As Boomer Horse Owners Retire

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In my March '07 column for Horse & Rider, I asked readers to fill me in on their plans for retirement--whether they intended to relocate, how they'd incorporate horse ownership into their golden years, what sorts of changes they'd make, etc.--and WOW. Did I ever hit a nerve. To date, I've received enough responses to add up to more than 25,000 words. To put that amount of commentary into perspective, the typical H&R feature-length article runs about 2,500 words, and a typical issue has four or five features. With that in mind, you can see why there's just no way for all those e-mails and letters to make it into print. Too bad, really, because they paint an eye-opening collective picture.

I'll share a few insights I've gleaned from reading all these missives:

* The notion of relocation is indeed a big factor in people's retirement planning. Almost everyone, it seems, is searching for his or her version of a personal paradise--where the climate is perfect, where places to ride are unlimited, where land is scenic and cheap, and where mass development is held at bay. Fantasy Island, anyone?

* Hardly anyone wrote about the meatier realities of relocation--such topics as state and local taxes, cultural differences between an area's natives and its newcomers, the challenges of making new friends and other key relationships, the need for good nearby medical care, etc. I ended up with a strong sense that many folks' initial retirement relocation move might not be their last one...that in looking for their idealized version of The Last Great Place, they were overlooking aspects that would end up being more important than pretty scenery.

* Something that might come as an unpleasant shock to those who are building and hawking planned equestrian developments: Hardly any of the people writing to me expressed any interest in living in such a place. "Too expensive" was one commonly-given reason, but even more frequently, H&R readers cited their desire for privacy, independence, and "living by my own rules."

* When the writers talked about showing their horses, they did so in terms of the past tense. A common refrain: "I've set aside showing in order to save money for my retirement." That'll be bad news to the breed and horse-sport associations that are counting on retirees with free time to keep their competition numbers up.

* A whole lot of downsizing is either underway or about to take place. People wrote about selling the big house, reducing their horse numbers, selling off their broodmares, even about trading at-home horsekeeping for the relative freedom of boarding their horses out.

The last time I got such an avalanche of responses to an H&R column was 15 years ago, when I wrote about the number of people in their 40s who were just getting into horses. That same generation of people is now about to reach its Social Security years. They brought much change to the horse world then, and it looks to me like they're about to bring just as much change to it again.