Still-Ac­tive Se­niors

Age is just a num­ber, at least when it comes to these six se­nior horses.

Horse & Rider - - Table Of Contents - By Nic­hole Chirico

RE­TIRE­MENT ISN’T AL­WAYS the an­swer for ev­ery­one. Just like peo­ple, many horses en­joy hav­ing a job and stay­ing busy well into their golden years. Just be­cause your horse is reach­ing a cer­tain age doesn’t mean that he can’t en­joy do­ing the same things younger horses are asked to do. Some­times there are a few set­backs—things change with age—but as long as your horse is happy and healthy, there’s no rea­son to quit spend­ing time in the sad­dle with him. He might even thrive from his con­tin­ued sense of pur­pose.

Here we’ll in­tro­duce you to six horses that are well into their golden years and share their sto­ries of suc­cess in the show pen, be­com­ing the per­fect teach­ers, and the jour­ney of re­turn­ing from an in­jury. →

Art­ful In­vest­ment

Barn name: Ar­tie. Age: 22. Owner: Nancy Alto-Ren­fro of Finely, Cal­i­for­nia. The name Art­ful In­vest­ment is well rec­og­nized in the Amer­i­can Quar­ter Horse As­so­ci­a­tion show com­mu­nity. Af­ter win­ning mul­ti­ple world cham­pi­onships, be­com­ing one of the high­est point-earn­ing stal­lions in AQHA his­tory, and pro­duc­ing world-cham­pion off­spring, “Ar­tie” now adds “fa­vorite les­son horse” to his long list of ac­com­plish­ments.

When Ar­tie first re­turned to Cal­i­for­nia to re­tire, he was given a pas­ture most horses would dream of. But Ar­tie’s not like most horses and would run up and down the fence un­til he was com­pletely drenched in sweat, let­ting his keep­ers know he didn’t care for pas­ture life. So much that they gelded him to see if it would help. Alto-Ren­fro quickly re­al­ized Ar­tie en­joyed hav­ing a job.

So in the spring of 2015, Ar­tie’s owner sug­gested Lind­say LaPlante give Ar­tie a trial pe­riod as a les­son horse at Sil­ver Spur Rid­ing School in Del Mar, Cal­i­for­nia. It turned out to be the per­fect re­tire­ment for Ar­tie.

“I’ve never seen such a happy les­son horse,” La Plante gushes. “He’s gen­uinely the happiest horse I’ve ever been around. And he loves be­ing around the kids. The only time he gets mad is when it rains and he knows can’t get rid­den.”

His work sched­ule is very light and in­volves a lot of walk­ing and jog­ging. But Ar­tie’s also a go-to horse for trail rid­ing, grooming prac­tice, and even swim­ming in the ocean. “The horse I usu­ally take to the beach hap­pened to be lame that day, so we de­cided to bring Ar­tie, not know­ing if he’d ever been around wa­ter. Sure enough, he en­joyed it. His fa­vorite part was stick­ing his face in the wa­ter and blow­ing bub­bles. He might’ve had more fun than the kids, which is hard to beat,” La Plante shares.

Ar­tie’s now a fa­vorite at the les­son barn, and gets the op­por­tu­nity to teach kids how to trust horses and learn how to ride. And while most of the kids don’t know Ar­tie is an equine celebrity, some have gone to YouTube to watch his world-show runs and see just how tal­ented he re­ally is. He’s helped tons of kids learn more about horses, and has done ev­ery­thing from help­ing them learn how to steer at a walk to per­form­ing a fly­ing lead change. He even par­takes in the lo­cal fun shows, where he’s been beat by a Shet­land pony in the hunter un­der sad­dle, a class he holds mul­ti­ple world ti­tles in. But ac­cord­ing to some of the many kids who love on him ev­ery day, Ar­tie’s big­gest achieve­ment is learn­ing how to bow on com­mand.

Creepy Ju­nior

Barn name: Big Brown. Age: 28. Owner: Lisa Hamil­ton of Billings, Mon­tana. When Hamil­ton went to pick up a horse for a friend, she didn’t know she’d be com­ing home with a horse for her­self. But the minute she pulled into the drive­way and saw Creepy Ju­nior qui­etly stand­ing out­side, she knew he’d be the per­fect bar­rel-rac­ing horse for her, even if he was ap­proach­ing 20 years old at the time.

