Selecting a Retirement Farm
Warehouse or Personalized Care
Retired horses require, food, water, shelter, and of course, love. Important considerations are Location, Safety, Management, Experience, and reasons why someone is boarding retired horses.
Selecting a retirement farm requires research and decisions regarding the management of your retired horse. In the thirty years since we launched Orchard Equine Retirement there has been an explosion of retirement farms to meet the demand of owners making the lifetime commitment to their horses.
Unfortunately the concept of a retirement facility designed and built with the same considerations as a facility built for valuable performance horses has not seem to caught on. The old die hard attitudes of “rough” board still prevail at many facilities offering “retirement” board.
In our opinion there is much more to boarding retirees than turning them out in a pasture with a round bale, a stagnant pond as a drinking source that horses must access in all weather, and inexpensive fencing. Much more.
The motivating factor behind many of the retirement farms today is “easy money”. Have acreage, put up some electric fence, buy a ready made shed, buy some round bales, and voila, they are ready to start advertising for retirees which in their mind is nothing more than horses on pasture board. That attitude is why my beloved Prince ended up injured and starved.
It goes hand in hand with the old horse industry attitude of passing your horse on to a less experienced rider. What no one mentions is the fact that as a horse ages they develop health issues the same as people do. Whether it be metabolic disorders, dental issues, arthritis, or just the body not being able to utilize nutrients or regenerate cells as well as when the horse was younger, old age is not the time to “turn your horse out on the range to live au natural”.
When owners think of their horse living as Mother Nature intended, they are envisioning the positive aspects without realizing that Mother Nature is very cruel. In nature horses with metabolic disorders, soundness issues, dental issues, or other health issues do not survive. In nature twenty year old wild horses do not exist.
Retirement farms need acreage for pastures thus they are located in rural areas rather than near more populated areas with higher land prices.
Each region of the country has its advantages and disadvantages. Mild climate is touted by many facilities as being ideal for retired horses. Owners must remember ideal climates for themselves are not always the ideal climate for their horses for the simple reason that few if any retirement farms offer climate controlled barns for the comfort of their horses and many do not want the added labor required to provide stabling for horses.
Recognize that every area of the country has severe weather. How a facility guarantees that your horse has access to and utilizes shelter is very important if an owner does not want their horse standing outside in hurricanes, extreme heat, tornadoes, blizzards, ice storms, and floods.
Always imagine the worst possible weather scenario, whether it be extreme heat or cold, torrential rain, heavy snow, ice storms, blizzard, hurricane, tornado, or flooding, and then imagine your horse at the facility you are considering and how caretakers access the horses and deliver feed and water to the horses under those conditions.
In my fifty plus years horse experience with over thirty of it caring for retired horses, the most important criteria in selecting a retirement farm is not climate, but management. Proper farrier and veterinarian care is more important than a mild climate. An improperly trimmed horse is not going to benefit from warmer temperatures.
The ideal climate for arthritic horses is a dry climate such as that found in the desert. Deserts while ideal for people with arthritis who have access to climate controlled houses, are not ideal for horses due to high temperatures and the lack of pastures.
Racehorses and performance horses often travel South to take advantage of the mild winter climate, however in mid Spring as temperatures rise the Interstates are filled with horse trailers heading North for the warmer Summer months.
Many of these same areas also import their hay from Northern states, meaning that the quality of forage grown is of lesser quality then what grows naturally in another region of the United States. The cost of the hay in these regions can be three to four times the cost paid in hay growing regions of the United States. The quality of forage is important because your retired horse is going to spend their time “harvesting” their forage via grazing.
Areas with high humidity are not ideal climates for senior horses or horses with arthritis. Areas of high humidity makes it harder for horses to cool themselves despite sweating. Retired horses not in a stall are going to be standing outside in the heat and humidity without the benefit of a stall fan.
Horses have a thermoneutral zone, the range of temperatures where a horse does not have to increase their metabolism to increase or maintain their body temperature. A 1998 study determined that horse’s bodies can tolerate temperatures between five and fifty degrees. Horses allowed to grow a winter hair coat, provided shelter from wind and rain, and given access to hay and water are metabolically comfortable in colder temperatures.
Horse behavior seems to indicate that horses prefer cooler temperatures - no sweating, no flies, and horses tend to run and play more in colder temperatures than in hot and humid weather.
Ponds are offered as cooling options for pastured horses, however ponds are hazardous to horses, period. Facilities with valuable horses fence off ponds because they are a hazard, not because they want to spend money needlessly. There are numerous reasons that ponds are unsafe for horses,
Your Horse's Safety, Health & Happiness
Selecting a Retirement Farm
As one of my clients with years of experience managing barns and showing horses stated to me,
"The best time to visit a boarding facility is in the worst weather. Then you can see how they manage your horse in bad weather."
Very sage advice.
Safety & Nutrition
Pastures are where your retired horse will spend the majority of their time providing your retired horse with exercise and nutrition.
The most important aspect of a pasture for your retired horse is not necessarily the acres per horse, but the management of the pasture itself irrespective of the stocking rates
Addition of Nutrients
Removing Horses in Wet Weather
Types of Forage
Pasture Safety Checklist
Access to Ponds & Streams?
Access to Wooded & Brushy Areas?
Culverts or Ditches?
Access to Shelter
Access to Water
Majestic trees in a pasture make a beautiful picture. Recognize the fact that horses standing under trees during a thunderstorm are at risk for lightning strikes. Any horses standing under the drip line where the roots extend will be killed if the tree is struck.
