The Old Age Fiscal Cliff.

Napping on noses

Could there be a more beautiful animal than a horse? Even old ones who nap on their noses like this pair? Maybe my training has brainwashed my eye to see horse proportions as the gold standard but when I think other animals are beautiful, it’s usually because they remind me of a horse.

And having said that, horses are sadly frail by design with small feet, a large body, and a delicate digestive system.  Add to this that horses should graze 24/7 and mimicking that’s a challenge in our populated world. Horses are a cornucopia of delight for a lonely veterinarian.

As the amount of open range has decreased, the quality of veterinary information and care has increased. That’s good, we do a better job of caring for all the animals that we live with- dogs and cats too. Baseline prices for food and general vet care are costly but fairly easy to predict. It’s forecasting the emergency situation that’s hard.

Do we all have at least $15,000.00 per horse in an emergency savings account? Along with another few thousand dollars for each dog and cat. No? You don’t have a trust fund for each animal? Then there’s insurance. It’s the obvious answer for the single horse owner, but should horse rescues insure the entire herd? Even privately owned amateur ones like mine?

Okay, then let’s pretend that all of us have all the money in the world for all of our animals in any emergency. In other words, let’s pretend it’s a perfect world.

Then our horses get old.

If we put aside emotions for a moment and just do the math, older retired horses have all the usual vet work that younger horses have, plus a few chronic conditions. Then a pattern begins to evolve: The old horse needs a vet call and then improves with treatment, but not as good as new. Time passes and the vet is out for another old age reason, and again the horse survives and again, not to his previous strength. He’s living a slow decline. Not bad enough to euthanize, but not entirely comfortable either. If you didn’t have insurance before, he’s probably too old to qualify now. If you do have it, coverage usually decreases as the horse gets older.

I would spend any amount of money if it would turn back the clock and make my horse 10 years old again. But instead each investment seems to leave my elders more frail, with less energy and fewer teeth. Emotions aside (as if…), old age is financially grueling and a threat to the entire farm population. Old age is my barn’s fiscal cliff.

At some point it’s time for a strategic retreat. I notice it’s easier to make this judgment -balancing love with technology and finances- for other people’s animals rather than those in my own home.

I grew up on a failing farm and unemotional decisions were made. If an animal was not pulling its weight, there was an easy solution and it wasn’t calling the vet. It was as brutal as it was natural. My Dad would think he raised an idiot if he was alive to know that I was feeding a geriatric community during a drought.

I can’t anthropomorphize my horse’s age, he does not make retirement look appealing. I know in the wild, nature would have taken him years ago. Has science circumvented nature? Have I turned him into a science project?  When did the natural process of aging become a war to fight with science and money?

It’s complicated pondering these weighty questions of budget, fiscal cliffs, and the nature of being.  I just want a workable budget, with quality of life and health care for my elderly. I might be feeling a bit of gridlock of my own.

Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.

10 comments on “The Old Age Fiscal Cliff.

  1. Sandra Murray says:

    Aging bodies — be they dog, horse, or human — may be a natural part of the life cycle, but that fact doesn’t lessen time’s cruelty. Those of us who are caretakers of elderly family members or geriatric canines and equines face all of the dilemmas you described. In an economical climate in which we must be superb stewards of limited finances, painful, painful decisions have to be made. Even worse, we must watch formerly vibrant, engaged creatures that we love gradually descend into frail, failing shadows of who they once were. I cling to the hope of seeing them all again “at play in the fields of the Lord” where they remain forever in their prime.

  2. It’s such a struggle (Bonnie Raitt’s bittersweet song, “Nick of Time” comes to mind) especially when everything for the comfort of our older animals increases in cost when, maybe our income is standing still or diminishing (in our case) and our own health worries and costs may be on the up too!
    I can never have enough praise or thanks for our vet, who years ago became a good friend, for refusing call out charges and charging us a minimum for expensive equine drugs (like Ventipulmin). I’m sure he prolonged my old horse’s life (and quality of life) by many years. We were so lucky for his kindness and also felt “lucky” that we didn’t have to make that terrible decision in Aly’s case, though it has been awful having to do it before, whatever the circumstances.
    I do hope you don’t get to feel the pressure too overwhelming – it sounds like you have many good friends and supporters – and fellow-feeling bloggers too! And what a beautiful comment from Sandra, above.

  3. Ruth Murphy says:

    Anna, thank you for your tough questions which deserve our pondering.
    How do we balance not turning our animals into science projects but keep them as comfortable as we possibly can?
    At what point is it just inhumane to prolong an animals suffering because of our own emotional inability
    to let go?

    • Thanks, Ruth. That is the point. I have a client who says, “Better a day early than an hour late.” It is always our challenge, in the saddle or out, to do the right thing For The Horse.

  4. MonaKarel says:

    Thank you for a wonderful Sunday evening read. We have so much more control over the lives of our four legged friends than our own, or our family’s. How often do we hear about people forced to fade away slowly when quality of life has disappeared?

  5. My sound, rideable, and loaded-for-bear horse is going to be 24 in May. I am watching some of his digestive issues and dealing with them. I can feel the cliff coming, and dread it. I have no judgement on the hard decisions we all have to make. This is a beautiful post: thoughtful logically and emotionally. There’s a time when there are no good decisions to left to make; only a series of difficult ones that don’t leave one feeling very positive about one’s choice. Beautifully and tenderly said.

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