“Big Brown” re­mains healthy at age 28, but own­ing a se­nior horse comes with its own set of chal­lenges. Some­times he strug­gles with keep­ing weight on—some­thing many se­nior horses deal with. Through lots of trial and er­ror,

Hamil­ton has found that sweet feed and rice bran work best for him. He also gets a mix of al­falfa and grass hay, along with an as­sort­ment of sup­ple­ments. Fre­quent ex­er­cise fur­ther builds Big Brown’s ap­petite.

As he gets older, it takes more time to get him ready for the next bar­rel-rac­ing sea­son. Hamil­ton and Big Brown start their sea­son slowly by at­tend­ing a few lo­cal jack­pots to help him ease back into the com­pet­i­tive arena and in­crease his fit­ness. And when Big Brown isn’t at jack­pots, his rid­ing rou­tine is con­stantly chang­ing.

“He’s happiest when he’s out of the arena, so with the ex­cep­tion of a pole-bend­ing ex­er­cise I like to prac­tice with him once a week, he doesn’t spend much time in the arena,” Hamil­ton ex­plains. “And if the weather’s nice, we’re trot­ting and lop­ing out on the hilly trails, which also helps build his stamina.”

Get­ting Big Brown into the arena to run a bar­rel pat­tern turned out to be a bit of a strug­gle when Hamil­ton first started run­ning him. But soon she was able to find a pro­gram that worked well for him. “Af­ter all these years of run­ning bar­rels, he knows what he’s sup­posed to do when there’s a pat­tern set up,” Hamil­ton shares. “So I like to keep things fresh and new for him by do­ing dif­fer­ent things out­side the arena.” Five years later, go­ing into the arena to run a pat­tern isn’t a prob­lem any­more. In fact, he’s been most suc­cess­ful in the com­pe­ti­tion arena when he isn’t drilled at home. So much that Hamil­ton and Big Brown have won the all-around novice-se­lect West­ern horse ti­tle at the AQHA Novice West Cham­pi­onships two years in a row.

As for Big Brown’s fu­ture, Hamil­ton says, “He’s a very honest horse to me. He’ll tell me when he’s ready to slow down.”

Dualin Com­mand

Barn name: Dually. Age: 17. Owner: Julie Good­night of Pon­cha Springs, Colorado. G ood­night con­sid­ers Dualin Com­mand to be her go-to clinic and demon­stra­tion horse be­cause of his ver­sa­til­ity and tem­per­a­ment. He also par­tic­i­pates in reined cow horse and ver­sa­til­ity events. He’s al­ways pay­ing at­ten­tion and quickly un­der­stands what his job en­tails. But as he’s aged, he’s had a few set­backs. Af­ter a year and a half of no rid­ing due to com­plete body sore­ness, “Dually” is fi­nally im­prov­ing and is back to be­ing rid­den.

As Good­night rode Dually, she no­ticed his per­for­mance start to di­min­ish. She wasn’t sure what was go­ing on, but she knew she had to help him.

“His whole body was sore, so it was hard to fig­ure out where he ac­tu­ally hurt,” Good­night shares. “You could just tell he didn’t feel good.”

Arthri­tis is com­mon in older horses, and be­cause Dually has so much arthri­tis, it was hard to pinpoint if he just hurt from that or if there was an un­der­ly­ing in­jury. It’s been a long di­ag­nos­tic process with sev­eral ups and downs, but re­cently Dually has made a huge come­back thanks to the help of Good­night’s per­for­mance and lame­ness spe­cial­ist.

“We did X-rays and couldn’t find any dev­as­tat­ing news, which was good to hear,” Good­night says. “There was no lamini­tis or cof­fin-bone trou­bles. My lame­ness vet was con­fi­dent we could get him back to 100-per­cent. We found in­ter­leukin re­cep­tor an­tag­o­nist pro­tein (IRAP) in­jec­tions ex­tremely help­ful.” (To learn more about IRAP in­jec­tions read “Oh My Aching Joints” on Horse­andRider.com.)

