I got an email from a reader last week. She had a hard question. She acknowledges she was naive, but she adopted an Off-the-track Thoroughbred. He was a bit complicated, as I remember him, but she’s done an excellent job. He’s a solid citizen in the barn and on the ground. He’s been to professional trainers for a few years, but at 53, she knows he’s just too much for her to ride. I congratulated her honesty and didn’t think of talking her out of it. The problem is that he’s eight and she struggles with the idea that he is too young to retire for no other reason than being not the right riding horse for her. The family loves him, but is she being unfair? And by the way, she has three horses: her Appaloosa who was a perfect riding horse has retired due to EPM and there is a companion pony who is older than originally stated.
I wish this were an uncommon situation. Without a smile, I ponder the familiar question, “How many horses do you have to own to have one to ride?”
I heard about a group of seventy-something women who ride together. Who doesn’t want that? They probably get written up in the local paper. Do we confess a bit of envy? We would all choose it if all it took was passion and arduous work, things we are used to. Am I the only one who wants to congratulate them on their wild luck? It is luck if you’re seventy-something and riding, you have beaten the odds, and good for you! Sure, Queen Elizabeth is riding at ninety-six, but let’s be honest. She has staff.
Especially bless their luck at having older horses sound enough to ride, ones that they have most likely been riding a decade or so already. Cheers for old campaigners, sane and mostly predictable. How fortunate to have a horse to grow old riding with. How many of those lucky riders have made the decision that this will be their last horse?
We want to think we’ll ride into our dotage but it isn’t always a choice we have. Life happens, and to get to that age without fear overtaking us or having a chronic physically-limiting condition, or without the support of a group of supportive friends, continuing to ride is almost a miracle. If we do make it, there’s a huge challenge when we have to make the change to a younger horse who is strange to us, assuming we could find one. Changing horses is always tough, and it seems the older we get, the harder it is to find the right horses. How many of us (of any age) purchased the wrong horse and don’t want to send it off to an uncertain future?
No one wants to talk about money, but around this time we age out of our highest income years while prices on all things horse-related continue to go up every year. Basic care costs soar. Some of us move because the climate is hampering our riding. We might begin to board our horse when we are down to a singleton, or we might move our horses to our own property thinking it will be cheaper. Nothing about horses gets cheaper.
How many of us fell for a kill pen scam because our hearts are filled with good intentions? Maybe our horses didn’t die in chronological order, according to our plan. Now the youngster is gone and the elder is, well, too old. We keep injury survivors and horses with chronic conditions who need a safe place. How many of us want a riding horse but instead take impeccable care of a small herd of unrideable horses? Shouldn’t there be an award for that?
Let the seventy-somethings take another arthritic victory lap while the rest of us, those who fell short through no fault of their own, cheer them on, bearing no grudge, but feeling a bit unlucky, even as we cheer louder. Some of us truly never wanted to ride and yay for them. Some of us say we don’t but keep a secret. Some of us are painfully honest. We planned to ride until we have a peaceful death on the exact same day as our horse. We wanted it when we were thirty and nothing has changed.
The future gets a bit more uncertain every year. Are you over 50 and under 96? Let’s call it an awkward age. Others having a midlife crisis might buy a hot red convertible or start an affair with someone younger. We have never been like others because we have horses. Some are lucky and still riding like the Queen, but the exception proves the rule. To beat the odds, others have to be the odds.
So, now what? We stare our vulnerabilities (and our horse’s frailty) squarely in the eye and look for opportunity. My email box is as full of health reports, unhappy decisions, and unforeseen outcomes. And we know we should be grateful but we still want more. Are we doing a good enough job fighting the inescapable forces of life?
I warn you, it’s a lousy list and I don’t think it will help, but since you asked, here is my advice:
- Sell all your horses. Unrideable horses aren’t in demand, so lie about them.
- Buy a new horse.
- Sell any new horse that doesn’t work out in the first week.
- Buy other new horses.
- Sell those horses down the road when they don’t work out either.
- WAKE UP! You’re dreaming a horrible nightmare.
- Remember that horses need homes more than saddles.
- Notice that for all your angst, you didn’t change your will, still leaving it all for the care of any surviving unrideable horses.
- Recognize your own particular version of wild luck.
- Go out and muck. Adjust the fly mask and clean some hooves.
- Smell the bittersweet elixir of the mane of an unrideable horse and let it be okay.
Anna Blake, Relaxed & Forward. Scheduling clinics for the fall in the Midwest and Eastern states.
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Affirmative training is the fine art of saying yes.