Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Moving and Adjusting to Retirement

Photo by StitzPics
I knew finding a place for Guinness was not a small project. My list of needs was made more complicated by my rather tiny budget. More than once over the last few months, I've found myself wishing I had a farm of my own to stash him for life, or wondering if anyone in my D.C. neighborhood would notice a full sized horse chilling in the corner yard.

In the end, I thought I was settled on riding him lightly through the end of the year. When I had enough saved, I would ship him off to one of the field board locations I had researched. While he'd be too far away to see regularly, at least he'd be well taken care of and close enough to visit a few times a year. Still, I worried that his arthritis would rapidly deteriorate if he wasn't kept moving with regular riding.
I knew I'd miss hacking him, too.
Then a friend asked if I'd contacted the equine therapy place near the farm. While initially suspect that Pig could be a good fit, I decided to look into the prospect further.

To my delight I saw they preferred horses to be leased to the program, rather than requiring ownership to be relinquished. Perfect, as I will not consider selling him. They use their horses lightly, and have a reputation for being very conscientious with horse care. Plus, they don't use bits while the horses are working, so Pig's need for good hands is mitigated. On top of everything, they are literally right across the street, and I can visit and ride him every day.

I filled out a horse donation form, and settled down to wait, not expecting to hear back for a long while.
Can't believe this is the same horse who used to rear when he knew he was somewhere near a creek.
A barn friend is on the board of the therapy program, and she must have put a good word in for me. The program director called me the day after I filled out the application to ask me if she could meet Guinness. We set up a time for a few days later.

Suddenly, Pig's retirement was moving very fast.
Photo by StitzPics
I arrived at the farm the day of Pig's "audition" with butterflies in my stomach. Would they like him? Would he be quiet enough? Would I like them? Would I think they would take good care of him and treat him fairly?

I needn't have worried. Pig was a star, and the therapy ladies were lovely. I babbled constantly during the meeting, seeming to only be able to tell them about his faults and problems. Part of my brain kept saying "stop talking, Austen. They can see what he's like, and he's fine."

The two program leaders were very nice, and just smiled at my babbling. They watched me ride Pig, and were very complimentary of him. Then asked if they could try him and do some leading afterwards to ensure he would be worth their time.
Photo by StitzPics
As I knew he would be, Pig was foot perfect. He was a bit confused, with his ears flicking all around, trying to make sense of this new set of questions. When the director rode him, he politely asked if she would like to have a flying change. When she declined, he happily cantered on. She got off him with a smile on her face.

"How does he do with external stimulus? Like sudden loud noises? Or children yelling or suddenly screaming?"

"Um..." I looked around the indoor, noticing a friend and Pig's elderly pasture-mate were the only ones left in the ring. "Hold on to Ted! I'm going to do some stuff!" I yelled to her.

"AHHHHHH!" I screamed out of nowhere, jumping up and down next to Pig and flinging my arms and legs in the air wildly. I poked him in the side, and jumped away. I did jumping jacks in front of his face. I threw my gloves at the wall.

Pig just blinked and looked at me.
"My owner is legitimately crazy. I learned to deal." -- Pig, probably
Photo by StitzPics
The program leaders just laughed. They told me they loved him, but were concerned he might be too sensitive to riding cues right now. They wanted to make sure he wouldn't panic if a therapy client moved too much. They asked if they could take him on a trial. I said yes.

We gave it a week before the trial started. I had planned a trip to visit Liz and do another endurance ride, plus I wanted to get Pig's things in order. I picked up more Equioxx for him, and did his feet. I also watched him play with his pasture mates, knowing he'd miss them terribly.
Especially his old-man mentor, Ted.
Finally on August 7, I walked Pig down the road to his (hopefully) new home. He was very unsure about the trip, but as always followed my lead.
"Where are we? Why are we?"
I won't lie. I bawled while walking him down that road. Ever the gentleman, he let me dry my tears on him and then spooked so I'd have something to focus on.

