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.
What a lovely post to read at 5:30 a.m. PST and before my first cup of coffee ;o) I so agree with you about keeping retirees. It is the very least we can do for them after they have done so much for us. Glad EVERYONE is feeling better, too.
I'm glad to hear that Gunner was feeling so good today! He looks quite handsome, and I'd never have guessed he was 32!
AMEN on caring for your old guys. My retired guy is the most "loving" of all of mine, and despite the extra work/cost of keeping him, there is nothing like having him mug me for a treat or have him come ask for his butt scratched. He makes me smile every single day. :)
I will download your books!!! After my test on Friday. Please keep reminding me :)
I love that you post about gunner. It makes me know I'm doing the right thing by Farley. Alhough she's always had a bit of a sway back and a "peaked rump", even when I bought her at 7 :). Yesterday I actually toyed with the idea of selling Farley if I couldn't find what I consider "minimum" accomodations (pasture plus grass hay) in this area. Then I realized that even though I might not be able to find "ideal", that it would still be adequate, and far better than wondering whether she ended up in a stall somewhere, lame and abused. Your post also reminded me that it is WORTH IT, to go to the trouble and expense to keep looking for what I consider right for my horse that will keep her the happiest and soundest the longest. I shouldn't compromise on feed or pasture just because I'm discouraged - there is something out there and it will pay off in the end for the longevity and soundness of my horse.
Thanks, TB Dancer,
jenj--My old horses make me smile every day, too. It is such a blessing to have them with me.
Mel--Thank you! I will keep reminding everybody about the books...I am really excited that the earlier titles will be available again for a reasonable price. I have spent twenty years writing this mystery series--it sort of contains most of my insights about the horse world. Not to mention the stories are quite entertaining--or I think so, anyway. You should get a kick out of the horse vet theme--seeing as you're in vet school. The same vet school my fictional protagonist went to, by the way.
Also, I was going to comment on your post about Farley, but since I don't ride endurance, and am no expert on feed issues, I didn't think my opinion was worth much. I hope you find just the right place for her.
I love old horses. My Noble lived to 30 and was active and sound until almost the end - it was delightful to see him run around the pasture and I was able to ensure he got good care.
I made the hard decision to retire Lily, Norman (who was too young to retire but we didn't want him to go from hand to hand as ponies often do) and Maisie at a retirement farm far from me - but it's a very good one with large pastures, good grazing and hay and really excellent daily care. That allowed me to maintain other horses to ride.
But when the day comes that I can't ride any more (if it ever does), I'd love to just take care of a couple of old horses - they deserve the best from us.
Kate--I think retiring horses at a good retirement farm is a perfectly reasonable choice, and in your shoes I would have done the same. The only downside is you lose the delight of having your old friend with you--but you've still done right by the horse.
Nice post! Hurray for Gunner! Lucky guy!
Beyond riding, beyond driving, what I like most about my horses is just watching them. Should I have the fortune... er, good fortune.. to be able to keep them to their retirement, I will enjoy watching their antics and everything about them that makes me smile.
Dreaming--I agree with you. Of all the good things about horses, the very best is just watching them. That's why its so important to me to live where I can keep them with me.
Laura, Gunner looks amazing for 32! And it sounds like he feels amazing, too :).
I spoke to Nathalie, who looks after my lovely retired Kwintus the other day, and was happy to hear that he's apparently quite full of himself and has been running around the pastures with his friend Newton. My daughter is coming home for Easter in a couple of weeks and we're both looking forward to driving down to visit him.
Thanks for the post; old horses need to be taken care of and deserve the best.
I can't tell you how many times I was told to "get rid of" my gelding and get a horse I could ride. My gelding was injured when he went through a fence at 4, due to the neighboring house catching fire. My trainer couldn't catch him for a few hours and he was badly injured. A few surgies later, he recovered enough to be pasture sound. We had 20 great years together before I lost him to colic. I won't get another until I can afford to keep them-forever. I've loved all of your books and recommend them to everyone wanting a mysery or something horsey.
I'm glad you're feeling better and that Gunner is happy and healthy.
Sometimes I worry about how we're going to feed all our critters, but none of them are going any where.
I'll be interested to hear how your books do on Kindle. At 99 cents, you should sell quite a few.
Francesca--I know you and I are on the same page when it comes to old horses.
Thank you, Bettina. What a great story. You are clearly an exceptional horse owner. And I'm glad you've enjoyed my books--thanks so much for recommending them.
Susan--I'll be interested to see how the books do on Kindle, too. Its a whole new facet of publishing for me. Those books have been out of print for many years and its really exciting for me to have them available again.
I sometimes wonder if I'll be able to afford all my critters, too, but, like you, none of them are going anywhere.
I'd cut off my right hand before I'd let my Old Red be sold down the road. I feel like I owe him an unpayable debt. He's still a vital part of our herd, too. Good for old Gunner. He sounds like he's doing pretty great!
