I think it's safe to say that we're all fans of senior horses here. But these horses have an uncanny ability to make us feel incredibly old and wonder just where the years have gone! I realized this on Saturday, as my Warmblood mare celebrated her 17th birthday.
Sadie is performing better in her late-teens than she ever did in her younger years.
Photo: Keith Larson
Now, Sadie is about as far from a senior as a horse in her late teens can get. But when I think back to the day she came home as a 5-year-old more than a decade ago (has it really been that long?!), she's the epitome of a horse getting better with age.
Twelve years ago I set out to find a horse I could begin showing since our then-16-year-old Appaloosa gelding Taz, who'd begun having some balance problems that made transporting him a challenge. I only had two criteria: No youngsters and no mares. The horse search was going well and I'd ridden several nice ones, but I hadn't found one that I was ready to commit to. Eventually I fell in love with a Thoroughbred mare (Step 1 in moving away from my initial criteria), but our veterinarian found some problems on the prepurchase exam and we elected to pass on her. But, after that, I became slightly more receptive to mares.
And then one morning, my mother showed me a photo that won me over in a heartbeat: A big bay mare with a perfect star stared at me through the computer screen with giant ears pricked at the camera. She was young and green, but she was really stinkin' cute. So we went to see her.
At 5, she was much younger than I'd wanted to even consider. But she had great conformation, really nice gaits, and free-longed over her very first jump ever boldly. She hadn't had as much training as I'd hoped for, but she seemed to try hard to please her handler and my trainer was confident that she could help us get where we wanted to be. So we took a chance on her and I ended up with a young green mare (who couldn't see that one coming from the beginning?).
To make a long story short, the first few years weren't the smoothest. There were lots of ups—our first ride, our first jump, our first course—but there were just as many downs—some serious separation anxiety, a really good "I-don't-want-to" dance, and, worst of all, the fear of the trailer.
But as she matured, slowly and surely, we worked through the issues and Sadie eventually turned into a lovely horse to ride. Her work ethic blossomed as she matured, her gaits became even nicer, and she finally showed us how incredibly smart she was as she picked new tasks under saddle up in record time. The separation anxiety and trailer problems lingered, however, which made her essentially impossible to compete. But, since she was fun to play with at home and really didn't need much more than a little hay and beet pulp to hide supplements in, she hung out at home with us.
Years passed, I went to college, my current eventer Dorado came into our lives unexpectedly, and he and I travelled to South Carolina to begin working with our current trainer. Before I knew what was happening, I had a job in Kentucky and Dorado and I had a new home. And throughout that time, Sadie enjoyed her pasture at home with my parents.
Shortly after moving to Kentucky, I went home for a visit. Of course, I brought my tack and planned to mosey around on my mare while my father rode his horse, but that mosey quickly turned into an incredibly fun flat session. Despite the fact that she hadn't been ridden in months, Sadie showed me that she remembered everything she'd learned years ago. But the best part was her attitude: Her disagreements were nothing more than a tail-swish, her spooks were nothing more than a cocked head, and her separation anxiety—which previously manifested as a pretty awesome rear-spin-jump move that I'd gotten really good at riding—was little more than a whinny from time to time. Had time to mature really been that helpful to her?
The next day, I took her out for another ride. This time, and based on the previous day's good behavior, I decided to pop over a few small jumps. This would be the real test: After liking nothing more for the first few years of her career under saddle, Sadie had made it very clear several years ago that she didn't want to jump anymore. So we started with a little cross-rail. If she still didn't want to jump, I wasn't going to push the issue. But she went right over with her ears up, even hitting her lead after the fence. A few more jumps yielded the same results. I couldn't have been more proud of her!
I know Sadie will never reach her full potential due to the fact that she has spent (and continues to spend) much of her time in a field, but she's become a completely different horse as she's matured.
Photo: Keith Larson
For the rest of that visit, Sadie and I enjoyed several more awesome rides. And each time I returned for visits, she showed me the same mature behavior. Who knew time could be so helpful!
The real kicker comes when my parents moved last year and Sadie needed to take a trailer ride. After loading (and staying…) in a trailer three times in her life, at the age of 16 it took less than 15 minutes to prepare and load her. I was in a state of disbelief. And when I unloaded her after a five-hour ride, she walked off the rig calmly with nearly no sweat on her. She walked bravely down a hill to a new pasture, and led our other two horses around the field exploring. This was the horse I was hoping for when I'd purchased her 12 years ago: A brave, confident mare with all the talent in the world.
I know Sadie will never reach her full potential due to the fact that she has spent much of her life in a field, but she's become a completely different horse as she reached her upper teens. I'm looking forward to seeing what happens as she continues to age, and can't wait for my next chance to ride my lovely, finally matured mare.
Do you have a horse who's become better with age and maturity? Or maybe a horse who just makes you wonder where the years have gone? I'd love to hear your stories!