How many of you have older horses wandering about your place?
THE EQUINE VETERAN
I know, I know, many of you don’t have horse property so you probably don’t have geriatric horses around… Still, on this Memorial weekend, I wanted to shine a special light on the older folks of the horsey set – the veteran horse.
Now, I don’t want to delve into the ugly truth about the retirement of most of our older horses. However, I will touch on it because this has to be said. Most of the older horses are not sent out to pasture – but are more often sent down the road… Older horses are sold as kids horses (which they often aren’t), cheap pasture pals or as inventory for a broker or feedlot owner. Sadly, these horses that can no longer perform are released into an unknown future. Now, I know this isn’t true in all cases. I know that older horses can be placed safely. But let’s be honest, you don’t see many geriatric horses around, do you?
For me, I know how tough it is to house, feed and keep older horses. It is a commitment. They can have health problems and they do need more care for everyday stuff. They need their eyes covered during fly season (and sometimes just to shade the sun), they do need different feed and they might need extra skin or hoof care. But, the same is true for older humans. I guess you either have the stomach for it or you don’t. But, in my humble opinion, if you purchase a horse, you should agree to care for it. Young or old.
Having said that, some people feel that caring for an older horse is too much of an expense. Some people feel that an older horse takes up space, time and money whereas a young horse in that family could live and thrive. Some people feel that the older horse is done anyway.
I’m not going to address that. Instead, I’m going to speak about the older horse.
MY OLD GUY
Let me start by saying I miss my now passed 20 year old gelding, Aladdin, every day (He is pictured first and last.). No, I don’t miss him in the way that I cannot get up in the morning, but I miss him in a very admirable way. I admired him. I appreciated him. And of course, I loved him. The way that I am reminded of missing him is my daily routine. After 20 years, Aladdin knew what was expected and what to do. He knew what all the other horses were supposed to be doing and he knew what I was supposed to be doing. There were no shenannygans. There was no head raising or sudden deafness. There was no avoidance or pushiness. There was no discord. He was my partner. He knew what was up and he agreed to it. Finally, we were perfect. I couldn’t ride him anymore, but he had achieved oneness with his human.
Now, I’m not saying that he was perfect because he finally did what I wanted. What I am saying was that we had reached a “perfection” that I think you can only reach when the horse has truly matured — whatever age that might be. Aladdin totally thought about all of his decisions. I knew that. So I didn’t care if he wanted to be pissy for a day. He wasn’t pissy in a defiant way, he was just pissy in an old man way. He still did what he knew would keep the place working well — and I looked the other way if he decided to pin his ears all day. Aladdin had his beautiful routine. As we all know, horses love routine… He would come into the barn in the morning at feeding time. He would walk into the feed room and help me fix everyone’s grain. He would eat, he would stand while I applied his particular fly mask (and no other), he would go out to graze, he would stand by the apple tree when he wanted a treat, he would play with the pig, he would sleep right outside the mare pasture (just to infuriate them), he would stand by my front door when it was time for dinner, he would walk down to the barn with me at dinnertime, we would fix dinner together, he would eat, he would nap after dinner and then he would come up to the house for me to take off his fly mask just before the sun went down. And his best trick of all… he would come up to the house and stare at me if there was something that needed tending around the ranch.
No, I couldn’t ride him. But, he was my companion. He was my buddy. He was my ranch hand.
ONE IN A MILLION?
OK, well, maybe he was one in a million. But, I don’t think so. The reason I don’t think so is that I have another 20 year old here. She is/was my incredibly successful show mare. She has had 6 babies for me and has way over proven herself and her worthiness. However, she can no longer show or produce. So, generally, these ex-show mares are moved on down the road quietly… But, let me tell you about my old Tess.
Tess is the regal and graceful grand dam (pictured grazing second to last). Things would not be so calm and steady if she wasn’t running the roost. Sure, I have to tend to her feet more often. Yes, she must wear a fly mask daily. Yes, she is a bit portly on the same feed everyone else gets. And, yes, I bring her inside on bad nights. But, she deserves it. She pays me back all the time. I can just say to her, “Tess, you come in but keep Wrigley out of the barn.” And, she will do just that. I never have to tell her that it is time to come back in from grazing. She will walk herself back as soon as she knows I’ve fed the dogs. Not before and not after. She lets me do any kind of grooming or work on her. She always stands quietly for the farrier or vet. She never fusses and she never acts silly. She is the ultimate in the mannered, gracious older mare. She has agreed to do her job of tending to her flock as long as I take care of her needs. Simple. And, when I hear her nicker towards me… I feel honored.
FAIR AND JUST
But, don’t all the equine seniors pay back in their own way? I have another older mare and she has the same mindset of “why rock the boat?”. They seem to be done with all the uproar and have settled into the art of ‘been there, done that’. I find that this attitude of horsey wisdom has a great effect on the other horses — and on me. So, I guess my feeling is that if you have a horse, you do need to think about your end of the road, together.
You see, the older horses are quiet and they listen. They are mellowed and saged. They see value in their relationships. They see the value in communication and practice it. They know it isn’t about prowess anymore. They know that it is about bonds. They hang with and are devoted to their friends. Dunno about you, but I like that. I think that is fair and just. Which is how they are as an animal. Fair and Just. They should be treated fairly and justly throughout their lives.
And, if I could have my fair and just friend Aladdin back, I’d do it in a heartbeat — even if he didn’t have a job, per se…