Fair warning: If you reach the end and feel guilty… well, if the shoe fits, right?
First things first.
If you’re not going to properly care for you horse, you shouldn’t have one at all.
I’ve been there, fourteen and ignorant with an ill-fitting saddle and no concept of soft, giving hands. The horses I rode were saintly creatures or who put up with all kinds of shenanigans.
But I learned. And changed. And made a conscious effort to make the life of my horse easier. Safer. More comfortable.
When you know better, you do better.
Recently, I’ve been appalled at the lack of care, insight, and responsibility from some friends and acquaintances. These are people who attend clinics, lessons, and workshops. These are people who play the ethical, proud horse parent on social media but in real life neglect to do their duty as a responsible horse owner. When your horse’s feet are bruised and need recovery time, you do not go out and ride her into the ground. When your horse is has ulcers and needs time for medicine to work and a break from the stress, you do not load him up and drive 11 hours to an endurance ride. When your OTTB needs time to “be a horse”, you do not slap a german martingale and a gag bit on him, force into a false frame and then wonder why his brain is fried and he won’t give to you.
Most horses are kind, forgiving creatures… but they don’t forget.
So when your horse balks because she knows the driveway stones will hurt, or when he braces, leans on you, and runs through your little fists of steel – it’s because you taught them this. Every time you handle your horse, you are teaching them. Don’t get frustrated or mad your horse doesn’t understand your cues or isn’t strong enough to perform what you’re asking when you haven’t taken the time to teach and prepare them.
Don’t you dare badmouth the trainer you sent your horse to when your horse reverts to defense mechanisms to escape from your bad habits. When a trainer spends months bringing your horse back to the basics to teach it to carry itself, to give to pressure and patience, it does not mean you can then throw him into a situation he is not prepared for, ruin the work the trainer did, and then blame the trainer for lack of progress. Riding a horse is not driving a vehicle on cruise control. You need to work just as hard and just as diligently to achieve the results you want. You need strength, balance, humility, and patience (not to mention a sense of humor). It is disgusting the way riders no longer take responsibility for their part.
Which leads me to my next portion:
SENIOR HORSES ARE NOT GARBAGE.
Why are you dumping your horse as soon as they hit their early twenties? Did they not spend years carrying your ass around, doubling as a secret-keeper and friend? Did they not give you their best years? Now, because they’re slower, creaky, and elderly they have no value?
I’m seeing more and more sale ads from individuals who are selling their elderly horses due to downsizing or trying to free up space. These horses are going for $500 or less, taking the first cash offer that comes in. They “hate” to sell them… but are doing it anyway.
Your senior horse deserve to live it out its days with YOU. Being cared for by YOU. Do you know what happens when you dump your senior horse? They end up dead. The lucky few end up as companion animals or therapeutic horses. The rest? Auctions. Kill buyers. Ran into the ground by that person off craigslist. Once you sell your senior horse, you have no control over the level of care they receive or how they’re treated.
Maybe I’m struck with Black Beauty syndrome. Maybe no one has close bonds with their horses anymore. Maybe it’s no big deal, they’re just tools to use to reach a goal (spoiler alert: if you believe that notion, there’s something wrong with you).
Their temperament may have mellowed. They may have arthritis, cushings, or in my case ERU. They can’t give you the same level of performance as they could in their early teens. They’re fussier, crankier, and take a bigger hit to your wallet…but they have mastered the art of friendship. They have years of experience to offer your six year old cousin or the neighbor girl who watches with envy. Senior horses have a dry sense of humor, a willingness that seems almost patronizing at times, and they are still the best confidants you could ever friend. They won’t spill your years of secrets, and they know you almost better than you know yourself. They’re your second soul.
(This is Nakai ponying a friend’s daughter at the annual Xmas parade. They were elves!)
They were once your wings.
As they age, it’s your turn to be their rock.
(Faces of Nakai through the years)
This touches a nerve for me because Nakai is 25. I’ve only owned him for 8 years, but within that time span he has given me a lifetime of experiences and memories. He is my other half. The emotional connection I have with him is incredible. He can literally read my mind and our energies sync up as one. He is the mirror to my soul.
He will never leave me. I would eat Ramen for the rest of my life to ensure his every need is met. I’m retiring him from endurance after this year because he deserves to enjoy his golden years. He is on the best feed and supplements I can afford to keep his body as healthy as possible. After everything he has given me, this is the very least I can do. He will still be here when he has no teeth left, when I can no longer ride him and he will still be my most treasured item. He will never feel hunger, never lack care, and never feel insecure.
I owe him this. He deserves this.
Don’t they all?