Tuesday, October 21, 2008

You CAN teach an old horse new tricks!

One big reason I see horses being dumped is that they're older and they haven't been ridden for some time, or they're not highly trained, and people think they are too old to bother with. I don't believe this at all. Many of you, long before I started doing this blog, read my story about Samantha, the 19 year old Thoroughbred broodmare I rescued many years ago who started a new career over fences. (I only wish I had taken before pictures. She looked like the walking dead when I got her.) Samantha isn't that unusual, but today's story is really exceptional!

"Billy" is a 24 year old AQHA gelding, registered name Billings Dynamite. Billy had never seen a show ring until he was 22 years old and his current owner, Marci, was on the hunt for a horse who would not explode, a horse that she could actually have fun on. His history was team penning and roping, so he was an unlikely candidate for a pleasure and equitation horse on the tough AQHA circuit, but Marci just plain liked him and felt safe on him - so she decided to give him a chance. Now they are cleaning up - in fact, they recently won a brand new trophy saddle! He goes hunt and western and wins both. He does showmanship, he does trail. He looks wonderful and is in perfect weight. She has no intention of retiring him - in fact, next year they're going to upgrade to the regular Amateur classes from Novice!

(This is a good example of something else I've said before - you can't train in a brain. This horse HAD a brain and they trained in a couple of new skills. That you can do, but an idiot is often an idiot no matter how much money you spend at the trainer's.)

There is absolutely no reason you can't take an older horse, who's still reasonably sound, and teach him a new discipline. People do it all the time. I see these posts on message boards where people want to know IF you can train (or geld) a 20 year old. OF COURSE YOU CAN! You can do both. (Get a good vet for the gelding, not the cheap guy). Honestly, I'd rather hop on a 20 year old for the first time than a 3 year old for the first time. It's a pretty good training niche for the old and chicken among us, LOL!

If you're tired of young horse antics, the world is full of older horses that need homes - and many of them are cheap or free. If you're worried about soundness, the truth is that most horses that are going to be chronic soundness headaches show their problems before age 12. (Ask a vet - most will agree with me). If they're 15 and still trotting sound, they are probably going to hold up just fine to the kind of work most of us do with a horse - flat work, trails, 2' jumps, team sorting/penning, drill team, you get the gist. Most of us need a solid, dependable, enjoyable horse more than we need a superstar athlete, and the older horse will do just fine! Throw 'em a little joint supplement, condition them slowly, turn them out daily and keep them fit.

I especially want you teenagers to take note. Many of you want a horse more than anything, but your parents have pointed at the family budget and there is no room for a $5,000+ hobby expenditure. If you can, however, come up with the money for board and care bills, the world is just full of old horses for free. Some of these Thoroughbred broodmares being dumped are 100% sound and absolutely can learn to jump or do dressage or whatever you would like. No, you may not look as cool as your friend with the unlimited budget whose folks bought her a $50,000 warmblood, but think how amusing it will be when you beat her because you worked your ass off and you earned it. I have seen it happen, many times.
Look at old Billy up there - you think he's not beating horses who cost ten times what he did? Just condition them up slowly - remember they've had many years off and you can't plan on cantering and jumping the first week - and you'll be shocked at what a nice horse you can end up with. They are out there, and they will be so grateful for your time and attention.
P.S. Speaking of TB mares, for those of you who wanted a Lucy update, it's on the VLC blog. :-)