We all strive to age with dignity and grace and to be appreciated, not forgotten in our golden years. Animals are no different. The elderly dog left behind in the shelter through no fault of her own; the frail cat discarded without a backward glance or the aging horse no longer wanted or needed.  These animals all had a purpose, meaning and a place to call home in their younger days. It is a common scenario – the dog, cat or horse reaches a certain age, requires more attention and is pushed aside to make way for a new pet.

In the case of dogs and cats, it is much easier for them to find a second loving home with the help of an animal rescue shelter. For horses, however, the task of finding a place that will take in these animals – let alone attempt to rehome them, is much more difficult. When people adopt horses, they don’t realize they are signing on for a 30-year commitment and, unfortunately, this leads to a large number of abandoned, senior horses in need of refuge.

Disposable Horses

Horses have an undeniable reputation – they are here to be ridden, raced or worked.  They are ultimately exploited for our own entertainment and treated as machines rather than living, breathing creatures.  If they are not fast enough, not fit enough or strong enough, they are simply replaced with a newer, more efficient model.  This trend is very evident if you take a moment to scroll through the classified ads, Craigslist, and even Facebook postings.  Every day there are countless numbers of horses in search of new homes.  Sadly, a large majority of them are sent to auction and fall into the greedy hands of the kill buyers.  Be aware that senior horses are not spared a trip to the slaughter plant, as the meat industry does not discriminate.  Thousands of horses, young and old find their way into the slaughter pipeline every year.

Running a sanctuary has opened my eyes to how little respect we give horses.  Nearly every day I receive requests from people looking to rehome their once beloved horse simply due to the fact that age or illness prevents it from being ridden.  Most of these requests come attached with cruel threats of sending the horse to auction or euthanizing them.  The guilt and responsibility thoughtlessly passed along to me; a life hangs in the balance.

Horses are not seen as life-long commitments – a reality that needs to be addressed.   The horses at my sanctuary will remain there until they take their last breath.  I made a commitment to keep them safe, show them love and compassion. I ask nothing more of them than respect and trust.  They are free to live their lives without having to entertain me, and most are in their senior years.  Their histories are long and unknown. Whatever purpose they once served in their previous lives is forgotten – replaced with kindness and understanding. Like so many others, they were deemed useless to their human companions and were tossed away – such as Prince.

Prince Finds Sanctuary

Prince stood in a small enclosure on a farm down the road from where I live. His companion horse had recently passed away due to illness, and he was left alone. Horses are herd-bound and highly social animals and do not do well on their own and Prince was visibly depressed.  It was not long before his owners decided they no longer wanted to care for him and threatened to have him euthanized.

Prince was already well into his senior years and suffered from a severe respiratory illness (heaves).  He had spent many years carrying their children on his back, doing what was asked of him, but that was not enough to earn him the respect he deserved.  He no longer served a purpose and quickly became a burden.  His days were numbered.

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Prince was brought to the sanctuary and given the medical help he needed to live a comfortable and healthy life.  All he wanted was a safe place to call home where he would be loved and cared for. His medical conditions were not difficult to treat, and he was certainly not a burden.  Although he only lived for another two years, they were the best years of his life, and he had many happy days in the company of his companions and the people that loved him. He passed away peacefully last year after his quality of life degraded – a difficult decision, but one made with pure kindness and not dependent on human need.

How You Can Help

If you commit to giving a home to a horse or any animal, make sure you are well prepared to do so.  Do your research, horses can live well into their thirties and do not deserve to be abandoned for any reason, especially for growing old. They are not disposable or replaceable.

Want to learn more?  Take time out of your busy day to visit your local horse rescue or sanctuary. Sanctuaries exist to show there is more to interacting with horses than riding. Educate yourself and others about equine welfare issues and how you can make a difference. It is time to see the horse for what it is – a horse.

“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.” – Anatole France

All image source: Penny Lane Sanctuary