Dur­ing his re­cov­ery, Dually con­tin­ued to have reg­u­lar ex­er­cise. “I found it was ben­e­fi­cial for him to keep a good level of fit­ness,” she shares. “Let­ting an older horse get com­pletely soft and then try­ing to bring him back is hard. When a horse loses his topline, it’s even harder to get it back.” So Dually con­tin­ued to have reg­u­lar turnout and was free longed or ponied for short pe­ri­ods of time through­out the week.

Now that Dually’s on the road to re­cov­ery and feel­ing bet­ter, Good­night is back to rid­ing him a few times a week. It’s a slow process, and she still has a long way to go to get him back to where he was. “I haven’t worked a cow with him in a long time,” Good­night ex­plains. “My hope is now that he’s feel­ing good again I’ll be able to get him fit enough to start work­ing cat­tle.” →

Barn name: Hatch. Age: 19. Own­ers: Todd and Lisa Neiberger of Ar­gyle, Texas. C red­its For Heaven is no stranger to the show arena— es­pe­cially in the all-around events—and af­ter years of show­ing he con­tin­ues to prove that he can still com­pete with the young ones. On top of an al­ready ex­ten­sive list of horse­show­ing ac­com­plish­ments—in­clud­ing an AQHA youth world cham­pion ti­tle in trail—in the last two years he’s also won the am­a­teur trail at the All Amer­i­can Quar­ter Horse Congress and was the Na­tional Snaf­fle Bit As­so­ci­a­tion Se­lect Trail World Cham­pion. It’s clear the horse still has a lot left in him as he ap­proaches age 20.

At home, “Hatch” has a fairly easy ex­er­cise rou­tine that in­cludes pas­ture turnout a few days a week and time on the walker al­most ev­ery morn­ing. Be­ing a vet­eran to the show arena means he doesn’t need much rig­or­ous school­ing, so he typ­i­cally only gets rid­den four times a week. “Hatch lives on our prop­erty, so dur­ing the week my daugh­ters and I keep him legged up by do­ing some light rid­ing,” Lisa shares. “The only time we’ll in­crease his rid­ing is if we’re get­ting ready for a large horse show. Be­fore those shows our trainer, Robin Frid, will ride him for a quick tune-up.”

In the past, Hatch has been a fam­ily horse. Lisa and her daugh­ters, Alyssa and Pay­ton, have all taken turns pi­lot­ing him in all-around events. But be­cause of his age, Hatch’s show­ing rou­tine has changed to ac­com­mo­date his new life phase. He doesn’t travel nearly as much, and he’s no longer show­ing in the open di­vi­sion. “Robin has done quite well with Hatch in the past. But the open trail and West­ern rid­ing classes are so com­pet­i­tive that we’ve de­cided to have Alyssa solely fo­cus on the am­a­teur events now that he’s older,” Lisa ex­plains.

His love for show­ing and work­ing are some of the many rea­sons Hatch con­tin­ues com­pet­ing well into his se­nior years. “You can tell he’s happy when he’s at a horse show,” Lisa gushes. “A quick longe-line ses­sion and run through of the pat­tern is all he needs to get ready, and when he does go into the show pen he im­me­di­ately perks up and he al­ways wants to be good. If we load up the trailer to go to a show and he’s not go­ing, he sticks his head out of his stall and starts to whinny. You can tell he’s sad when he doesn’t get to go.”

Mer­adas Hot Tip

Barn name: T-Bone. Age: 18. Owner: Al Dun­ning of Scotts­dale, Ari­zona. M er­adas Hot Tip started out as a show horse where he suc­cess­fully com­peted in sev­eral events in­clud­ing heel­ing, cut­ting, rein­ing, and the work­ing cow horse. Af­ter his show ca­reer ended, he made his way to Al Dun­ning’s Al­mosta Ranch where he holds a new role that in­volves help­ing Dun­ning with his lessons and clin­ics.

Thanks to T-Bone’s gen­tle per­son­al­ity, he’s be­come one of Dun­ning’s best clinic horses. T-Bone’s the per­fect con­fi­dence

booster for a novice rider be­cause he’s al­ways quiet and easy-go­ing.

