Golden Days and Hindsight Guilt.


These late October days are golden–sweet and rich, and as temporary as a long, crisp leaf. The sun is slow to rise and dawdles while setting over Pikes Peak. The clouds hold onto its colorful tail, long after the sun is gone. The horses and I want to languish on the tight wire between Indian Summer and what comes next for as long as we can.

We know this is the lull before the storm.

My Grandfather Horse got through last winter stronger than I thought he would but it wasn’t pretty. The cold makes him stiff and he doesn’t want to move. If he doesn’t move, his arthritis gets worse and hurts more, so he moves less. It’s a vicious cycle.

He didn’t complain, he’s a stoic guy, but I never got over the feeling of a vice-grip crushing my chest. Relief came with Spring, but as soon as he started shedding his winter coat, his weight dropped as well. I didn’t worry at first, he was eating well. The weight loss was gradual, until it wasn’t.

One day he was nearly skeletal. Like a neglected, abandoned horse. How did this happen on my watch! I confess–it hurt me to just look at him. I had a huge fit of Hindsight Guilt. Do you get it?

Hindsight Guilt is when you think you are doing your best but you get a diagnosis, or learn something new, or come up with a better technique, for the care or riding or understanding of your horse, and then impale yourself on a pike for the suffering you have caused by your own stupid ignorance. Even if the thing you learn is new technology, even if you are doing better than any human possibly could, Hindsight Guilt hits and in that moment, you call yourself the ultimate curse: Abuser.

Of course, I had him checked out. His list of chronic ailments is long. The diagnosis? He’s old. Gradual degeneration is expected. My vet said I was doing everything right.

But still, he was eating and losing weight. His chronic diarrhea lessened to intermittent diarrhea, a huge improvement. I’m not one for any sort of fecal-phobia. I read manure like tarot cards. It’s my go-to standard health predictor. I poked my way through and it seemed, somehow, that the hay was not breaking down as well as the other horse’s manure. It was a tiny, almost invisible difference. Too much information? Not if it’s your horse.

So I tweaked his feed again. It’s constant with an old horse. I resist the sticky senior feeds with molasses so thick that the grain freezes solid. Grain isn’t that good for most horses in the first place. Having said that, I was feeding some healthy senior feed without molasses, alfalfa pellets, beet pulp, and free choice hay. Along with any thing else I could think of. He continued to lose weight. I continued to tweak.

My Hindsight Guilt would like to have a word: “She’s an idiot. She thought because he was eating hay that he was getting some nutrient value. He wasn’t. I repeat–she’s an idiot.”

I saw weight gain finally, by feeding more senior pellets than I thought any horse should eat, and very little else. It’s science. Pellets have tiny particles that are easier for an old horse to utilize. He gets one flake of hay to play with but he doesn’t eat it.

And he’s pudgy. I can’t feel his ribs, and even old and sway backed with more arthritis than bone, he has gotten bright-eyed. It’s been years, but he is mischievous again. He gives the farrier lip and we both grin like school girls. Sometimes the Grandfather Horse even trots. We all stop and applaud him.

This fall, the equine dentist told me the Grandfather Horse had lost teeth. I reminded him my horse had one tooth pulled three years back. “Nope, more than that one,” the dentist said. “Not many teeth left on that side at all.” It was hindsight news to me.

Wouldn’t I have seen the teeth on the ground? If they were hidden in his manure, I would’ve found them with my CSI manure skills. I scrutinize this horse, how did they get by me? More Hindsight Guilt but it like usual, the self-name-calling doesn’t help.

This is the strongest my Grandfather Horse has been in the fall for years. Don’t get me wrong, he’s still dead lame. But he has gotten a second wind. He has his sense of humor back. I am beyond grateful, but not at all happy because of another attack of Hindsight Guilt. It’s chronic with me and this horse. I’ve had it since I started riding him decades ago.

For now, we have Indian Summer. It isn’t just the time of year–it’s his time of life. These are his golden days, precious for their fragility. Precious because we do know the future.

His eye sight has degenerated. He’s frightened of his own shadow. Deeply, profoundly, with sincere honesty, he is afraid. I can respect that. It’s a good opportunity to go slower and reward more. He taught me that.

The challenge with the elders is to separate the old age issues that you can’t help–from the ones you can. And then when you do help something–survive the Hindsight Guilt about not doing better, faster, more perfectly.

Because these Grandfather Horses deserve more than our best, every single day. They taught us, they lifted us up, and they gave us to ourselves in a way no one else could have. We owe them.

If I live another hundred years, I will always have Hindsight Guilt that I could not do for him even a fraction of what he did for me. And it’s just where he wants me.

Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.

This blog is free, and it always will be. Free to read, but also free of ads because I turn away sponsorships and pay to keep ads off my site. I like to read a clean page and think you do too. If you appreciate the work I do, or if your horse does, consider making a donation.

Anna Blake

30 thoughts on “Golden Days and Hindsight Guilt.”

