Five weeks ago, when I was lying at the bottom of a slippery hill in the rain, knowing that I’d done significant damage to my ankle, I realized that I would need to make some changes. Freedom and Zelda have lived for the past five years at a barn with extraordinary turnout (for my Boston suburb). And before that, they also lived in a private barn with great turnout. The tradeoff has been that these are self-care barns — with me and the other owners providing the labor. With a broken ankle, that becomes more difficult. I know that even after I’m out of the dratted AirCast, my ankle will be weak for several months, making it implausible to consider taking care of horses on pasture board.
Freedom is a bit of a special needs horse. He is not suited to living in a stall, as he cribs, weaves and stall walks. These are all characteristics that make barn owners shake their head and politely tell you they don’t have room for him. He loves living outside with just a run in shed, but that type of arrangement is hard to find locally as land is at a premium.
As I pulled myself upright on that rainy afternoon, the kernel of an idea was germinating. I didn’t want to listen to that idea at first, but I soon came to realize that I needed to find Freedom a place where he could live the way he needs, but where I don’t have to take care of him. For the last year or two, he’s only been sound enough for light riding and I’ve considered him mostly retired. It was time to make it official.
I called a friend who had retired her horse a few years ago to a farm in Virginia. Yes, they had a place for a gelding who cribs — although even retirement farms have limited space for cribbers. And yes, she would hold the stall until I could find him a ride south. The setup sounded perfect: he would live in a 10-acre field with other geldings. He’d be fed grain every day and blanketed when the weather was wet and cold. The farm and its owners came with stellar recommendations from people that I knew. I swallowed hard and started calling shippers.
This is the time of year when many people are moving their horses south for the winter, which is good because I was told it could take a month to find him a slot. When I got the call that Wednesday was the day, I wasn’t quite ready for him to leave. I thought we’d have more time. So, I stuffed him with carrots and treats and loved on him as much as I could.
On Wednesday night, a horse trailer the size of a cruise ship pulled up at our barn (I will never again complain about turning my trailer around. The driver had successfully turned the 18-wheeler in someone’s driveway and then backed the rest of the way down the road. The driver was kind and patient with Freedom, who took a good hard look at the ramp before climbing aboard. Who could blame him? It was 9:30 p.m. and an alien spaceship arrived at the bottom of the driveway.
Once tucked in, with a hay net full of alfalfa and second cut hay, I felt reassured that he would have a good trip. Compared to my two-horse tagalong, this rig was luxurious. Although I didn’t spring for a box stall, he had a stall and a half, which seemed pretty spacious. An air ride meant he wouldn’t feel all the bumps. And, even better, they were picking up two horses going to the same retirement farm, on the way. He’d arrive with friends.
Sure enough, when he arrived at Shadowfax Farm II in Boyce, Virginia, he had formed a posse with Jack and Cappy. The three geldings set out to explore their new surroundings and met up with some of the other residents. Freedom has never seen that much grass before. And never lived in a place where he doesn’t need to wear his cribbing collar. By 8 a.m. that morning I had multiple photos of Freedom enjoying his greener pastures. I’m still sad that he’s gone, but I’m very glad he gets to live like a horse in such a beautiful place. Freedom has always been anxious if he’s separated from his “herd” and now he’ll have lots of friends to keep him company.
Have you retired your horse? I’m going to write another post on what to look for when selecting a retirement farm. I’d love to have your input. And stay tuned. Zelda will have her share of adventures, too.