“My horse is 30”
That statement elicits a variety of responses, depending on the who’s hearing it. It means one thing to an ole cowboy, something else to a serious competitive rider, and something else altogether to someone who’s never shared her life with a horse. The latter group often want to know, “how long will horses live?”
The oldest horse I ever knew was somewhere past 40—we never knew just how far past. His name was Rebel, he had an anchor branded on his rump, and best we could tell, he was a Morgan. He had almost no teeth left, so he ate a “porridge” of pelleted hay mixed with water three times a day instead of hay. He was the Elder Statesman of the barn, brooked no nonsense, and he was the horse who taught me to ask for and to sit a canter.
At the same time, I also knew a Quarter horse named Tawny, who was 32. Tawny’s person was an older teenage girl who rode her faithfully and even showed her in some training competitions. She was sway backed and wheezed a lot, but she had great energy, great personality, and was overall a great horse. Both Tawny and Rebel were older than I was at the time, and by that I mean that they were both doing horse work before I arrived on the planet.
As my own horse and I have grown older together, I’ve thought often about Rebel and Tawny, and what I learned from them about elderly horses. Sometimes I don’t believe it all myself—most horses don’t live to see their 30th birthdays, although like people, improvements in nutrition and medical care are allowing dogs, cats, and horses to live longer, more useful lives than anyone would have imagined a generation or two ago. We have also redefined the phrase “useful life.” Many old horse hands I encounter assume that a 30-year old horse is retired, or “out to pasture.” Well, my ole man is far from retired. I ride him an average of five days a week, and I mean ride—not three rounds around the arena and done, but anywhere from 2-5 miles out on the trail. We trot, we canter, and we sometimes have a good run.
So, I thought I might share some of what I’ve learned from living with an elderly horse. These are lessons we can potentially apply to ourselves as we age, and also as our more familiar dogs and cats age and leave us. And, when the inevitable day comes, then perhaps we can look back on these last months or (hopefully) years and thus enshrine some happy memories.
“Grow old with me; the best is yet to be…”
About my horse: His name is Bars, which is short for Sir Barcelone, his registered name. I didn’t pick it. He’s a Morgan, he’s 14.3 hands tall, which for non-horse people means he’s almost five feet tall as measured at the base of his neck. We came into each other’s lives when I was 30 and he was 8, so we’ve been together a very long time. As of this writing he has arthritis in his back legs and has recently been diagnosed with Cushing’s Syndrome, a metabolic condition that affects people, dogs, and horses, but each a little differently. He is the Elder Statesman at his boarding stable and he absolutely loves little kids. Bars does not live on property we own, but at a boarding stable.
About me: I am 52, and, while I’ve been around horses most of my life, I didn’t have my own horse until I was nearly 30. Bars was my second horse, and will likely be my last. We’ve been through a lot together and learned a lot from each other, as couples often do. Yes, I’m married, and other animals include a cat and a parrot.