Growing up, one of my very favorite books was That’s Good! That’s Bad! written by Margery Cuyler and illustrated by David Catrow. Amazon.com says the book is about “a little boy has a series of adventures and misadventures with a bunch of wild animals.” Well, if you change “little boy” to “not-so-little girl” and “a bunch of wild animals” to “one wild old horse,” you’ve got a fairly accurate description of my 2015 with Dorado.

After being as fit as ever and prepared to tackle his first three-day event of the year (that’s good!), Dorado suffered a laminitic episode last June (that’s bad!). Fortunately, the laminitis wasn’t as bad as it could have been with no coffin bone rotation and very little sinking, if any—different veterinarians had different opinions (that’s good!). Two trips to visit a podiatrist and 90 days of stall rest later, Dorado was back on his feet, literally and figuratively (that’s also good!). The downside to three months in a box? He actually started to look his age due to the muscle tone he lost (that’s just heartbreaking).

Dorado wasn’t ready to retire, so we’re giving him another chance.

Photo: Erica Larson

Eventually we started transitioning him out of his therapeutic shoes and back into normal-ish ones (that’s good!). But we hit a couple bumps along the way (that’s bad!), because for some reason Dorado’s feet don’t seem to like some of the most expensive pads—and also the ones that offered the most protection as his soles regained their depth—on the market (that’s just annoying when you’ve already paid for them … twice!).

We started bringing Dorado back into work slowly, unsure of what his body would tolerate after the laminitic episode. Light work was no problem (that’s good!), but as we started building up the intensity things started to get a bit questionable (that’s bad!). Some days were super, and Dorado felt like his old self again. Others, I wondered if he’d ever do more than walk around the farm again; if that was the case, I was completely okay with it—he doesn’t owe me a thing and I just wanted him to be comfortable.

But deep down, I knew he was telling me he wasn’t ready to be done yet. At 19, no one would have thought twice about me opting to retire him and let him live out his days fat and happy (well, happy … Dorado doesn’t know how to get fat yet!) in a lovely grass field in the Bluegrass region. In fact, that might have been the easiest thing to do. But when have I taken the easy route? He was always excited to go for rides, even when he wasn’t moving his best. And he was bored off his rocker, pestering his saint of a babysitter at every chance he got and running around the paddock like a crazy thing whenever he felt the urge. I wasn’t convinced he was done.

So I called my long-time veterinarian (who was away from the clinic doing research during the whole laminitic episode) and asked him to come take a look. He’s never been one to take the easy route either, and he agreed that Dorado didn’t seem quite ready to call it quits yet. So he outlined a new rehabilitation program, spent a day teaching me how he wanted Dorado to move, and instructed me to send videos of workout sessions so he could keep tabs on how Dorado was improving.

Dorado is happy to be back in work and is even getting some of his muscles back!

Photo: Erica Larson

And lo and behold, Dorado started coming out of his rut and his body started shifting from that of a retired horse to one of an athlete. He had muscles again. His joints were cool and tight. His feet didn't hurt one bit. And he was happy again.

I don’t know where 2016 will take us. Dorado celebrated his Thoroughbred birthday on Jan. 1, turning the big 2-0, and our veterinarian says he’s never seen Dorado look better than he does right now. We’ll keep him in work and moving forward as he can, but the main thing is to keep him happy and healthy. And for now, I think we’re doing a pretty darn good job of that.

What does 2016 hold for you and your senior horses?