“I’ve made so many peo­ple happy by let­ting them ride T-Bone,” Dun­ning ex­plains with a smile. “I have rid­ers of all skill lev­els ride him; you never have to worry about him be­ing bad.” He’s also known to put in as much or as lit­tle ef­fort that you ask of him. He’s more than happy to carry around a novice rider, but he’s more than will­ing to chal­lenge an ex­pe­ri­enced rider and can work a cow just as well as any other horse that’s cur­rently on Dun­ning’s prop­erty. “I tell anyone who rides him and is chas­ing a cow down the fence to pay at­ten­tion to the cow, be­cause T-Bone stops and turns so hard, you’ll fall off if you’re not watch­ing,” he laughs.

The key to keep­ing T-Bone happy with his job as he gets older is con­tin­u­ing to do a va­ri­ety of things with him. There are days where he’s taken on trail rides, and other days he helps gather cat­tle. He also spends a lot of time in the arena ei­ther help­ing with clin­ics or get­ting rid­den by one of Dun­ning’s cus­tomers. When he’s not be­ing rid­den, T-Bone splits his time be­tween a reg­u­lar stall and the pas­ture. He loves his pas­ture time, but he’s al­ways the first one to the gate when some­one comes with a hal­ter and lead rope.

T-Bone is a horse that loves hav­ing a job, and ac­cord­ing to Al, that’s what keeps him so healthy. “At one point, I let T-Bone sit for a lit­tle while,” Dun­ning re­calls. “His at­ti­tude im­me­di­ately changed. He didn’t have a good look in his eye, and I was ex­tremely wor­ried about him. As soon as we got him legged up and rid­ing again, he blos­somed and he had his old per­son­al­ity back. He’s a spe­cial horse, and when you have a horse like him, you have to keep him happy and com­fort­able for as long as you can.”

Bald N Shiney

Barn name: Hank. Age: 23. Owner: Nelle Mur­phy of Weather­ford, Texas. Af­ter slow­ing down for a few years, mul­ti­ple world cham­pion Bald

N Shiney is back in the show arena with 9-year-old Baily Shop­bell rid­ing. Through­out his ca­reer, “Hank” has proven that he has what it takes, so when Baily needed a horse to show, owner Nelle Mur­phy knew Hank would be the per­fect part­ner.

The pair im­me­di­ately clicked and qual­i­fied for the 2016 AQHA Youth World to­gether. But as they were rid­ing in Ok­la­homa City, they no­ticed some­thing wasn’t right and that Hank wasn’t mov­ing like he nor­mally does.

“You could tell he was just a lit­tle off, never com­pletely lame,” Mur­phy re­calls. “We im­me­di­ately took him to the vet where they found a small tear in his ten­don. The vets said we could prob­a­bly show him at the Youth World, but we didn’t want to take the chance of him in­jur­ing his ten­don more and pos­si­bly never be­ing able to show again. He’s been too good of a horse to us to do that to him.”

With­out ever hav­ing a se­ri­ous in­jury dur­ing his rid­ing ca­reer, Hank was now on stall rest. The vets rec­om­mended six weeks off to help the small tear heal, but be­cause Hank is older they weren’t sure how long it would take to let the ten­don fully heal. Dur­ing Hank’s re­cov­ery, Baily hand-walked him for 30 min­utes ev­ery day. Once he was OK’d to start rid­ing again, she was in charge of walk­ing and jog­ging him to get him back in shape. As he built his stamina back up, she started to add in small amounts of lop­ing to their rid­ing rou­tine.

Now that Baily knows how to ride Hank, they don’t work the cow all of the time, but fo­cus more on do­ing straight lines and work­ing on her cir­cles. And while Hank is back to his reg­u­lar rou­tine—which in­volves Baily rid­ing ev­ery chance she gets—his ex­er­cise ses­sions are fairly light and fo­cus more on keep­ing him fit and in shape rather than hard drills. The two are work­ing hard to get ready for the up­com­ing show sea­son and were set to re­turn to the show pen at the NR­CHA World Show in February.

Art­ful In­vest­ment

Creepy Ju­nior

Dualin Com­mand

Mer­adas Hot Tip

Cred­its For Heaven

Bald N Shiney

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