Downed trees in pastures are a hazard. Remember that wooded areas are not grazing areas, thus when a facility states they have a pasture with “x” amount of acreage, how much of that acreage is actual grazing pasture? Wooded areas should not be counted when determining how many acres per horse.
Optimal or Low Cost?
Retirement Farm Pasture & Fence Selection Checklist
View all pastures and paddocks to determine fencing used in areas not on photos.
Inspect fencing for maintenance
All fencing types have their advantages and disadvantages. Deciding factors for horse farm owners are:
Safety, Durability, Visibility, Attractiveness, & Cost
Deciding Factors for Retired Horse Owners:
Is the entire pasture fenced in high quality fencing, or only what is seen in the pictures?
Is there perimeter fencing in event a horse escapes when being led between paddocks, barns, etc?
Are corners rounded or square?
Are hazards such as ponds, streams, and areas not suitable for grazing such as brushy & wooded areas fenced off?
Electric Wire is excellent at keeping horses off fences.
Does the fencing provide a highly visible barrier?
Is fencing in good repair
Electric Fencing Disadvantages
In 50 plus years with horses I have seen lots of fencing and tried various fencing types.
Fencing that I would never use for horses include Hi Tensil and Barbed Wire. Both are deadly. Electrified or not. I have talked to too many owners whose own horses were crippled or had to be euthanized after coming in contact with Hi Tensil that was electrified. Any electrified fencing material that will not break when a horse runs into/through it will cause injuries.
Electric Fencing - Horses can and have run through electric fencing, including the tape. If the material does not break, injuries, including life threatening, can and have occurred.
Stakes, especially T-Posts can cause severe injuries to horses, including life threatening. Horses are injured by running into or coming down on top of posts causing severe injuries, including life threatening.
Hay, Concentrates, Supplements
What is the deciding factor behind the decisions regarding the feeding practices of the retirement farm?
Best Interest of Horse
Hay/Pasture is the foundation of your retired horse's feeding program.
All things being equal, Small hay bales are much better quality than large round or square bales due to the moisture content at the time of baling.
As a farmer who made 15,000 bales of a hay year stated,
"It's impossible to get the inside of those large bales dry"
Large bales are selected because of cost, not quality. Large bales require less handling during the haymaking process, delivery to farm, and feeding at the farm. For that reason facilities choose large bales over small, sacrificing quality in the process.
Horses fed large bales require vaccination for the deadly disease Botulism due to the high moisture content in large bales that Botulism spores prefer. Mustiness, dust, and mold are disadvantages of large bales.
Thus if your horse has respiratory issues large bales are even worse choice for your horse.
Large bales are also excellent fly breeding grounds. The moisture underneath the bales, especially when fed on the ground are ideal fly breeding grounds- moist rotting organic matter.
At Orchard Equine Retirement our goal is to manage horses according to accepted best practices in horse management.
Where & What in All Weather
Where is the water source located?
How far is the water source from the shelter?
How far is the water from the hay feeding areas?
How is the water kept ice free in winter?
Imagine your horse accessing the water source in the worst weather
How is the water kept from freezing in winter?
How do the caretakers provide water - hose, bucket- and imagine how this is accomplished under the all different types of weather conditions.
If water is provided by an on site well, is there a generator to provide power to the well pump in case of power outage?
If not, how do they provide water to the horses?
How many buckets?
How is water kept ice free in winter?
How often are buckets cleaned?
Put your hand inside the bucket- if slimy the bucket is not cleaned regularly even if the water is fresh
Shed Sizes Adequate?
Run in sheds need to keep your horse dry, allow your horse to maintain their body heat and provide your horse with a comfortable place to seek shelter. Not all run in sheds accomplish those goals.
Run in sheds always face South to take advantage of the sun’s warmth in winter.
Overhangs must be large enough to prevent precipitation from entering the shed
The taller the opening of the run in shed, the larger the overhang must be to keep precipitation out
Overhangs must be large enough to shade the shed in summer
Floors should be constructed to allow for the drainage of urine
Properly bedding a run in shed in winter creates a heat generating floor and a dry bed
Without bedding in winter where is your horse going to lie down?
If your horse cannot access the run in shed, how does the facility provide shelter?
Run in sheds can hold as few as one horse or several, it all depends on the personalities of the horses in the herd.
If the shed is not bedded, why not?
Horses do urinate and defecate in sheds. If not cleaned the shed becomes an ideal breeding ground for flies, creates hoof issues and certainly not an inviting place for your horse to seek shelter or lie down.
If the facility feeds large bales, is the run in shed large enough to feed the large bales inside the shed?
If not, where does your horse eat during bad weather?
What's it Like in Bad Weather?
Visit During Worst Weather
In winter weather what does your horse have to do to access water?
How does a run in shed with an overhang of less than 4-8' prevent precipitation from entering the shed
Reserve Your Horse's Retirement Today
Peace of Mind is Priceless.
At Orchard Equine Retirement we have been providing Full Care Horse Retirement since 1988. We know that retiring horses is so much more than turning a horse out in a pasture.
Much more. We understand and respect the special relationship owners have with their horses. We understand how difficult it is to separate from your partner and friend.
We've been there. Lying awake at night wondering if they are being fed properly. If they are standing out in the weather, or are they comfortable inside their box stall or run in shed with their buddies.
It is that very relationship with a horse named Prince and the failed search for a horse retirement farm where he could safely retire, that inspires us to this day.
We look forward to discussing the retirement you want for your horse. Please include your horse's name in your message!
We offer flat rate and itemized billing. Clients choose which method best suits their horse's needs and their preferences. Call or send a message to reserve your horse's retirement at the farm that continues to set the standard in horse retirement.
Christine, Jack, and Sarah
Orchard Equine Retirement