So i recommend to first understand and evaluate your horse, determine his character and then think what might be the best type of retirement situation for his personality. In my experience, I've had 2 character categories of horses and some that are a mix of both so I've had to experiment to see what each horse preferred.
The Horse's Character:
Most of you know that when we're not traveling to shows to compete we have our base in Wellington, FL. Florida is certainly the winter capital of the world with some of the best weather from December to May but it's summers are brutal and not for the weak, so having this character horse at my barn wasn't going to make him feel like he was in his well-deserved retirement home. I've been fortunate enough for these kinds of horses to be able to find friends in the horse world or family members to take them into their next chapter in life. These horses transitioned into a job that was a lot more low key, like going on trails or being the spoiled horse of an older lady looking to have fun and enjoy riding or even the horse that all the kids groomed at the riding club. They lived in places where the weather was good, they had access to monitored field time and were able to age gracefully while still feeling like the King or Queen they always were.
One thing I noticed with these horses is that sometimes, you'll have a nervous-nelly that after a few years of living in this lower-key life they are actually more open to the idea of being turned out with herd full time because they were able to learn how to live a slower pace life. The few times this has happened worked out really nice and the horses were able to transition to field horses. Nevertheless, the ones that still couldn't be in the big spacious fields lived a great, long, happy life in this retirement until their late 20s and even 30s!
This retirement solution could vary greatly depending if you sell your horse to someone that would like to have him in his retirement stage, if you donate your horse to a reputable program or if you end up having to pay something to have him at a barn where they can care for him, exercises him and turn him out daily. The priciest option is the latter, though it wont be as much as what you probably pay in show season, but you have complete say on what the horse does and how much interaction you'd like to have. The donation option can be tax deductible depending on where you donate and most of the time you are able to stay in touch with the program and visit your horse whenever you like. Sometimes, however, you may be responsible for the cost of shoeing and deworming etc though this is rare. Finally the selling option most likely wont result in a profit on the horse but it will take a lot of costs of your shoulders and you know that the person who has your horse is treating him like his/her own baby.
Of course if you have a horse that can straight off the trailer be turned out into an acre large herd than great! Thats awesome and that horse is going to love his retirement!
In my experience, the laidback-luke's of the horse world truly do enjoy the large pasture retirement life. Finding a nice place in either your town or in a state that has great weather year round with safe and lush turnouts would be my go to. In fact for Trivi, we chose a wonderful barn in Lexington, Kentucky called Stone Columns Stable at Elmendorf that has boarding, stabling, rehab and retirement services and offers a transition program for show horses to make sure they happily and safely transition into retirement life. The weather is kind year round, the grass is the best in the world (Kentucky Blue Grass is in a league of its own!) and the people who own and run the barn are wonderful horse people who are very involved with the retired horses daily.
Most of the time with these horses, you should take your time getting him used to the idea of being turned out for hours and then introduce him to a herd or pasture buddy. At Stone Columns Stables, they really listen to the horses and let them dictate how long they'd like to be turned out for each day with eventually the horses being able to be happily left out for the whole day. They also start the horses in a smaller size field on their old and as they feel ready, will move them to a bigger field and then eventually introduce them to a herd and make sure it is a safe and happy environment. Horses are herd animals, and though most of them spend majority of their time in stalls on their own, their natural instinct will always be there and they will feel at home and safe in a herd when turned out.
Depending on the barn and location, the cost of a "herd retirement" can vary however most of the time this is your least expensive option because very little is needed for the horses. At Stone Columns Stable, their rates are reasonable and made sense to us especially because of the services they provided for the retired horses. They check on the turned out horses daily, they give them a small amount of grain twice a day, they bring them in for anything need like feet trimming, deworming etc (at owners cost) and they always have staff available daily. When choosing where your horse will retire, make sure you do your homework about who runs the place, how often they are checked out, etc. It brings peace of mind to someone like me that is used to always seeing my horses.
Things to consider:
Some things i would like to mention to consider is that a lot of competition horses can't go from show season to turnout over night. Not only is transitioning them from small turnout to large pasture important to take the time to do, there are a few other things to think about.
Hopefully some of what I shared will help make the experience more pleasant when you're at a crossroad and not sure what path to take when its time for your old equine partner to retire! Don't hesitate to give me a shout on Instagram or contact me if you have any questions!
Ellesse Jordan Tzinberg
International Grand Prix dressage rider, dressage for showjumpers trainer, boarding and sales, online lessons