As I have gotten older, and these days aging seems to be happening at an alarming rate, I more and more appreciate longevity and anyone who can defy the odds. One such example of this is a mare that I purchased in 1982 at the age of 3 from a race horse breeding farm in Cherry Valley California. In addition to being oh so much younger, I was a barrel racer on the rodeo circuit and was looking for a young horse to be my next prospect but did not have a ton of money. So I heard about a breeding farm that was dispersing stock because of money issues and deals could be had for well bred appendix quarters if you were willing to deal with unhandled, not broke babies.
So I bought a cute little seal brown filly and named her Charlie because at the time there was a perfume on the market called Charlie and it had a confident, beautiful model as the spokeswoman. Much to the amusement of my sisters and father, Charlie was, shall we say, a filly with clear opinions. She was barely halter broke when I got her and she was 2 and half, so there were several occasions when I would be essentially water skiing behind a departing horse. After 6 months of ground training, the first time I attempted to ride Charlie provided great entertainment to my family. After several "unplanned dismounts" off of her, I gave up for the day. Charlie would be fine when I stood up in the stirrup but the minute I would swing my leg over her back, she would spook and spin me off. The next day I decided to longe her until she was too tired to be bad and was finally able to sit on her back without an explosion.
Charlie's opinionated demeanor continued when I started to take her to barrel race futurities, gymkanas and rodeos a few years later. Charlie had a amazing athletic turn on her and was extremely fast but she hated everything about rodeos, especially cowboys, ropes and loud speakers. She you be a temperamental mess from the moment I unloaded her from the trailer and would be such a nervous wreck after warming her up you could forget any success at running a barrel pattern. Charlie was so miserable at rodeos or jackpot barrel races that she would literally stand tied to the trailer lying in wait until some unsuspecting cowboy would walk within her range and she would line them up in her sights and kick them intentionally.
So the first lesson I learned from Charlie was that you are never really going to get a horse to perform at something they don't like even if they do have the talent. By a series of coincidences I decided to try to sell Charlie as a 3 day event horse and then get back to barrel racing. Needless to say, the sale never occured and after learning enought about eventing to not kill myself (or make a complete fool of myself) I was hooked and Charlie and I never looked back. Of course Charlie also had her opinions about jumping, dressage and travel to events, but she was what I had and I loved her.
Now fast forward over 20 years and Charlie lives a happy retirement at the good graces of my older sister in Santa Barbara. My sister's farm is a prestine facility with beautiful green pastures with huge covers, a barn and all the luxories a horse could possible want along with incredible views of the pacific ocean. The mare pasture where Charlie has lived for the better part of the last 10 years has an unobstructed view of the ocean on clear days. This unfortunately, has meant nothing to Charlie over the past 3 or 4 years since she has been slowly loosing her eye sight. But she has been unphased and totters around the pasture with complete contentment.
A little more than a year ago, Charlie was found in the morning by Ellie, my sister's barn manager, with a long and deep wound that traversed half of the length of one of her forelegs. It remains a mystery as to how it happened but after countless stitches, a few courses of antibiotics, weeks of arduous aftercare, not to mention a sizable vet bill, Charlie was fully healed with hardly a scare.
Then earlier this summer, it became evident that Charlie's eye issues were escalating and her long suspected Uvitis in the right eye was causing her a great deal of discomfort. My sister, niece and I contemplated whether the recommended course of treatment was justified or even appropriate for a horse her age. The veterinary eye specialist had told us that her best chance was to remove her eye altogether. Charlie is currently 33 years old and I had to ask the vet if putting her through this at this age was humane and the vets reply was that Charlie in every other way tough, happy and healthy and could have several more years in her. So, last month, Charlie's right eye was removed and prosthetic placed in the socket.
Today Charlie is as spry as I have seen her in years and she does not seem impaired in the least little bit. Her discomfort is gone and she is even eating better. It is like the surgery has given her a new lease on life and she is going to take advantage of it.
This coupled with her new fancy rubber Epona shoes she thinks she should be running cross country again. I know that many people might think that my sister and I are a little, no a lot, crazy to spend this amount of money on a horse Charlie's age and I did agonize over whether putting her down was the better thing to do. But after seeing Charlie today I know that we did make the right decision and even though my pocket book is thinner and my indebtedness to sister even greater, my heart is fuller knowing that an old mare's quality of life is the best it can be for whatever time she has left.
You're very lucky to be able to see Charlie through her twilight years. Surgery at that age is always a risk, but you knew you had a good chance of improving her quality of life, so it was well worth the gamble!
I love stories like this - where people value horses for who they are and do everything they can to ensure their horse a happy old age. She looks great, by the way - I've seen many horses 10 years younger who don't look half so well. I'm also a big fan of opinionated mares - I have one myself . . .
33! I hope my horse looks as good as her at that age. If you have a facility to keep her, and you do, then that is all that matters. You and your sister are wonderful people for caring for a retired horse with so much compassion.
Martine - I do feel very lucky to still have Charlie with me. For years now my niece, sister and I have looked at Charlie prior to each winter and comtemplated whether or not this would be the year we would need to say goodbye. We angnst about her weight and her arthritis when it is cold and wet but she plugs along and not only survives but thrives. It amazes me to no end.
Terri--Charlie looks great! And I feel exactly the same way about my old horses. My Gunner is 32 and thriving. I am so grateful to have him with me.
Kate- What would be do without our opinionated mares. Charlie has certainly mellowed over the years but when we did her eye surgery, we had to have it done at the farm because Charlie does no do vet hospitals and hates being in barns. She has always been that way even when we were eventing she would pace and did holes in every stall you put her in. But out in my sister's pasture she contently totters around and gets some grass time when it is not too rich for the risk of founder. She loves her carrots which is what we were doing in the picture. I feel that longevity should always be respected, valued and nurtured which is far to rare in our society if you ask me.
Val, Thank you for your kind comment. I am hoping I have equal success with my other senior citizens. Right now I have a Rottweiler who is 12 1/2, a pony who is 31 and a thoroughbred who is 23. Knock wood they are all happy and healthy and although not completely problem free when it comes to their health no problem so far has been insurmountable. I love caring for them and wish I had unlimited funds and unlimited time to care for others as well but sadly that is not the case.
Laura, too bad we don't live closer, Gunner and Charlie could hang out together and even have a December romance. Charlie would love to have a man in her life. Sounds like good material for a book.
Loved your story, Terri! I think it would make a great personal essay for a horse magazine.
Oh, I LOVE the Charlie and Gunner together idea! :-) And you should definitely try to get this story published as an Equus "True Tale" or similar.
Reading about a horse suffering from uveitis makes me very sad. I went on a trail ride earlier this year at a Boy Scout camp, and they had one elderly Appaloosa there who had it in both eyes. He also had a severe swayback. I went over to give the old fellow a few pats and they told me to stay away from him, as he was "cranky, and has Appy Eye." Well, gee, I'd be cranky, too, if I was old, sick, in pain and yes, STILL BEING RIDDEN. Really ticked me off...
Terri - this is a wonderful story, and hats off to you for taking such good care of your mare through the years. And she looks wonderful! Thanks for sharing.
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