Owners must think ahead to their horse’s retirement, Redwings Horse Sanctuary is urging. The centre receives over 100 telephone calls a month from people who want to retire their elderly but otherwise healthy horses but have not thought ahead properly to what it might involve.

The International League for the Protection of Horses (ILPH) also has a high volume of calls. “In addition to the welfare line calls, we receive 50 to 100 calls and e-mails a week from people who want us to take on horses they no longer wish to take care of and have had to take on an extra member of staff to deal with this” said Phil Spiby, ILPH Head of Communications. “Some owners will inevitably try to rehome to a charity rather than take on the responsibility themselves for tough decisions.”

The Redwings welfare team is keen to stress that it does not resent the phone calls, but advises horse owners to plan their animal’s future well in advance. In a bid to help owners, the Sanctuary has launched a new section on its website, giving advice on how to find a retirement home for a horse.

“Retirement can be forced to take place earlier than expected because of injury or illness, but even when it is required because of old age many owners are caught out, unprepared to keep the horse or pony themselves but with no clear alternatives,” said Redwings Chief Executive Lynn Cutress.

Owing to indiscriminate breeding the UK has a vast horse population, and sanctuaries such as Redwings are often at maximum capacity and are unable to take in private retirements. “Redwings has to reserve the limited places we do have for rescue cases and welfare concerns, of which there are sadly more than enough,” Cutress continued. “We do take some retirement cases but only in exceptional circumstances where welfare is an issue – and this is just literally a few a year.”

Both Redwings’ website and that of the ILPH offer a number of alternative solutions for owners to consider. Information regarding loaning, livery and companion homes can be downloaded. “We would always urge a horse’s owner to think about the solution which is in the best interest of the horse itself,” Spiby maintains, “Some particular types of horses lend themselves to being loaned out or sold on. A child’s pony, when outgrown by the children who own it, will benefit enormously from being loaned out or sold on to another loving home where it can have an active life teaching more children to ride and go through Pony Club”.

Cutress agrees: “Loaning out is an option that many people refuse to consider as they think it may put their equine at risk of ending up in an inexperienced home but providing some basic guidelines are followed, any risks can be greatly reduced. A sample loan agreement can be downloaded from the site.”

But there are several other alternatives: “Retirement or grass livery is an option. Beware of advertising your equine as ‘free to a good home’ however, as this can often encourage buyers who do not necessarily have the resources to care for the equine sufficiently,” said Cutress.

The ILPH have an article on their website called “Knowing when to say goodbye”, dedicated to Euthanasia. “Some horses who have had an active life are really not happy and can suffer if retired to a field. Euthanasia is a difficult decision but in some instances it may be the kindest option,” Spiby explains.

Redwings retirement advice can be found at www.redwings.co.uk/welfare.htm You can also download the full range of information leaflets on the site, and for further advice please telephone the Redwings welfare helpline (tel: 01508 481008).

ILPH retirement advice can be found at www.ilph.org or by calling the welfare helpline (tel: 0870 871 1927).

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