Some horses relish their retirement: They spend their days lounging in a pasture, wandering around at their own pace, and might go out for the occasional walk with their riders on special occasions. I've known many a senior horse that likes nothing better than to spend their days relaxing without a care in the world.
On the other hand, I've known an equal number of senior horses that absolutely refuse to retire, and I had the chance to spend some time with one of these aging equids over the weekend.
Dobbin wasn't ready for retirement, so Corinne gave him a chance at another career.
Photo by Erica Larson
Dobbin is an 18-year-old unraced Thoroughbred gelding who has lived nearly his entire life with my trainer Corinne. She purchased him as a 3-year-old, unbroken and relatively untouched, out of a field near her Massachusetts home and brought Dobbin up through the three-day eventing levels. It wasn't long before the pair was successfully competing at the advanced level, and Dobbin made his first of several trips to the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event--America's only four-star competition--in 2005 where he finished 16th (it was Corinne's first four-star, as well). In 2008, he was named the United States Eventing Association (USEA) Horse of the Year and he still ranks in the Top 10 of the USEA's Highest Scoring Horses of All Time
Over the years, Corinne has worked closely with her veterinarians to keep Dobbin's body functioning at the highest possible level. She's even been able to successfully combat a nasty case of kissing spines. But on New Year's Day of 2010, Dobbin sustained an eye injury that changed the course of his career.
While routing around in the snow for grass (despite the fact he had several haynets full to the brim of alfalfa and grass hay) Dobbin managed to poke a tiny piece of grass into his eye and sustained what looked to be a small corneal scratch. To make a (very) long story (very) short, the ulcer did not heal well, despite consultations with and treatments from the best equine ophthalmology specialists in the country. Eventually, after roughly nearly five months of intensive treatment, we were able to remove his subpalpebral lavage and return him to full work.
Unfortunately, extensive corneal scarring--which is still present today--that obstructed his visual field made Dobbin very uncomfortable with the idea of jumping the large obstacles upper-level eventers face. After several months of working to ease his concerns and help him get back to top form, Corinne made the decision to retire him from competition. He didn't seem happy in the job he'd loved for more than a decade.
At first Dobbin relished retirement and going out on several weekly trail rides, however it wasn't long before he grew bored and mischievous, and his energy level hit a boiling point. If my memory serves correctly, Corinne tried turning him out with a buddy for the first time in years, but had to remove the buddy horse as Dobbin was running him ragged trying to nip him and play all the time!
Dobbin is still mastering piaffe, but Corinne is confident he'll be ready to make his Grand Prix debut in 2013.
Photo by Erica Larson
It was then that Corinne made the decision to unretire her long-time partner, then 17 years young. Since he'd always excelled in the dressage phase of eventing, Corinne decided to start training him in straight dressage with the hopes of competing him at Grand Prix and obtaining United States Dressage Federation (USDF) Gold Medal.
Dobbin dove headfirst into his new job and quickly earned Corinne a USDF Silver Medal. He happily give half-passes and extensions at first request, and he's picked up all the upper-level movements--including tempi changes, pirouettes, and passage--incredibly quickly. Corinne is currently working with a few dressage trainers on fine-tuning his piaffe before he makes his Grand Prix debut in 2013 at 19 years old. In fact, Dobbin has also started popping over a few little jumps from time to time just for fun, Corinne says.
Corinne says his body looks better than it ever has, he's always eager to go to work, and he's enjoying learning the new skills specific dressage (although he threw a few hissy fits at first since he really hadn't had to learn anything really new in several years!). He still likes to run and play in his pasture and torture his "little brothers" over the fence. Corinne still pays incredibly close attention to how he feels and works closely with her veterinarians to ensure he's in top physical condition.
Seeing Dobbin this weekend really made me realize that some horses just don't want to retire. They're much happier working, even if it's in a new career.
Have you ever managed a horse that refused to retire? How did you appease him or her? Share your experiences below!