Somehow it’s November already and Thanksgiving is just around the corner. But that’s not the only celebration taking place this month—it’s also “Adopt a Senior Pet” month! That’s right, old horse fanatics, a month dedicated to encouraging more and more people to become senior horse owners!
I’ve often heard that in small-animal shelters, the youngest residents are usually the first to find new homes. I’d guess it’s similar for equine rescues. And on one hand, I get it. If I’m looking for a riding partner to train and bring up through the levels, I’m probably going to look for one without much wear and tear on his joints and with a long future ahead of him.
But, having brought Dorado home when he was 13—unsure of what, if anything he would be able to do—I know that you can find an ideal mount who’s not 5. And from my experiences working at a lesson farm in Michigan that catered mainly to girls who’d never interacted with a horse before, I can most certainly assure you that, sometimes, an experienced senior horse is the best way to go.
Sometimes senior horses have the most to teach us.
At the riding facility I worked at, we were not only willing to take older horses donated to our program, we were typically thrilled to take the seniors that came our way. Sure, some of them had health issues that dictated what kind of lessons they could do and/or required medication, but most of them proved to be class acts when it came to teaching young girls about horses.
One horse, for instance, was a big former upper-level dressage horse who’d sustained an injury and could no longer perform his job soundly. However, he was a perfect mount for some students, who were maybe too tall or too heavy to ride some of our other lesson mounts and just learning to walk, halt, and steer.
Another little mare was the perfect confidence builder for nervous riders, despite the fact that her joints were a bit creaky and she likely had pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction, or equine Cushing’s disease.
We had a former show horse with absolutely nothing wrong with her, but whose owners wanted her to have a relaxing retirement as a mount for young riders. She very happily taught beginners how to steer and more experienced girls how to trot ground poles and canter. And she was still going strong when I left several years ago.
And one of my favorite senior geldings—this really was a rescue, having been locked in a dark stall for months on end, alone—couldn’t be ridden. But after his rehabilitation—helping him regain the weight he desperately needed and ensuring he was well-socialized with other horses and people—he was the ideal horse to let the girls practice grooming on. His small size and heart of gold made even the most timid students comfortable handling horses.
There’s something special about the experienced senior schoolmaster that can give new riders a wealth of knowledge.
There’s something to be said for having a quiet, experienced schoolmaster to put new riders on. Even today, I long for some of those senior horses from that stable when my or my husband’s friends ask to ride a horse. (Yes, Dorado is almost 20. But, no, he’s not suitable to put beginner riders on, even while on a lead line. His head might stay right at my shoulder, but there’s no telling where his body will go when he thinks something’s going to eat him!)
Someday, should we be fortunate enough to have our own horse facility, I’d love nothing more than to adopt some senior equids in need. But for now, I can contribute to my equine retirement facility of choice to help ensure that every horse that comes through the gates lives out his or her days happily and healthfully.
Have you adopted or taken in a senior horse? Please share your experiences!