for finding a new home. You might find someone who only wants to do light trail riding. You might find someone looking for a pasture pet as a companion for another horse. But there is a great risk with placing this horse; once you rehome him, you lose control over his future. This is true for any horse, but one that is a.) very special to you, and b.) has known health/soundness issues will probably weigh on you more, and his soundness problems make him far more likely to end up in a bad situation.

It feels like we had a thread almost exactly like this last year or so - and the general consensus was that euthanizing the horse was a viable option. That way, you know he is out of pain, you know he cannot be mistreated down the road. I’m not saying “put him down!” - I’m just saying that giving him one great last day, then letting him go painlessly, is not the worst thing you can do for either you or your horse.

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I am going to third this!

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I also agree with everything posted here. So make me #4
No-one is going to " chew you to shreds" over the choice you make. We have all been there at one time or another in our horse life ( or will be).

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I would choose euthanasia for him over an uncertain future of being passed around, not taken care of properly, and possibly winding up on a truck to slaughter. Is it possible he could land in a soft place and live out his years in happy retirement. Sure. The opposite is also possible. It’s up to you whether you’re willing to risk him winding up in a bad situation.

Remember, the reason you’re in this position is because your situation changed and the horse has become a financial burden that you hardly have time for. The same happens all the time to well-meaning owners and homes. There is no certainty. And there’s no guarantee that the next owner will do right by the horse. He or she may ship him to the next low end auction to get some money for him and that’s that.

I’ve euthanized my heart horse (broken leg…no choice). It wrecked me, but at the same time, I have the certainty that he’ll never wind up in a bad situation. My current 14yo gelding will never leave my ownership/possession as long as I’m able to afford him and care for him (or see that he’s cared for). If those things become impossible, he’ll join his buddies over the rainbow bridge. I cannot let anything bad happen to him. I’ve sold plenty of horses in the past, but they were “just horses” not part of the family.

Whatever you choose, no one should dare “chew you to shreds” over it. He’s your horse. You do with him as you see fit. There is not right or wrong here.

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I’ll echo the other posters here. Euthanasia is a valid option given these circumstances. In the best of times, an high-maintenance older horse with significant medical/soundness concerns would be tough to safely rehome. Considering current economic circumstances, I’d wager a guess that very few people are going to be looking to take in and bankroll a horse with these needs. Rescues (at least where I am) are already overburdened.

We all love our horses, but at the end of the day, the well-being (including financially) of yourself, your partner, and your child should come first. And frankly, a humane release from the discomfort that comes with KS and hock issues (even if well-managed) can only be a kindness. As is the protection from ongoing suffering should he end up in hands which will not manage those conditions the way you have.

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Agree 100% :heart:

My first horse was like a child to me. He was with me for 14 years, and I swore up and down I’d never be “one of those people” who bumped their pets down the priority list when they had kids.

Well, I had kids. Guess who got bumped? It absolutely broke my heart and I never fully got over losing him, but there just wasn’t enough - not enough time, not enough money - to go around.

My gelding didn’t have health issues per se so was able to find a soft landing with an organization who wanted to use him for groundwork exercises, however, he wasn’t the most patient so that situation didn’t work out as anticipated BUT they truly were a soft landing and ended up finding him a partboarder who loved him like her own until he had to be put to sleep due to complications arising from an EPM diagnosis.

I’m so sorry you’re going through this, you’re really between a rock and a hard place … emotionally, if nothing else. I hope you find some clarity here as everyone continues to chime in with their thoughts and suggestions.

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I was in a very similar position with a retired TB. He wasn’t high maintenance when there was grass, but dental issues meant he couldn’t really eat hay; the barn he was at provided hay but not other options. I was horribly stressing about how to handle feeding him through another winter when he developed a neurological issue that the vet could not rein in and we let him go.

It was “easier” having the decision taken out of my hands, but it was already on the table if I couldn’t afford to keep him properly fed over the winter to let him go before reaching that point.

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I agree with everyone here that euthanasia is probably the way to go. It’s a really tough decision but the risk of him getting into the hands of someone who will neglect him, resulting in suffering, is too high. Maybe first check with a vet to see if they know of anyone trustworthy who may want him. The most important part of animal ownership is knowing when to make the hard decisions. It takes a huge heart to end their suffering rather than pretending nothing’s wrong and pushing the problem onto someone else.

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I’m sorry you and horse are in a tough spot.

Euthanasia is a valid and humane option.

In my area, rescues are overwhelmed and therapy riding centers are very particular about what sort of horses they use (rightfully so).

I’m not sure if it’s available currently, but used to be some vet schools would take donor horses. Often it would be for euthanasia with the cadaver used in teaching. Perhaps not everyone’s preference but vet students do have to learn things. Maybe with his kissing spines, there might be a program studying that?

As someone who “adopted” a high maintenance retiree as a companion, I feel like I have to state that yes companion homes exist. I suspect homes like mine are very limited in number. I know for a fact that the number of horses needing a companion home are very high. I had a deluge of offers. Trainer or other professional equine connections are probably your best bet. There’s a lot of risk in rehoming horses though. I keep my guys like little princes. Not everyone does.

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Your veterinarian and farrier would also be good sources.

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I agree! In my head I had vet and farrier lumped in with equine professionals. Better to lay it out clearly though!

I hope it’s not too upsetting to ask, but what exactly was the situation with the leaser? I understand he was rideable two years ago, and then developed kissing spine and hock issues. Do you have any issues about the care she gave him? If not, might you ask if she could get him in rideable enough shape to be donated to a therapeutic program, if that is a possibility? Also, if he is an OTTB, you might want to reach out to any suggestions that organizations specifically devoted to helping TBs might have.

Like the other posters, however, I agree not to feel guilty about any decisions you make. You have supported the horse (emotionally, even if your parents helped out financially) for years and years and know him best.

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Re the Therapeutic riding idea, just be aware that this is not such a simple option. I was involved with one of the larger organizations for many years and gave some consideration to donating a horse. They generally do not take horses that are not sound or that require significant maintenance. Second, they typically run a horse through a trial evaluation process to determine if they are suitable in temperament (not afraid of motorize mounting platform, not troubled by sidewalkers assisting a rider and not troubled by a very unbalanced rider, or one who is unexpectedly vocal, etc.) If the horse has kissing spines, I would suspect he is at higher risk for misbehaving or reacting to discomfort, and that would certainly rule him out from a liability perspective. Lastly not all of these places have the ability to keep the horse when its no longer usable; sometimes they go homes of volunteers who want a pasture puff, sometimes the agreements can say the horse goes back to the donor or sometimes they willl then get put down.

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I’m going to hop on a soapbox for a second here. Therapeutic riding programs ARE NOT DUMPING GROUNDS FOR LAME OR AGED HORSES. I’ve worked for several and we see it all the time.

Think about it this way - a horse with physical or behavioral issues endangers vulnerable program participants and the volunteers/staff assisting them. It also places an undue burden on programs that are strapped for resources.

If the horse isn’t sound for light work and safe enough to be in a mainstream lesson program, it doesn’t belong in a therapeutic program.

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I’m joining the majority opinion while also echoing this sentiment.

Life is full of tough, heartbreaking decisions. Loving and owning horses only adds to them.

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