One thing I’ve learned about myself throughout the years is that I’m what’s called a “lifer” when it comes to horses. Even when I tell myself I won’t get overly attached and maybe sell this one for a profit – I always fall completely head over heels in love and they become part of my family. I see how this tendency has been pricey and has limited my opportunities for success in the ring, but it has also grown my heart and passion for horses exponentially.
I have only owned two horses in my 25 years of riding. I got my first horse, Gigi, when I was in high school. She not only helped me survive the awkwardness and heartache of being a teenager, I also took her with me to college. My dad always joked that he had to pay for a college education for both of us…thanks Dad! While at college, Gigi had a tougher time staying sound as she grew older. She had a runout paddock connected to her stall, often received chiropractic adjustments and veterinary care, and was on a supplement concoction before SmartPak was even around! Greg and I went out to many “dates” at the barn to take care of Gigi. When I graduated from U of I, I retired Gigi to Saint Francis Horse Rescue and Retirement Farm in Wisconsin. Gigi got to live out her life eating grass and socializing with her herd of friends on rolling green pastures. Greg and I drove up to Wisconsin a few times a year to visit Gigi, and it always warmed my heart when she would walk my way when I called her name. An amazing couple, named Mary and Bill Hetzel, ran the farm and loved Gigi like she was their own. Greg and I were lucky enough to have a wonderful visit with Gigi when I was eight months pregnant. I got a call from Mary that Gigi took her last breath with Mary holding her head in her lap a week after I had given birth to Quinn. I truly believe she waited for me to have Quinn before my heart broke and I grieved the loss of my dear friend. Taking care of that sweet mare for fifteen years was a big responsibility, but it was always vital to me that she received the best care possible as she aged. She owed me absolutely nothing after loving and supporting me much of my life, and I wanted to show her the same love and respect back until her dying day.
Now……I find myself reaching a similar situation with my cutie pie Oscar. He is eighteen years old and even though I have learned so much throughout the years on how to help and maintain a horse’s soundness, I can’t turn back the clock. No matter how much TLC I give him, his body has greater limitations as it gets older. Recently I’ve had to really step back and reevaluate my long term plans for him. He can’t jump three foot regularly like he used to, and if he runs and plays like a foal during turnout he feels a bit ouchy the next day. The one thing that stays consistent though is Oscar absolutely adores his weekly massages from me. Thanks to massage I see his demeanor staying relaxed and happy, he can still jump around like a champ in my lessons and gets some beautiful lead changes, but most of all I see that he still loves his job and most of all his life! He lovingly introduced Quinn to the world of horse showing in her first lead line class this summer, and just last weekend we went on a 16 mile trail ride and that old man bounced back faster than I did. The one piece of imperative care that I wish I could have offered Gigi in her golden years and now am able to provide to Oscar is massage. How can I help your horse age gracefully with massage too?