That's right, Linda--you actually do have an old "Red". And one who has a great home, too.
When I show up to see the twisted sisters, they barely lift a head from grazing to acknowlegde me. Hmmm. I must be doing something wrong or right maybe. :) Glad to hear Gunner is doing to well.
Is the new book only on Kindle or can I get it for my Ipad. or is that what he kindle app is for. It is all so confusing.
Couldn't agree with you more Laura. I had my first pony till the day she died, currently my second pony is 26 and semi retired. He gives walk-trot lessons and has a max weight limit of 100 lbs for any riders. When I get a horse it is for life. They gave me the best years of their life it is the least I can do back. I have turned down offers to retire the pony to others some offerign to pay me money for him even at 26, but I owe it to him to guarentee him a good rest of his life. The only way I can do that is by keeping him myself.
kel--It is really confusing to me, too. I think you need to get the Kindle app for your Ipad and then you can get the books. I'm not sure, but I think we need to do more work (that we haven't yet done) to get the books to be available in other e-book forms. I plan to do this work--but at the moment I'm concentrating on getting the first eight books up on Kindle. Any advice is welcome (!)
Sounds like the Twisted Sisters have a great life.
I'm with you, Cassie. The only way we can be SURE that our horse has the life we want him to have is to keep him ourselves. I think a good retirement farm is a very acceptable choice for some who really don't have a good way to keep a retired horse. Finding a good home, being clear you will take the horse back and retaining control of him--and checking on him often-- is third best.
What a sweet description of Gunner feeling good! I so hope I have years of Dixie's entertaining antics to look forward to :)
I hope you do, too, Funder. Its a great gift to have a horse make it to a healthy old age. I've had two of them now--my horse, Burt, lived to be thirty-five and was bright-eyed and sound and perky the day he died of a massive stroke. I have always been grateful he had such a good long life and reasonably quick painless death. It doesn't always work out like this, as we all know, but sometimes it does--what a blessing.
I'm excited that you're releasing your books on Kindle. I'd looked into buying a copy of them a year or two ago, but it wasn't really possible with them being out of print.
I'm planning to buy them for my mom as well, but I want to wait a bit. She just lost her 32 yo mare in Jan to something that presented as a mild colic, so I think the opening scene in Cutter might cut a bit too close to home.
You're right about the old guys, though. Even though Sugar wasn't "mine", most of my childhood memories involve her somewhere in the background. Knowing that she had a good life to the end is much better than the not-knowing on the other horses I sold (and they all were sold as healthy, useful horses!).
Thank you, Andrea. I hope you enjoy my stories--I'm excited to have them available again--and at a reasonable price. It IS a good feeling to know that your horse had a good life until the end--whenever the end is.
Gunner looks fabulous, truly fabulous...so, kudos to you for keeping him that way!
I haven't had the opportunity to keep a horse into extreme old age yet...Story was only 19 when her "bad knee" got bad enough to call it quits, and the Toad (who was "my horse" even though I never owned him) had a calcified mass the size of a baseball blocking his urethra...surgery not a good option so the owner put him down. I agreed with the decision, but it was still difficult.
Fiddle is only 10; her old age is far away still, but her home is with me, always.
Aarene--I hope Fiddle looks just as good at 32 as Gunner does.
Gunner looks fabulous! It's so nice to see an old horse still looking and feeling good.
Great post, and I hope people listen. Old horses deserve a great retirement like that. We're proud to keep our old folks around here :)
Mikey--Yes, I knew you would understand. You probably have more "old folks" than I do.
Oh, I can't wait to download my collection of books of yours! I really love kindle books, it makes it much, much easier for me to load up.
I wanted to thank you for your wonderful comment on my blog. I have often thought of your advice, and took it to heart. The only hard part is feeling like I"m not being a responsible owner - giving my horse a lifetime home with me. But I hope that by finding a great home for him I will accomplish the same thing.
Lily, though, will have that lifetime home with me.
by the way your blog is requiring that new, PITA double word verification. you can turn this off and make it easier for folks to comment if you choose...
Breathe-- I really think you are doing the right thing with your horses. Selling Smoky as a healthy five-year-old to a more appropriate home as you have described, is an absolutely legitimate choice.
I'm not actually in charge of this blog. Its a team effort. I don't know how we would manage the approving comments thing. It would be awkward, as there are several of us, and we are only responsible for our own posts and the comments on them. I guess we will work it out as we go along. But thanks for the head's up.
I'm so glad you finally decided to publish ebooks, and I'm heading right over to amazon to buy them!
Thank you so much, Aldercreek. The reason it took me so long is that there were NO digital copies of my out of print books, so I had to screw myself up to do the work to create them. But I am getting it done. The first two books are up there and the third one (Roughstock) should be there next week. My goal is to have the first eight books (all out of print) up on Kindle by April 1st, as my new book, Barnstorming, comes out this month.
Sorry you've been sick, Laura. I'm looking forward to getting your book!
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