by Laura Crum
I was recently discussing my horses with an acquaintance, and after hearing my litany about keeping weight on my old guys and keeping them sound and giving them lots of turn out time and grooming and attention, she asked me, “But what are you DOING with your horses these days?”
I had to think about this. “Well, I still ride,” I said, a little hesitantly. “But not a lot, right now. I’m busy with a lot of different things, and just taking care of the horses takes time.”
She then said, “It doesn’t sound like you’re having much fun with your horses any more.”
I was a bit stymied by this. This gal knew me when I showed cutting horses and trained horses and competed at team roping and went on several horse packing trips in the mountains every year. You get the drift. From her point of view, my horse life looks like one big, boring drag, compared to what my horse life used to be. And really, I can see her point. But it doesn’t feel that way to me.
I could go on and on about how I’ve reached a different stage of life and just hanging with my horses and tending my garden seems delightful to me. And I’ve talked about this before. But there’s something bigger here, and it is this. It’s payback time.
Even if I still wanted to spend my time and money competing at some horsey event (which I don’t), the horses who carried me for so many miles, and in so many different competitions and trail rides are older now. Gunner is 34, Plumber is 25, Henry (my son’s horse) is 26 and Sunny is (I think) 19. Gunner and Plumber are retired. Henry and Sunny are still carrying us faithfully on short rides, but both are less than happy about steep hills (Henry doesn’t like the “ups” and Sunny doesn’t like the “downs”). Based on what I see (they are both sound on level ground) I think they have the slight arthritic changes that are typical of older horses. So we avoid steeper hills these days. The thing is, it’s time for me to pay these horses back for all that they have done for me. And I am glad to do this.
Yes, I could send them to some retirement pasture. But I don’t have the money for a really first class operation, and I have seen first hand what turning these senior horses out in a pasture with very little supervision really amounts to. The older they get the harder it is on them. And eventually they are thin, lame, shivering in storms, fly bitten in summer heat, and picked on by other horses. If I want my older guys to have the care they deserve, they need to live with me, where I can make sure they get fed the supplemental feed they must have to thrive, pain meds as needed, blankets in storms and fly spray in fly season…etc. Not to mention grooming and attention that they love. So that is my first priority right now.
Because these horses have earned this. Not only do I love them, but in all fairness, I owe them. Gunner gave me ten straight years of faithful work.
As a cutting horse.
As a rope horse.
As a trail horse.
Plumber wasn’t just a rope horse (for fifteen years), he babysat my kid and me for several years as well.
He was my pony horse for my son’s first ride at the beach.
I could never put a price on all that Henry gave my little boy in the seven years that we have been privileged to own him.
And Henry is still giving my son great riding experiences. What a good horse he is.
Sunny has been a huge gift, enabling me to ride with my kid without any worries.
We have been on literally hundreds of trail rides.
So many happy cruises down the beach together, without one wreck, or even a really anxious moment.
Yes, it’s payback time. And I am nothing but grateful and happy to do this.
Thank you, my wonderful horses. I love you. And I am glad to spend my time taking care of you, in honor of all the times you took good care of me.
I am so lucky and blessed to have you in my life.
Anybody else in this place in their horse life? Or can imagine yourself being here?
Wonderful post! Of course D has a home for life with me. I know of two retirement farms I'd trust her with, if she needed flat grassy pasture and we were living somewhere I couldn't give that to her, but I'd really prefer to see her pretty face every day.
And you know, I don't even think of it like I owe it to her. She's my best friend. I'll do what's best for her, but I just want to spend time with her because I love to spend time with her.
Funder--Well said. I couldn't agree more. I am so grateful every single day that I GET to spend time with my beloved horses. You know, if I had the money for a first class retirement farm I wouldn't do it. I love just being with them. It's a gift--to me as much as them.