  1. I have the same hindsight guilt over my own grandfather horse, who passed away at 33. He was my first horse, and I have learned so much since having him. Hindsight, he would have received frequent chiropractic adjustments and better fitting saddles and we would have played more, worked less. But he was fat and rideable up until the day he died, so I should guilt myself less and praise myself more for what I was doing right. You should do the same.

    • I hear that… thanks for the comment. Maybe this guilt is just the flip side of Passion, and I don’t think any of us wants to give that up.

  2. Glad you found what worked for your Grandfather Horse. Thought I’d share that my old Welsh/TB pony stallion, Rambur Grumpy (an appropriate name), had few teeth and the vets and dentists kept talking about writing articles about his mouth. He did just fine on lots of soaked Purina Eq. Senior and beet pulp and would play with the leaves in an alfalfa flake. He looked great and much younger than he was (32), when we decided his hip was to the point, where if he fell on the winter ice he wouldn’t be able to get up. I also had a beagle mix that got pig fat eating/licking up the drippings from Grumpy’s gruel.

    A hard keeping TB mare I had got metabolic in her mid 20’s, still thin (teeth functioning), looked the best she ever looked in my 10 years of her ownership on Purina Ultium. High fat, low carbs. It is indeed trial and error. Very best wishes to your Grandfather Horse!

    …and thanks as always for your thoughtful, insightful writings.

    Barb Young

    Quality horse boarding and retirement

    on the Western Slope

    Equine and pet photography

    Significant stock collection

  3. Can you get him a heated blanket for the cold morn. i know exactly what you mean, happened with my cat. Oh my gosh you write so beautifully and always warm the heart or touch a nerve and my eyes water and i get the sniffles. I dont want to plug my companies device, it is for tendons but we do have a back blanket that has the heated coils, for maintenance sore backs. I just wondered if you could use a regular peoples electric blanket to get him going. Or how about a hot water bottle or two. when I lived in London, I would strap one to my belly!. Its rubber and you fill it with boiling water from a kettle.
    We don’t have the cold thing in Winter, just the tough summers of rain and oppressive heat n humidity. I like your advice on food I am going to save that.
    your photo is pretty too, makes me want to go to CO one day.
    Thanks for the beautiful gift of your sharing life on your farm.

  4. Boy, this one really hit home. My beloved oldie is only 21, but it feels like when changes start … it’s suddenly so quick! and interrelated! And unknown territory because each and every horse is different. Thanks so much for sharing, and thanks for giving me fresh eyes as my boy and I continue our journey … clenched heart and clenched gut and all.

    • “only 21”? You are right, they are all different. Good luck on this part of the ride… it’s a challenge but I know you won’t let him down.

  5. I know you know that I know this one well. Teme’s aging process dug deep into my soul. We all grew new muscles lugging buckets and buckets of wet pellet slop when he lost the last of his grinder teeth. And yes, we fed a ridiculous amount of senior feed. The hay he played with ended up as green spitballs scattered all over his paddock. We were taken in by a plethora of healing practitioners who promised the moon but who had never actually dipped a cure from a fountain of youth. None of that stopped a visit from authorities when a well-meaning neighbor decided I must not care and must not be feeding enough. (That one especially hurt and is why I don’t jump on the “abuse” finger-pointing bandwagon that Facebook inspires.) And then the final week of panic and despair when I knew the time had come for my 31 year old treasure. I will never forget Teme or the lessons he taught me about aging with grace, doing what you can when you can, and doing nothing but sleeping in the warm sun when you can’t. And yes, I still have hindsight guilt.

    • There is no fountain of youth, and with a horse like Teme, there is so much depth in every glance of his eye. He had a life well-lived. It isn’t a crime to get old, and lots of us are still lost in his shadow. It is only a failure if we don’t put our Hindsight Guilt to good use, and I know you do that very well. Peace for Teme, and you eventually. Thank you for your heartfelt comment.

  6. Another beautifully written, poignant post, Anna. I have only one complaint. The term “hindsight guilt” shouldn’t be used as a stick to beat yourself with. We go through our life learning and thankfully only a minute percentage from our mistakes. Our horses know their duty is to educate us and it sounds like you’ve always been a star pupil. Wasn’t it you who wrote, “To err is human, to forgive equine”? May the indian Summer sun shine on you both as long as possible 🙂

  7. Is Hindsight Guilt a bad thing? I have had this term on my mind for a long time and I may be defining it badly. Every day I talk to horsepeople who apologize to their horses and mules for transgressions that the animal doesn’t notice. Every day I hear about the worst abuse imaginable done horses, dogs, cats, and about every other animal humans come near… and no apology in sight. Such extremes.

    I think Hindsight Guilt is the ironic term for a gift we give our next horse… the gift of better horsemanship. The gift of caring too much.

    I hope we all get a few more Indian Summers and a few more chances to do better.

