Here are a few factoids—some you might know, some you might not—about me. I'm a huge fan of senior horses. I love three-day eventing. I'm a huge Thoroughbred horse enthusiast. And I really like to see the mares beat the boys. Keeping that in mind, you can imagine just how excited I was when I read that international eventer Lucinda Fredericks had brought her 20-year-old Thoroughbred-cross mare Headley Britannia out of retirement and won an express eventing competition a few weeks ago. I couldn't wipe the smile off my face!
At 16, Little Brit won the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event in 2009. Now, Brit is teaching Lucinda's daughter the ropes.
Photo: Erica Larson
Headley Britannia (called "Brit" around the barn) has a pretty neat story. Little Brit, standing just 15.3 hands, is one of the most successful event horses—male or female—of recent years. She won the Burghley Horse Trials in 2006, the Badminton Horse Trials in 2007, and—at 16 years old—the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event in 2009. She's the only mare to have won each of the Rolex Grand Slam of Eventing competitions (though not consecutively), and she earned a team Silver medal at the Beijing Olympics. She was officially retired from upper level competition at Badminton this year. Little Brit is still in regular work and is often ridden by Lucinda and husband Clayton's 9-year-old daughter Ellie. There's a great video of the pair schooling on the Horse and Hound website—it's definitely worth a peek.
I love hearing stories like Brit's. It's refreshing to see that even though an aging horse might not be able to keep up his or her previous level of work, his or her owner finds a new job that can still keep the horse happy and busy without asking too much. These horses' owners and rides know they're just not done yet. Often time, this job is teaching the next generation of riders, like Brit is Ellie. Of course, these horses still need to get out and have some fun, like Brit did with Lucinda.
Then 16-year-old Brit pulled Lucinda around the Rolex cross-country course on her way to winning the event in 2009.
Photo: Erica Larson
Another perfect example of this is a horse named Wilson who resided at the farm I used to work at. An older third-level dressage horse, Wilson's owner donated him to our farm when he developed some soundness issues that prevented him from continuing his ascent up the levels. Day to day he was sound, but he couldn't handle more than a few intense work sessions per month.
In the time I knew Wilson, he taught many a young rider how to start, stop, steer, trot, sit the trot, and more. But unlike many of our other lesson horses, Wilson didn't perform the task at hand if his rider didn't ask for it correctly. The kids either loved it or hated it: the former because they really had to learn how to ride in order to successfully pilot Wilson, but the latter because Wilson was a really good tattletale of when his rider wasn't asking for something properly.
To keep Wilson's mind happy, other staff members and I rode him a little harder about once a month. He'd always look more energized on the days after these rides, so we knew he enjoyed them. We took him on our hilly trails a couple times and he loved every minute of it; he bounced around like he was 3 years old again. We'd also spend some lessons asking for some of his dressage movements; he loved these rides and soared through everything. But secretly, the doubled as teaching rides for me. Wilson let me experience my first half pass and proper walk pirouette, as well as helping me improve my sitting trot. I counted myself very lucky!
I'd like to think that once Dorado is ready to "retire," I'll be able to find someone to learn what they can from him. He's got a lot to give and I've learned so much from him…I hope someone else can do the same. But he's definitely not done yet!
Are your "retired" horses teaching less experienced riders the ropes? I'd love to hear your experiences!