I think the "owe them" part was because I understand that I do owe them, and I would like (in a small way) to influence other horse people to think this way, too. I'm probably preaching to the choir when it comes to horse blog land, but believe me, I know a good many horse owners who don't feel this way and treat their horses like disposable sporting equipment. So yeah, I believe we all owe the good horses who have given so much to us a little payback.
Love this post. :)
Thanks, jenj. I know you share my feelings, and I hope Cash is thriving.
I'm currently concentrating on a variation of this: making sure that the Dragon has viable skills if SHE survives ME.
Granted, it's not likely. I'm only 50, I don't lead a hazardous life, my health is quite good, and I take reasonable precautions like using seatbelts and helmets appropriately. And yet last month more than 30 people in the next town over got run over by a mountain. It gives a person pause.
My response is to focus for a while on getting other people to handle my horse on the ground and in the saddle. I don't love dressage but you can bet we'll be doing a lot more of it so that if something happens to me, my mare will have skills that will keep her in a good situation. I probably won't loan her out for endurance events, but I want to be *able* to loan her out. I hope that makes sense.
She's a good mare. She deserves the best I can do for her.
Aarene--You are one of the best horse owners I've "met," and I think what you have given Fiddle already is a huge gift. You've clearly turned a very difficult horse (perhaps not due to her nature but rather her previous handling) into a good, reliable riding horse who has completed some challenging rides and who trusts you--that's huge. I know some people have a deal with a horse friend where they've agreed to take each other's horse in the case of death. Surely one of your friends might like to have Fee if you passed on?
I know what you mean about understanding that life is uncertain at best--I have agreed to keep and care for Twister if Wally dies, and he has agreed to help my family care for my four horses if I die. My husband has also agreed to keep and care for the horses that are here if I die. And my friend Sue has agreed that she will help. So we're thinking along those lines here, too. All my horses are older, so my goal is to let them live out their lives here in their home.
I think I'm in the same place. I showed horses in various things for 20-some years. Now I ride for fun and enjoyment, and exercise for both of us. I also have a big garden right next to their pasture. This morning I was out planting my first bit and thought about how much they add to my gardening, just by being there.
Sadly, the horses I owe the most to are gone now, though I can see their graves from my garden. When I think of payback now, I think of the whole species. If I can rescue one or two horses and give them a good life, that makes me happy.
redhorse--I think you and I are on the same page. I can see the graves of two of my much loved horses from my garden, too. Happy spring to you and your equine friends!
AMEN! Lovely post, Laura :)
Yes- I was there with an older horse. Due to circumstances out of my control at the time, I was not able to be with him at The End- but long after what most deemed his "useful" period in life, I still kept the old man. For a long, long time. And it was a pleasure to do so.
I plan on doing the same now, for Phatz and Tatertot. I barely sit on them any these days, but grooming, handling and just general "adorating" fills my heart with happiness. I no longer feel the need to train and compete. To reach for some goal, trophy or pretty ribbon. Now, my goal is to have a quieter heart and a reliable mobile couch for the days I CAN make time to crawl up there- and we have that in spades. I couldn't be happier! (Well-- no. Thats a fib. I might could be happier to get to take at least one of the guys here on a beach ride.. but.. all in good time. Maybe.)
So ride by the waves for us!
Your a good person. My horses die with me - it's a gift I give them. They spend their days lazing in the pens, minding youngsters and getting loved on. I listen to their complaints, don't push them when I want to do something they don't want to do (I've got one old gal who doesn't like being brushed - it was a huge issue when I was riding her all the time. Now I just run a rag over her a couple times a week.) There is nothing wrong with it.
Thank you Mrs Mom. I know you feel the same way I do. And I will post some photos today so you can enjoy our ride on the beach yesterday vicariously.
Sam--I understand exactly what you mean. I meet my old guys in the middle when it comes to their preferences and quirks--just as you do.
Love it! I live for spoiling and enjoying my horses, they totally deserve it for all the joy they bring, whether it's a hug given while standing on the ground or miles and miles in the saddle.
Bird--That is so true. The miles in the saddle are just one of the many pleasures of owning horses. Well said.
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