When is it time to retire her?

I have an Irish sport horse which I’ve been competing in show jumping classes with the height ranging from 120 to 140 since 2012. She’s an amazing shoe jumper and has such a big heart you could put a kid on her and she’ll jump almost anything it points her to.

I got her from when she was 11, now she’s 17 almost 18 and she’s lost so much of her momentum she can’t make a one stride double even at the height of 1.1m in a full course. (She can clear the jumps if they’re stand alones). I’ve had countless conversations with my dad about putting her into retirement sometime soon since she’s lost a lot of muscle mass too due to her coffin joint issue.

A little back story on her coffin joint, till this day we’re not sure what exactly happened to her since we were away for the holidays and entrusted her exercising to my coach who somehow injured her and hid it from us including what happened. So now her coffin joint is an on off issue which we can’t permanently solve. This is what is causing inconsistency in her training and mine, which makes her lose a lot of her muscle mass. We annually bring over a forge in vet to treat her coffin joint and she regularly undergoes shock therapy, it helps ease the problem and discomfort but it doesn’t provide a permanent solution.

I’ve changed my spurs and the bits and the gear many times but it doesn’t seem to make a difference, if anything it just makes her more sensitive and spooky. Her mannerisms and behaviour doesn’t say that she needs to go into retirement but her performance at competitions do.

Do you think it’s time for her to take a step back and go into retirement or should I just work her the same but at a lower level?

Do what makes her happy. Mine had to take a step back due to injury but she hates doing nothing. So I ride but not as much as before. We jump but not anywhere near the height we were showing at. She’s much happier with this arrangement. As long as she’s sound and happy then let her tell you what she wants. I knew a 31 year old who continues to give a walk trot lesson once a week. She loved it and you could see how happy she got when you racked her up.

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IMO, it’s time to stop jumping her, at least. She’s telling you it’s not comfortable.


Sounds like she has given you 7 fabulous years and now she is no longer able to take you where you want to go, through no fault of her own. You want to continue to jump 1.20-1.40, but she cannot. At this point she owes you nothing, and you owe her everything for those years. I’d find a big grassy field and let her enjoy that, going for a gentle hack or trail rides daily. I’m glad you had such a great life growing up with her.


I think it is time to retire her from jumping. She took care of you, now it is time to take care of her. I wouldn’t stop riding her, hacks and trails are great things to keep her mind busy and both of you happy.


or perhaps she would enjoy dressage or driving.

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Your mare is telling you right now that she’s ready to take a step down.

Talk to your vets about a way to manage her fitness in a way that works synergistically with her health. By that I mean that her physical condition will proscribe what exercise is reasonable for her to do, and using that information you can devise a fitness plan that will support her body as it ages. This might look like “she’s sound for low-level dressage and small jumps,” so you school dressage exercises and small pole or cavaletti gymnastics that target the muscle groups she needs to rebuild. I don’t know what’s going on in that coffin joint, but as she ages she’s going to be dealing with arthritis in that joint and the rest of her body. Movement will be good for her- motion is lotion for the older horses- but you need to think hard about making sure that what you’re asking is appropriate for her fitness and achievable within the scope of her current ability. Think now about what you’d like her to be able to do at age 20, 23, 25, and start thinking about protecting her future ability to do that, rather than focusing on maximizing what she can do now.

Big-hearted horses are sometimes subtle; their heart keeps them trying when their bodies say no. Your mare is starting to say no. Listen to her.


She is telling you as loudly as she can that she needs another kind of work. It may be she needs complete retirement.


Yes, it is time to retire.

The only question that exists, is how you can fund your current goals, and also support a retired horse.

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What does your vet say about an appropriate workload?

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I can definitely relate to this post as I too had to make this decision a few years back with my first horse when he came up with a mystery lameness. My guy was very unhappy in full retirement, so we opted to just step him back and do flat work only. He is very happy with his laid-back job of flatting around the arena and going on the occasional trail ride.

From what I can see in your post, I think that stepping down may be in the best interest of your mare. She is telling you that she can no longer do the job. However, that doesn’t mean that she has to be completely retired. In situations such as these, it is really up to the horse as to what they can physically handle. If she is sound otherwise, you might just step her down to the smaller divisions and continue to let her do what she loves. Some horses just need to take a step down and do the smaller divisions, which is great if they are solid citizens and can teach other riders the ropes. Others, like my guy, physically need to be flat only and just live a life filled with love, light work, and trail rides.

I definitely wouldn’t condemn her to fully retired life just yet!

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Update: Thank you for the replies, I’ve also been thinking of the same thing. However, recently, when I lunged her to get her back to work with the vet watching, he pointed out the possibility of her putting on an act because she knew that if she showed any signs of a limp or lameness, since she knew we’d take her back to her stable and end the training session then (conveniently it was also lunch for her)., and she’d limp for a few rounds and then her steps are perfect, no crookedness or unevenness even after the vet examined her leg. I have mixed feelings about this idea since it seems a bit off, but I have had experiences with other horses who become lame before every competition (could just be an insane coincidence but too often) but throughout the show when they’re not competing, they’re perfectly fine.

We also decided to reduce her workload and since I’m about to sit for exams, moving up levels in show jumping is the last thing on our minds right now haha. But whether or not she’s putting up an act to avoid working I still am going to reduce her work load, hopefully making her feel a bit better.

Horses are smart and know when to limp. I had a horse who would limp every time he heard the “S” word (show) We finally had to stop using the S word and changed from saying “showing”. Instead, we called it “Bageling”. That worked well until he figured out what ‘bageling’ meant. :DI love George. He was such a con artist. Your mare may be the same kind of smart.

I don’t really believe that horses can learn to fake a lameness. Not that they aren’t smart enough to learn how to get out of things, but I feel like limping is such a compensatory response that I’m not convinced they can extrapolate that to a behavior that gets a reward. No science to back that up but unless it’s an ingrained pain response/habit (which it doesn’t really sound like?) I think your horse really is trying to tell you something.


If my vet suggested my horse was ‘acting’, I’d get a new vet.


Agree 100% with what Midge just said.

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Yeah…some horses are definitely “delicate flowers” about any perceived pain, but a horse that is clearly lame, even if it’s intermittent, is definitely telling you that something hurts.They don’t make that up whole cloth.

Your mare lacks impulsion and spring to safely carry herself over combinations at her current level of competition. Since that’s hard to fake, I’m glad to hear you’re backing her down.