“The world is what you make of it, friend. If it doesn’t fit, make alterations.” Linda Hunt as Stella in Silverado
A very wise veterinarian once said to me that often what horses really need is the right job. If he doesn’t really like the job you’ve picked for him, he’ll resist, he won’t be successful, and neither of you will be happy.
For many horses a different job means adjusting to a different person, a new home, new horses, and a different life. Lots of horses have to do this multiple times throughout their lives, if they live long enough. For Bars, it’s meant adjusting the things I’ve asked him to do over time. We’ve made alterations.
For most of our lives together, Bars has been a trail horse. I have no personal interest or stake in winning ribbons, with all the work that entails. I love riding on trails. Coincidentally, Bars loves trails, too. Does he love trails because I love trails? Well, we could debate that chicken and egg question all day, but it’s worked out happily. We’ve crossed creeks (filled with invisible horse eating crocodiles!) enjoyed beautiful canyons, gotten good workouts up and down hills, and seen some truly lovely scenery. We’ve had a great time pounding down the trail at 25+ miles per hour and an equally great time plodding along. We encountered all kinds of wildlife in all seasons and almost all kinds of weather.
One of the first alterations we had to make was soon after we moved to our current area. Previously we had been riding around farmland, which in California means lots of flat. We’d never experienced many hills. Hills and creeks were a whole new learning experience for both of us! In addition, Bars had injured a ligament in his back leg (rear suspensory, if anyone’s curious) and the resulting scar tissue has made carrying a rider down a long steep hill uncomfortable and difficult for him from that day to this. So for years I’ve walked down hills with him.
As he’s gotten older and more arthritic, we’ve made more alterations. If we go away on a trip and he gets little or no actual work for more than a few days, it takes awhile to limber his joints back up again. Over time, the definition of “awhile” has lengthened, and I’ve had to think about incorporating more flat work and a little bit less hill work until he’s feeling better. We’ve been working closely with an equine chiropractor for the last few years, and most recently we’ve added daily doses of anti-inflammatory drugs into his alterations.
It also helps to pay attention. I’ve often said, when your horse is this age and he still feels like he wants to run, you let him! Conversely, if he doesn’t feel like it, there’s usually a reason, and it’s ok—he’s allowed to not feel in top condition every day.
Another alteration is food. Horses’ teeth wear down as they age, and eventually start to fall out. Bars is now missing three chewing teeth and the ones he has left are pretty worn, so he really can’t chew hay very well any more. Thanks to the miracles of modern technology, aging horses can now be fed a variety of pelleted feeds, and they can even be soaked in water to make what I call “pony porridge.” In this way they can eat safely for many years—Rebel, the horse I mentioned in my first post, ate “pony porridge” three times a day.
There will be other alterations to come, and we’ll make them as needed. In the meantime, we’re still riding the trails every chance we get.