My horse, Vintage, is getting older. I am not sure what age she is now (it’s easy to lose track) but it’s in the upper teens. Probably 17 I think. She’s still energetic, seemingly healthy, and the boss of the field.
There was a horse that I helped the owner sell. She was a big, (nearly) white, thoroughbred. She was feisty, and a brave jumper. I was/am a crappy jumper, so I never went higher than 18 inches with her, but she (allegedly) used to show in Florida, and took care of her junior rider over cross country. Her owner showed me a picture of her daughter and the horse leaping over a huge stone wall. Her owner was a crazy person, but the horse could hardly be faulted for that. Bottom line, she was a good horse.
But she was older. 17, if I remember correctly. There’s no doubt in my mind that a horse’s value drops at a certain age, and I even told the owner there was no way she could get what she was asking. She felt that because she paid a lot for the horse (when it was in it’s prime) she could sell the horse for a large amount too. It doesn’t work like that. Horses are not houses.
The horse was sold eventually to a friend of mine who saw what a good horse she was. She even paid a reasonable amount for the horse, much less than the owner’s original asking price. My friend asked me, “Do you think she’s too old?” I told her, no, I didn’t think so. My friend was just getting back into riding after being away for 10 years. She was a casual rider, who just wanted a horse to ride.
The horse made her happy. The horse made me happy too. The new owner was deployed for many months and asked me to take care of her. Later, she lived at my house with my herd. I taught a few lessons on her, and I rode her myself when I had time.
My friend would ask me if I thought she was too old. I didn’t think so. I said she should consider what her plans were for the horse. Was she looking to get into competing? Did she feel a younger horse would make her more competitive? She didn’t know what she wanted to do, but she liked the idea of a young, fresh horse.
The horse’s stiffness was apparent when she hadn’t been ridden in a while. But once she worked out of the stiffness, she was awesome. Full of energy, and full of jump. She was even considered a bit of a handful with her boundless energy.
After she’d been living at my house for a while, my friend decided to take her away. She was too old, she told me. And the drive to my house was just too much. I don’t blame her, it was a long drive, and I didn’t have a riding arena. My friend came and took the horse, and gave her away to a friend of hers. She said she’d get more attention there, and be ridden regularly. I was sad to see the horse go, and I haven’t seen her since.
A few months later, I hear exciting news. My friend has a new horse! What happened to old horse, I ask? She still lives at her new farm. No, she isn’t ridden.
New horse is young. New horse has lots of positive qualities, but what stands out to me: New horse is young. What was wrong with old horse? Nothing, except she was too old. Too old for what? There’s no answer to that. She was just too old.
One of the most common questions I get from people is “How old do horses live?” They can live a long time – my old horse died when he was 28. He had been ridden up to the age of 26. I didn’t stop riding him because of any real reason, I just didn’t live at the farm anymore. Was it just his time to go? Could his life have been extended with some gentle exercise and attention? I don’t know. But I do know horses do not flourish by sitting in a field being ignored. Older horses are capable of amazing things too, but they are so often over looked because something pretty over shines them.
It’s true that it is much riskier to buy an older horse than a younger one. It’s hard to determine what injuries an older one might have had, and how serious they might be. My own Vintage gets a swollen leg when she spends time in her stall. But I owned her when the injury occurred. Someone who doesn’t know her might think there’s something seriously wrong with her. There isn’t. She just stocks up in her hind now.
In my friend’s case, she still takes care of the horse. She cares about her. She didn’t abandon her. But sometimes, people do.
I often see ads on craiglist’s or wherever:
20 year old horse. Given lessons his whole life, suitable for light riding. Good home a must.
The possibility of anyone else appreciating the work that horse has done for their family is slim. No one wants their old horse. They’ve used him up, and now they’re ready for a new model. But yet they think someone else is just dying to swoop in and take this poor old man in. Someone else wants this horse, old, and with mystery injuries, to love him in the way that his owners are tired of doing.
Why can’t they love him? Why can’t they keep him and give him the care he deserves? He’s done so much for them, but he is easily discarded.
These people will have so many reasons why it was the right thing to get rid of this horse. Maybe it is the right thing. Certainly people shouldn’t keep a horse they can’t afford, either with time or money. I don’t know them personally, so I don’t know their thought process. I only see the ad, not the reasoning behind it.
Old horses can’t help that they are old. It just happens. Everyone gets old. But looking at my Vintage, she doesn’t look old to me. She looks fat, happy, and a little crabby, just like she’s always been. Does she have an expiration date, and one day I will go out to the barn and there will be an old nag in Vintage’s stall?
But I could never let her go. If something happen, and I had to sell off my horses, the two young ones would be sold first. I can’t take the chance that someone else would be indifferent to her, especially since she’s old. There’s no guarantee that anyone would want to take care of her.
It’s just a hard fact of life. Horses only end up like Black Beauty at the end if their owners make it so. And sometimes, they’d rather someone else take care of it. They have better things to do.