As a senior horse owner, I'll admit that—more often than I'd like to own up to—I get a bit nostalgic about my horses. Whether I'm out for a hack on 18-year-old Dorado (and I'm not having to hang on for dear life…) or glancing at photos on the wall during a television commercial, I reflect back on the lives my aging horses have lived, what they've experienced both with me and their previous owners, and laugh about funny memories they've given me.
It's helpful to know as much about a senior horse's history as possible should the veterinarian ask if he or she has ever done "X" or ever had "Y," should a health concern develop. We knew Dorado had raced in the past when he developed swelling and lameness in his right foreleg, so our veterinarian had some ideas of where to look for a possible culprit.
Photo: Erica Larson
Personally, I think it's important to know as much about a senior horse's history as possible. Not only do I feel more connected to them, it helps when the veterinarian asks if he or she has ever done "X" or ever had "Y," should a health concern develop. And seniors have lots of history to share.
I'm not a breeder, so I've never owned a horse from birth. But based on comments on previous blog posts, I know many of you have owned your now-aged horses from the time they entered the world. Not only do you know your golden oldie has received quality care over the years, you know what they've experienced in their lives and have decades of memories to share. That's a pretty amazing thing, if you ask me.
But if you purchased your senior horse earlier in their lives, you generally have to rely on word of mouth to learn about his history. Many times when you purchase a horse, the seller will tell you as much as they know about that horse's history (whether one chooses to believe all of it is another story, and depends largely on your gut feeling of the seller, in my eyes). Such was the case when we purchased our Appaloosas, Taz and Jessie, many years ago.
Before he came to live with us, Taz competed in Western classes at the Appaloosa world competition with one owner, and then went on mountain camping adventures with the family who owned him just before us. After he came home with use, Taz dabbled in a little bit of everything and never said no when I asked him to try something new. From trail riding, gymkhana events, and dressage, to pony rides, saddle seat, and jumping, Taz pretty much did it all in his 27 years. And although he's gone now, I still smile and laugh every time nostalgia sets in and I recant our many adventures to anyone who'll listen (this is usually my dear husband, and he listens patiently every time!).
Jessie, a broodmare in a past life, has turned into our "babysitter," taking new horses under her wing and teaching pushy horses about manners. Here, she prepares to babysit Dorado when he first arrived home.
Photo: Keith Larson
Jessie, now 27 (going on 10…), came with considerably less history than Taz, although her previous owners did tell us she was a bit of a handful under saddle, and that she'd had several foals—they even introduced us to her most recent weanling—and was a fabulous mother. Interestingly enough, both of those points would prove valuable in the future. After she was diagnosed with kissing spines a few years after we brought her home, we realized that most of her antics under saddle were, more than likely, caused by pain rather than bad behavior. And, when we started introducing additional horses into our herd, one by one and several years down the road, Jessie's mothering instincts came out almost instantly: each time, she "adopted" the new herd member, protected them from too much "attention" from the other horses, and essentially taught them the ropes of how the herd worked. Today, Jessie is the resident babysitter at her farm, teaching a pushy horse about submission (and picking up a fan—the owners of said pushy horse—in the process!).
And, unfortunately, some horses come with even less history than word of mouth. Such was the case with Brandy and Dorado.
Brandy was ultimately a rescue disguised as a purchase. When we arrived to look at her, the owner told us something to the effect of, "She lives with the goats in that shed. She just eats their food; she seems to like it. We think she's had a foal or two, and she's trained to drive." Not much to go on, admittedly, but we just learned as we went. She did know how to drive, but didn't like it very much. We learned that she was absolutely brilliant, picked up obstacles very quickly, and loved to jump. So that's what she did. Once retired from performing, she took over the role of the annoying little sister who gets great pleasure out of torturing her older (or bigger, in this case) siblings until she died last year. This is another horse about whom my husband has probably heard more stories than he can count.
And Dorado. Never one to make things easy, Dorado came with the least information of all: "His name is Eldorado and he's a Thoroughbred." Super. Once I had him home I started what would end up being a five-year quest to unearth some of his past. Step one? See if he had a tattoo. He did, which means he was at least entered in one race. Step two? Read the tattoo. As I mentioned, Dorado's never one to make things easy, and reading his tattoo wasn't the walk in the park it sounds like it would be. At the time he was 13, so the tattoo'd had plenty of time to get nice and blurry. Eventually, after reviewing several online articles about how to read hard-to-read tattoos, we figured out what it said.
With that tattoo number, I was able to track down his race name (which he still shows under today), his breeding (he's by the stallion Concorde's Tune), and his race record. I learned that he made 55 starts in his five-year racing career, won 11 races, and won nearly $90,000 in claiming and allowance races. I was pretty pleased with him! (A quick side note: Having this knowledge about Dorado's lengthy racing career came in very handy when my veterinarian was trying to diagnose a lameness. Ultimately, he believes an old, healed, and unknown-to-us injury likely ended his racing career.)
Still, there was one more piece of his history that I wanted to track down: a photo or video of him on the racetrack. Many of my other OTTB-owning friends have younger horses, so they're able to look up past races online to see their horses running. Dorado, when I started this portion of the project, was 17. And there's not much historical claiming and allowance race footage lying around.
Undeterred, I started trying to track down some photos, and a few months later I got the email I was waiting for. The longtime photographer at a track Dorado had won at had searched through the depths of her archives and found his win photos! A few days later, they arrived in the mail. There was Dorado, 3 at the time, crossing a finish line in one photo and posing in the winner's circle in another.
"He still makes that same face!" my friend Kristen said when I showed her the photos, and she's right. It's amazing how much he still looks like himself!
I still can't get over that I've finally completed my quest to learn what Dorado did in his past life, but it was a great experience.
So, after all that, I want to hear about your senior horses: What did they do in past lives, and how did you find out? Share your stories below!