    • Yep, it’s always the good, conscientious ones (I get the irony) who suffer from the Hindsight Guilt, not the ones it should haunt to a nasty end; the kind of people who think the lyrics, “Regrets, I’ve had a few, and then again too few to mention” are admirable. And I’m pretty sure you didn’t write that one! 😉

  8. I had to say goodbye to my grandfather horse on August 1. Crusty was 36 when he left us. I’m still fighting the hindsight guilt. Could I have done more, did I wait too long? But then again, he wasn’t in any obvious pain and he ate treats and rubbed his head on us like he hadn’t done in a long time. As if he was saying it was OK to say goodbye. Overnight his back leg stopped working properly and now my hindsight can see all the signs that the arthritis was taking a strong hold on his back end. But he gamely followed me one more time, out to the apple tree in the field, always the stoic Appaloosa.

  9. Great article – I think when you’re open to learning and expanding your horizons, hindsight guilt is there because we care, we’re always trying to do our best by our horses. I like the previous comments about not beating up ourselves over it, it’s not a bad thing, it’s what we do with the new information in the future that’s important. I like your term, gift of better horsemanship. 🙂

    • Maybe we need to be as kind to ourselves as we hope to be for the horses, great comment. And I’m gonna keep trying, they deserve it.

  10. Rebecca Pickett Try Dynamite products for your grandfather horse. They are working great for mine with homeopathics.

    • I am glad your horse had success with these supplements and I wish him well. With the exception of Miracle Clay, I was disappointed with Dynamite products. But it’s a big world and finding the best solution for each individual horse is the goal. That, and finding a balance emotionally with this bittersweet time.

  11. I loved reading this. Would folks mind weighing in on what senior feed they’ve found works? I like the idea of feed without molasses. Three of our four lovely mares are seniors. Thank you.

    • I need to say the Grandfather Horse has no IR issues, so it is easier for us. Right now I am feeding Triple Crown Senior. For years I fed molasses free beet pulp and alfalfa pellets, but he lost weight and I was feeding a serious quantity, with diarrhea to boot. This is better, and the weight is easy to maintain. Anyone else?

      • I fed Crusty Tribute Maturity feed for years. I liked it because it also had MSM, Glucosamine and Chondroitin already added to the feed. This was mixed into regular beet pulp (I tried molasses free but he was not impressed), He ate soaked alfalfa cubes instead of hay. I switched him to Triple Crown Senior on my vet’s recommendation when he stopped eating, but we lost him within the week. He seemed to like it though, his appetite came back but the severe arthritis got him! His weight was never a problem, even at 36, his body condition was always good. I have been told, and just found confirmation on the Triple Crown website, that the molasses added to horse feed does NOT really add much sugar to the feed. Here is the link to the Triple Crown article:

  12. Wonderful words as usual…it is a battle of time to treasure and adore every good minute our old ones have rather than dreading the inevitible, still “easier said than done”. In reverse order of what was expected my hyper 30 year old mare died in August, while the 32 and 33 year olds continue to do well, we say as self appointed judges of quality of THEIR life. In a perfect world they tell us when they are ready to let go….but for that nagging self doubt!

    • What? Some of yours died out of order. Plan though we may, that happened here more than once. And you are right, talk is cheap! Or “easier said than done”.. thanks, great comment.

  13. I have the oldest horse at our barn, and I also happen to be one of the older ladies at the barn (58, albeit a “young” 58). He’s 31 and blind. This last summer was tough – a terrible abscess, weight loss, and a severe bout of colic. I honestly thought he was a goner- twice. Now he is bouncing back with good weight, good humor, and even some very energetic trotting (with me riding him!). Still, we take it easy. Not often, not long. It’s hard when this is your horse, and the only one you have. Everyone else at the barn is younger and have young, frisky, showy horses. I’ve taken lessons in French classical dressage for the past 8 years, and can’t really do much with my old boy. It’s hard. I appreciate reading about your Grandfather horse. It helps a little to know that I’m really not the only one with an old horse. I’m also reassured that I’m feeding him well- doing the alfalfa pellets, Senior grain 2 lb twice per day, and an evening bonus of Safechoice original grain mixed with bran meal and a scoop of mineral salts, all mixed in warm water. Last night I gave him some beets (with molasses) as an added treat. I chuckled when I saw the three piles of food, one red, one tan, one green. He really loved the beets (with molasses)- this was the first time I ever gave it to him. It looked like his favorite. I’ll probably give him beets every now and then, or daily (without molasses) – not sure yet. Yes, it’s a struggle. Up and down.

  14. Thank you so much for your heartfelt thoughts. We want them all to live forever, sounds like he is well loved. Don’t blame yourself for what you can’t control.

  15. Anna, what is that saying ‘don’t judge someone, they are doing the best they can given their current awareness’. Something like that. Don’t judge yourself or blame yourself. Maybe there was something else going on in your life at that given moment and you just didn’t quite see something? Forgive yourself. I know he does. He sounds like he’s doing well given that he’s a senior citizen.
    And I have to disagree with your last line…. he does not want you to feel hindsight guilt!! I’m just sayin! But I totally get it. I have it for several of my babies that are now in heaven. But guilt does us no good.

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