A little more than a year ago, I posted my very first "Old Horses: Better With Age" blog post and set out on what's proven to be a really fun adventure. I can't tell you how much fun I've had talking about my family's little herd of senior horses, digging through my past and remembering all the wonderful oldies, and reading your comments and experiences with your aging equines.
I realized, though, a few months ago that I've never really introduced you to the horses that I tell you about all the time. I've shared many stories, but I'd little take a minute to really introduce the real stars of this blog—my senior horses—and tell you a little about some of our main health and management concerns with each.
Photo: Keith Larson
Taz—Even though he's not with us anymore, our Appaloosa gelding Taz was a huge part of my life for 15 years, and he faced enough health problems throughout his life that I'll continue to feature his stories here from time to time. Our first horse, Taz was 27 when he died in March, and he was an incredibly versatile horse. In his younger days, he did a little bit of everything—trail and pleasure riding, English and Western pleasure and equitation, halter and showmanship, jumping, dressage, gymkhana, "pony rides," and even saddle seat equitation and patterns (which he brought home numerous top three placings from, by the way!).
Taz had a number of health problems over the years, and we learned so much about caring for injuries and illnesses from him. Our main concerns were arthritis, uveitis, somewhat poor-quality feet, keeping weight on as he aged, and some neurologic and balance problems. He was tested for EPM a while ago, although we never treated him for it. Our veterinarian believes the neurologic problems we noticed (and which prompted the EPM test) stemmed from internal damage accrued when he'd recently gotten cast in a stall at a show and struggled before we were able to help him up.
Photo: Erica Larson
Jessie—With Taz gone, Jessie is our oldest horse at 26. She's a feisty little Appaloosa mare who arrived home a few days after Taz did, and they were inseparable for 15 years. Although she wasn't abused or neglected when we purchased her, Jessie's old owners had more horses than they could handle and our little mare was thrilled to receive one-on-one attention daily in her new home. Overall, Jessie's been an incredibly healthy little horse. As near as I can remember, she's had two vet calls that didn't involve vaccinations or annual exams: One for (what turned out to be) kissing spines that ultimately ended her career as my riding pony, and one in 2012 for when she took some debris to the head, resulting in a nasty, skull-deep and -denting gash. Our main health concern with her today? Ensuring she loses a few pounds.
Photo: Erica Larson
Brandy—She's 24 now, but our Miniature Horse, Brandy, is firing on all cylinders…and then some. In her younger days, Brandy and I performed obstacle and jumping demonstrations at fairs and events with our former neighbors' Miniature Horse farm. She's even jumped in a specially designed arena at an event which took place at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston. The highlight of that trip? Watching the elevator operator's face when she pooped in said elevator on the way up the floors to the demonstration arena!
Brandy has been healthy but not without her issues. We've always dealt with obesity, and I'm sure you recall stories about her struggles with laminitis and pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction. But thanks to some hard work and medical treatment, she's currently acting like she did in her prime athletic days, when jumping a 34" fence was no trouble for this 32" Mini.
Photo: Adam Spradling
Dorado—To be completely honest and blunt, watching this horse age is painful for me. He turned 17 this year, and although his brain still tells him he's 5 (maybe 6 on a good day), his body is definitely aging. Dorado started racing when he was 2 and continued until he was 6. He made 55 starts. When I brought him home as a 12-year-old, I knew he had wear and tear but I also wanted to give him the chance to do something else with his life. He's an eventer now, and a darn good one at that, but I know he'll never be able to progress up the levels like he could if he was younger. My vet said last week, "He's one that would have been fun to get your hands on before he raced." Who knows what he could have accomplished.
His main health problems stem from his four years on the racetrack. He's got (at least) one healed sesamoid fracture and some arthritis, both of which require diligent care. Less related to racing, Dorado has less than ideal feet and a hard time keeping weight on unless carefully managed, but all-in-all he's a very healthy, well-built, strong horse with a solid mind who is an absolute joy to ride (most days…) and be around.
Photo: Keith Larson
Sadie and Lance—Our last two horses are as far away from "senior" as we get, but I couldn't not include at least a little about them. Full sister and brother Sadie and Lance turned 15 and 13, respectively, this year. We purchased both from their breeder, and Lance came a few years after we brought Sadie home and fell in love with the Thoroughbred/Percheron cross.
Sadie's had some little injuries and illnesses over the years, but her biggest obstacle has been her mental status. She could have been a killer dressage horse, but some mental problems we couldn't (and still can't) get her over stood in the way. Ninety percent of the time, her mind is in the right spot. Unfortunately, it's the 10% of the time when it's not that has really proved a hindrance for her. We're not sure what happened before she came home, but we've done the best we can to keep her happy. And the vast majority of the time, she's a very happy and healthy mare.
Photo: Erica Larson
Lance, although not a senior, has an interesting story. He fractured a splint bone when he was 5, and thanks to our veterinarian's great treatment and my father's dedication, his leg healed beautifully. Since then, he's done some local shows, fox hunted, and now loves running around and jumping anything and everything (well, almost everything) with my father.
So there you have it…a little insight into our herd. Now I'd like to hear a little about your seniors. Please, introduce us to your senior horses, and let us know what health problems you deal with. I'd love to learn more about the horses you interact with and the health problems you manage on a daily basis!