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How Long To Keep A Horse

How long to keep, or conversely, when to part with a horse, can be a very sensitive subject. Horse ownership is complicated by the fact that horses live a long time and can be expensive to own and care for. In addition, for some, a horse is just another farm animal. But others of us get emotionally attached to and bond with our horses. So the idea of just selling them at a later time can feel like the betrayal of a trusted friend. And depending on the sensitivity of the horse, it might be just that. Most horses adapt well to a new owner and surroundings, but a few do not.

Bonding With a Horse
Bonding With a Horse
However, even those who get attached to their horses are sometimes forced to realize they can no longer keep their horse at some point. The reason can be financial, especially in this economic climate where many have lost jobs and are struggling to survive. The problem is further exacerbated if the owner was really stretching financially just to own the horse and a pay reduction or job loss pushes him/her over the financial edge.

Another valid reason to part with a particular horse is when the owner is afraid of and cannot handle their horse. This is a topic often discussed here because many question submitters will inquire for help with a horse they love, but cannot control. Often, the lack of control has to do with the owner treating the horse as a friend rather than being its leader. As much as any animal lover wants to treat a horse like a loving dog or cat, that IS NOT a desirable relationship with a horse. A horse is too big and powerful for such a relationship and the human MUST be the leader for any margin of safety to exist.

One of the most important reasons to not keep a horse is when the horse is very aggressive and requires a very experienced horseperson to train and ride it. Such horses are often very smart and independent. Without an owner/rider that really knows horses and is him/herself very experienced and having an extremely confident and strong personality, the horse will exploit, push around, and walk all over that person — a VERY DANGEROUS relationship for the person and one that should end as soon as possible. As much as a person may not want to part with their horse, if the relationship is a dangerous one, it is not a good idea to keep the horse and risk injury or death. And as an uncontrolled horse, it also presents a danger to other humans in the area or on a joint ride — this is irresponsible ownership!

There are still other reasons to part with a horse you love and they vary based on many aspects. One would be the inability of the owner to care for a horse having special needs. Another is the inability to continue to care for their horse when the owner's own health starts to fail. Therefore, keeping (or not) a horse must be a personal decision determined by the circumstances of the owner and horse.

HOWEVER, there is also a flip-side to this discussion: horses have intelligence and feelings of their own. They can get VERY ATTACHED to a human owner and bond with them the way they would bond to their foal or a long-term horse buddy. At the barn where I keep my horse, there are two large Thoroughbreds that have been together for over 23 years. They are inseparable and always grazing together. When one dies, we wonder how long the other will last without his life-long friend and companion; it will be very sad for all of us. So while there are legitimate reasons to part with a horse, it's also not fair to take a horse on, let them form bonds with us, and then get rid of them for superficial reasons. In that case, it's better to never get a horse of one's own to begin with.

Besides being an avid trail rider, Jerry Tardif is a technology consultant and a horse and nature photographer in SE Connecticut — see his work at: www.jerrytardif.com. He is also co-founder and President of QueryHorse.

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