Have you ever noticed that when something is near and dear to your heart (senior horses, in this case), it seems to almost follow you around? Such was the case in mid-October when I took my first polo lesson with some colleagues from The Horse.

Old polo pony

Despite being 23 years old and blind in one eye, Merlin zipped around the field eagerly and gave me an incredible first experience playing polo.
Photo by Adam Spradling

Upon arrival, our instructor Ed gave us a quick introduction to the equipment we'd be using before pairing us with our four-legged partners for the day. Merlin would be my mount for the day and--come to find out--he is a senior horse, semi-blind, polo pony extraordinaire. My first thought upon mounting (and figuring out how to hold double reins with one hand!)? I can't wait to share this with my readers!

We got acquainted with our horses and did a few drills before taking a quick breather. At this point, I started chatting with Ed about Merlin, eager to learn more about my trusty steed. Ed told me that he's had now-23-year-old Merlin since he was 13, and that he used to be one of his best ponies. While other mounts would need to be swapped out after one or two chukkers (periods in a polo match, each of which lasts 7 ½ minutes), Merlin could often easily complete three chukkers before needing a break. Even in his older age, Merlin trucked me around for about two hours without getting winded.

Ed also explained that Merlin lost the vision in his left eye due to uveitis. As you might recall, my 26-year-old Appaloosa gelding Taz suffers from recurrent uveitis which, although it's under control at the moment, will almost certainly cost him his eyesight at some stage. I asked Ed how Merlin coped with losing his sight, and he said that because it was a gradual process, the horse doesn't even seem to notice. I certainly didn't notice anything different when I was riding; my painted pony was quick and responsive to my cues, turning both left and right without hesitation. I'm hopeful that when Taz eventually loses his sight, he'll be as adaptive as Merlin is!

During the rest of the lesson, Merlin took great care of me and was a wonderful teacher! I felt so lucky to learn a new sport from such an experienced horse who--despite only being able to see from one eye--has much to teach and years of play left in him.

Have you had an older horse excel in a sport despite physical problems? Share your experiences below!