On elderly horses
After Saturday’s show, I wandered back to the barn area to feed apples to Moe and Gina, who had been patiently napping in stalls since their lesson kids rode them early in the day. As Moe enthusiastically bit into his apple, I petted his sweet face and told him what a good dressage pony he was. I rubbed his sad forelock and assured him that next year we’d have a full eventing season. A friend who was packing up in the tack stall next to us said with a laugh, “Stephanie, you need to get a younger horse!”
She’s probably right. Moe will turn 21 next year. He’s in spectacular health: he’s perfectly sound, has excellent feet, eats regular feed heartily, and is eager to go for a ride. But despite his good health, I know his body won’t last forever. Someday, my bright-eyed, excited partner will be unable to jump and gallop. Someday, I will have to find a new horse to carry me over cross country courses and through a dressage test.
I could sell Moe and Gina now, while they’re hale and hearty. I could take that money and buy a nice, new, young horse with potential and maybe a little talent. I could stop languishing around Novice level as I have been for the last decade.
But where would they go? I would sell them to nice people, certainly. Gina would go to a nice adult amateur looking for a reliable horse to learn dressage on. Or maybe a teenager just beginning her riding career. Moe would go to some jump-crazy kid; he would teach them to be fearless and brave over every possible obstacle. His rider would race him through open fields, just like I did once.
But what would happen when Gina spooked too hard at something silly and threw her rider? What about if Moe finally went lame from years of jumping? If he were injured? I’d like to think their new owners would simply care for them until the end of their days- but too often, horses in this area are sent to the auction houses that kill buyers frequent. I can’t imagine anyone sends a horse there with the intention it will be shipped to Mexico and slaughtered; I imagine people tell themselves someone will buy the horse. Someone will buy it for their child, or as a pasture pal for a lonely horse, or a babysitter for weanlings.
My horses are old; they are not yet decrepit. But even when they are, I will keep them. I will pay their board. I have planned for their retirement. I think that’s the responsibility you have when you own a senior horse.
Do I think it’s wrong to sell horses? Of course not. But I think we’re obligated to find the best homes possible for our horses and to give them the best chance at a long and happy life. For Moe and Gina, that’s with me. I know I can care for them, and I know they’ll have an excellent quality of life until their dying day. I’m not confident another owner would be willing to do that.
Is it frustrating to have elderly horses? Yes. But I wouldn’t trade a single strand of hair on Moe’s homely chestnut body for all the beautiful young horses in the world.