Equine Retirement Overseas
OUT TO GRASS
It’s every Gulf based riders worst nightmare - what to do when you know your equine friend is ready to slow down or even stop work altogether? With no real retirement options here in the UAE, the heat, prolonged stabling and expensive livery rates; it can be tricky to find a solution to suit both your horse and pocket.
Back in 2016, Muscat based Sheila Archdeacon sent her 18hh Westfalian gelding Finn to retire in South Africa. Finn had been in the Gulf for most of his life and Sheila says, “it was actually desperately sad, he didn’t really know how to graze, and immediately panicked and grew an emergency coat. But, it’s a totally fantastic feeling knowing his life is so much better now,” she says. “For sure there’s a really big hole in life here, but when you see those pictures you know it’s the right decision.”
When to make the decision?
“Everyone does their best in the Middle East,” says Sheila, “and for sure I’m not knocking that, it’s just that it is a very ‘artificial’ life here especially for horses. The realities of the climate, lack of real ground forage etc. makes for a very limited experience, I still think it’s the best money I spent, sending him home.”
UAE based Tracey Perkins, says of Rare-Heights, the horse she retired to the UK back in 2017, “he was already retired for many years here but was bored and a little depressed, so I decided to send him to the UK. He taught me so much love and appreciation… he was my showjumper; an ex-race horse with a big heart who jumped 1.40m classes.”
“It was my responsibility, yet there is really no retirement here in UAE and life gets very boring,” she says. “Horses need freedom and he deserves this time with his buddies and grass. Honestly what are the options? Watching them decline with boredom and restricted exercise in small paddocks with too many hours in a stable or even euthanasia?” she says.
Choosing the Right Retirement Home
While there are options around the globe, the majority of horses make their way to Europe, where livery options are most popular in the UK, France, Belgium and Germany.
Paola Maggiori says of her search for the perfect retirement for Noble Alien her 10-year-old Thoroughbred, “I used the Internet, I shortlisted a few places that looked good and exchanged many emails with the owners of each place. I visited a farm in Tuscany, Italy, but just didn't feel that was the right place. Then I came to know that one or the riders at EEC had already retired a horse in one of the places I liked more. We exchanged emails and he said that he was very happy with the yard and the care given… that was good enough for me.”
Sally Hamilton-French owner of Fresh Fields Retirement Home says, “if you’re thinking of retiring a horse, always go with your gut feeling. Think about, what you can cope with, the distance etc. Of course, it’s hard for owners, and guilt does play a part,” she says. “Are they forsaking their responsibility? I say not at all, horses run as herds, and once they have done their job for you, let them and retire and have some fun in open fields with friends.”
“As long as you as an owner can visit whenever you wish, no appointment, no regimen, no timings, simply walk in and see your horse, then what more would you require from a retirement home? “
Tracey says, “before I sent Rare-Heights I searched around and Fresh Fields was recommended. For me, it’s important people are experienced knowledgeable, and the horses get the attention they need.”
Fresh Fields Farm
The Retirement Experience
Fresh Fields is a unique retirement home for horses based in 58 acres of rural Shropshire in the UK. Right now, the yard is home to 17 ‘retirees.’ With only two available spots right now, clearly Fresh Fields is doing something right.
Owner and founder Sally Hamilton-French says, “we offer a tranquil calm environment where owners can have peace of mind in knowing that we care for their horses as we would our own.
“Each horse and pony is an individual and they all have different characters and needs. My house sits right in the heart of Fresh Fields so at any time I can see the horses and keep a close watch over them.”
“When they arrive, they’re kept close to us for around a week, so we can work out their characters etc. They are always near to another horse never on their own.”
“I like to believe that Fresh Fields is one big family not just for the horses but for the owners to be part of too. We do NOT do livery where outsiders come and go. Fresh Fields is very tightly run by a fabulous team with a successful routine to fit that particular time of year.”
“We always keep the owners informed of what is going on, and that’s really important. The main priority is the care and understanding of each and every one of them. If the horses are not happy and content then I’m sure we wouldn’t be as successful as we have become,” she says.
“Tracy Perkins decided to retire her beloved Tommy here. She lives is Abu Dhabi. A very big decision to fly him all the way here at the age of 29 years old, and it was a big decision for us too. To have a horse come here from such a hot climate to England. Although he did arrive in August, there’s still a vast difference in temperature. I must say I was anxious, Tommy had not seen such lovely grass for a long time, and was unable to eat grain, it was certainly a learning curve! With the help of our vets I learnt about different feeds, and Tommy soon settled in, I monitored his grass for a few days and remember it was so funny to watch him only eating around the edges, until he realised that all this green stuff went across the fields too!”