When we got to the new farm, we immediately turned him out in his new field. He seemed to settle, but then started running the fence lines trying to get back home. He'd take a break and run to me, asking plainly "What the hell is going on?" I was pretty sure my presence was not making things easier for him, so I headed home.
He has the best view in the county now. Hands down.
It always breaks my heart to move him away from his friends, and this was no exception. Leaving him here, I knew he was in excellent hands and would be okay. I knew it was the best of situations for him. Still, walking down the road and hearing him call after me made me cry.

In the weeks that followed, the therapy program let me know he seemed to be settling in well. They are taking things slowly with him, trying to get to know him before throwing him deeply into the program. His trial period is about halfway over, and I hope things continue to work out. I couldn't think of a better retirement situation for him, and I want him to stay. I think he'll really enjoy the work and benefit from the gentle movement.

While I'm still able to visit him, ride him, dote on him, and own him, moving him to the therapy barn brought home the reality of his retirement. His career is done, and our partnership is different from now on. I'm enjoying watching his eyes light up when he sees me, knowing I am the bringer of apples and scratches. However, I miss the joy of working toward our goals. It is strange not to drive to the barn every day and hop on him.

This is the new normal, and we're both trying to come to terms with it.
Photo by Liz Stout

21 comments:

  1. I hope his trial continues to go well!

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  2. Oh my god, I'm literally sat here sobbing! ☹️ I'm convinced that this is the right thing for him, but it still sucks!

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  3. The heaviness of this decision comes through so clearly in your words. I hope this works out for him, it sounds like a perfect situation.

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  4. Oh my goodness. You are making me cry! It's hard to retire a horse and know that things are your "last" time with them.

    Hugs to you and I hope the therapy thing works out. It sounds perfect.

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  5. hugs <3 and wine. lots and lots of wine. and maybe some crab chips too.

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  6. I teared up reading this 😔 but it really does sound like an ideal situation -- maintaining ownership, light exercise and good care for Pig, and close enough for regular apples and massages. Hopefully the remainder of his trial goes swimmingly and you both adjust to the new normal. Hugs for both of you.

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  7. There is nothing easy about this other than knowing that you're doing your best by him.
    I retired my old guy to a therapy program several years ago. He ate it up and loved his new job and his new riders. He was so well-loved and had awesome care. I really hope it works out for your old guy too. <3

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  8. <3 Change is so hard. But Pig is going to be the fanciest damn therapy horse who ever lived!

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  9. Crying. But crying happy tears <3

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  10. Well now I'm crying at work. Fingers crossed for this to work out.

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  11. Eyes all welled up and would be outright crying if not for fear of co-workers walking in.

    So bittersweet.

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  12. "Ever the gentleman, he let me dry my tears on him and then spooked so I'd have something to focus on." The MOST gentleman, clearly, to spook in order to stop the tears.

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  13. Aw! You guys! This is so sweet and what a serendipitous way to retire him. I am crossing all crossables that it works out well for you both.

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  14. I also teared up but man that place looks beautiful and idealic, just like a retirement home for an amazing partner should be. Sending happy thoughts that his trial continues to go well :)

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  15. Such a big change, and I know it's hard. He's lucky to have you, and I'm crossing my fingers they keep him after the trial period.

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  16. yay Pig. He will be a super star at therapy. Look how much therapy he has provided you :) I am so happy he is doing well at his trial and hope they keep him!! Fanciest damn therapy horse around! YAY PIG

    NOW what are you going to do??? I can't wait to hear what comes next!! PS will they let humans live there cause I can donate myself. :)

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  17. Haha, I love the description of you demonstrating how quiet he is, lol

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  18. The end of the era. It does sound like a great option all things considered, but it must be tough. You and Guinness are such an amazing pair. I'm also waiting to hear what's next for you now!

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  19. I really hope this all works out for you both.

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