by Laura Crum
The title of this post is a bit ironic, as I have been sick for the past ten days. But there are still some ways in which “Feeling Good” describes my life. Look at the photo below.
This is my 32 year old horse, Gunner, when I brought him home from the pasture on Thanksgiving Day 2011. He doesn’t look too bad for such an old horse—especially one that’s been out on pasture. Since then I have put at least 50-100 more pounds on him. Nothing will change his dropped back and peaked rump, which are the results of old age, but Gunner has a nice layer of adipose tissue all over his body. No ribs or hipbones to be seen or felt.
Anyway, living the good life as he is, Gunner is feeling pretty good. He surprised me the other day when I got him out to graze. Head and tail up, he pranced along beside me on the leadrope like a 2 yr old TB being led to the post.
“Come on,” I said, tugging on the rope. “You’re 32 now, not 2. You should be able to walk. All the other horses walked out to graze.”
Gunner wasn’t interested in walking. He pranced along, snorting and spooking at various things. I rolled my eyes. “I can’t believe I have to deal with this in a 32 year old horse.” Inwardly I was feeling pretty happy. My old horse felt good enough to behave like a colt. How cool was that?
Cool or not, Gunner felt so damn good that he couldn’t settle down to graze. Of course, he gets fed free choice hay and an ample ration of equine senior delight feed. He is never hungry. But I thought he’d enjoy being turned loose to graze. Well…I was never able to turn him loose. My property is fenced on the side with neighbors and a driveway and I keep the gate closed—the back of it is steep, brush-covered hills—not fenced. No horse has ever tried to escape that way—even so, I turn the horses loose one at a time and if they quit grazing and start roaming, they get caught and returned to their pens. I let Gunner graze on the leadrope for awhile and every thirty seconds his head would come up and he’d start to prance around me. It was perfectly clear that if I turned him loose, he’d start to run around.
After ten minutes of this, I gave up and led my prancing old horse back to his large corral and released him. You should have seen him. Head up and tail up, breathing out those long, rolling snorts, Gunner trotted up and down the two hundred foot length of his corral in a floaty trot—perfectly sound, I was tickled to see. This got some of the other horses excited and pretty soon my two retirees and my boarder were racing around at a gallop, whirling and spinning and throwing in plenty of bucks. Gunner definitely looked like he was two years old, rather than thirty-two. Our two saddle horses, Henry and Sunny, who had just been ridden and turned out to graze, watched all this with bemused expressions, feeling no need to gallop after their ride. My son and I both laughed to see Gunner feeling so good.
Having two retired horses is hard on me spacewise—they take two of my four available large corrals. They cost me more in feed than my using horses. My chore load is increased as I have two extra horses to care for—that I don’t ride or get any “use” out of. It doesn’t make any logical sense to keep them. But…
There is nothing like the joy I feel in having my old horses with me—both of whom have been my horses since they were three years old. I don’t feel burdened to have them, I feel blessed. I bought Gunner twenty-nine years ago as a just turned three year old with maybe thirty rides on him. He was green as grass. I trained him myself and he competed successfully at cowhorse, cutting and roping. Not to mention all the gathers and trail rides we did. He was my main riding horse for over ten years. We have so many memories together. And I smile every single time I see his blaze-face looking brightly at me. I feel so lucky.
So there are two of us who are feeling good. Gunner and me. And today I want to say something that I have said before. Others have said it, too—on this blog and elsewhere. But its worth saying over and over. Please, all of you, keep your good, old horses and retire them when their working life is done. Its Ok to find them a home as a leadline horse or a companion horse, if that works, but keep track of them, stand behind them, take them back if its needed. Give them the reward they deserve for the work they have given you. Do not suppose that it is the job of a horse rescue, or some other entity, to take care of your old horse when he is no longer ridable. And do not expect that you are going to sell/give him to a “good home” that will take perfect care of him for the rest of his life. This CAN happen, but it’s the exception rather than the rule. Nope—no matter how inconvenient it is, it is your job to take care of your old horse—no one else’s.
And I am here to say that if you do this job, and take care of your horse, you will never regret it. It is worth the time and money spent, a thousand times over. It will fill your heart with joy and peace. Contrast this with wondering for the rest of your life about what became of old Red, who gave you so much, and “hoping” Red found a good home for his last days. Believe me, folks, there is no good karma or peace of mind in that. Nor is it very likely that an old not-sound horse will luck into a good forever home. Far more likely that he eventually ends up at the sale, and then on a truck to Mexico or Canada. Even if you find him a “good home”, how likely is it that someone who has owned an old horse less than a year will pony up with the money for taking care of him if he is hurt or crippled or ill? Think about it. You need to stand behind him.
Horse rescues do good and important work, but today I want to give a shout out to every single owner who keeps and retires their good old horses and takes care of them until the end. Thank you, all of you, for what you are doing to improve the lot of horses in this world. And those of you who are trying to decide what to do with an old friend, please pay attention. This is both your responsibility—and one of the greatest gifts you will ever be given.
OK, I’m climbing off the soapbox now. All feedback is welcome.
PS—Also on the “feeling good” subject, my second book, “Hoofprints” is now available on Kindle for 99 cents. Here is the link. The first one, “Cutter” is there, too, for the same price. Here is that link. I hope/expect to have the first eight books, which are all out of print, up on Kindle by April 1st. I will let you know as they get there. I’m hoping some of you who enjoy horse stories will be moved to give my books a try at this price. The series features an equine vet as a protagonist, and each book is set in an area of the horse world where I’ve spent much time. “Cutter” revolves around the world of cutting horses, and “Hoofprints” is set in the reined cowhorse arena. And dear old Gunner (and my other retiree, Plumber) have starring roles in the stories. I’d love to get your feedback/reviews on these books.