Sally says the first few winters can be tough for UAE horses. “in honesty, Tommy did go down a bit, but he was put straight onto full livery and fed him four times a day. He wore about three rugs, and now has come into summer looking fabulous. I love him he is such a gentleman and a character. I always kept in touch with Tracy to let her know what is going on. For the horse, the separation for Tracy, we are honoured that Tracy trusts us to have her life long companion come and retire here at Fresh Fields… we’re very honoured.”
Shipping & Transportation
Dubai based Equitrans have been the Middle East’s premier international equine shipping company for almost two decades. With an impeccable safety record and experience in global shipping, the company has, over the years, moved everything from Shetlands to Shires, top competition horses to full display teams and more.
Operations Coordinator, Natasha Tarapor says although retirement is only a small percent of the annual number of horses the numbers have remained consistent over the years. “It’s mostly riding, polo and endurance horses, we see retiring,” she says, “which primarily travel to the UK, Belgium and Germany.”
She says the process of shipping retirement horses can get much more ‘personal,’ than many other types of animal. “It’s really easy to see the love,” she says. “Most clients looking to retire their horse give more detail, specify more special care requirements… they just seem to have a really special bond with their horses.”
Equitrans’ staff work with their clients to ensure all paperwork and legal requirements are met both at departure and on arrival. “Often retirement clients are not familiar with the process of shipping, and this means they want more reassurance, more detailed information and more communication throughout the process.”
“With older horses and their often really specific needs, we work closely with our experienced grooms and vets to ensure these needs are met.”
“Some prefer a door-to-door service and prefer that we choose who we work with in Europe as we have trusted partners all over the world. However, others may choose to sort out their own trucking if the destination stable is willing and happy to pick up the horse from the airport in order to reduce costs.”
Once in Europe, the Amstel Horse Hotel offers both top facilities and services and a personalised service. The company offers airport pick-ups, applies for certificates, and offers good quality and affordable stabling, quarantine and transport throughout Europe and beyond.
Maria Szerpak at Amstel Horse Hotel says, “communication is definitely fifty-percent of my job, the other fifty-percent is the stabling, shipping, transporting, etc.”
“Retirement horses are unique, they are older and often have really specific care needs, their value might be less than some of the really big-name horses we also transport, but to their owners they are true family members.”
While the shipping can seem a hefty one-off amount, for many, it’s still less than they pay for a year’s livery in the Gulf. From stable pick-up in the UAE to Amsterdam (the most popular European destination), prices generally range from 20,000 AED to 30,000 AED. Onward travel within Europe varies depending on the destination and is dependent on how many horses are travelling to the same country. Load sharing is an option, and the Amstel Horse Hotel charges 25 Euro (108 AED) per night, with everything Included.
“It’s about choice says Tracey, “I drive a 12-year-old car, but life is more important than things My choice… but then I’ve always been in love with my animals.
“Winter expenses shocked me though” she says, “I wasn’t expecting so much but a Thoroughbred at 30 needs care and he got it. The price varies due to turn out days, so If the weather is bad and he’s in its more. I pay, around 50 pounds (245 AED) per week plus feed, farrier etc. in the summer, and GBP 90 (AED 442) in the winter.”
Cheaper options are available, Equine Pensions in France for example, offers a warmer climate and monthly grass livery for €156 (676 AED) which includes all taxes, hay, feed, wormer and hoof trimming.
The Final Word…
“Sheila says of Finn, “he’s 19 now and acts like he is five- his tendon problems have disappeared - you cannot even see there were any issues…He used to cough a bit as well when you started to ride - that’s gone also He was also a bit quirky at times, but he’s nothing like that at all now.”
“I used to watch Tommy in his UAE sand paddock and wonder what he dreamed of,” says Tracey, “he was from Australia originally… and horses don’t forget… if you could ask them, you know in your heart of hearts that they want companions and safe place to graze, shelter from weather and flies, fresh water… and you know what? That is what they deserve…”
“Would I do it again?” says Paola, “yes, if I had the money, I would do it for every single horse that comes into my life.”
For more information on the retirement and transportation providers mentioned in this story, please click the links below.
Equestrian UAE magazine