An article of mine was published in a national dressage magazine in 2006. Spirit had been retired two years and he was still pouting (read) and holding a grudge about it.

Once publish the date was set, the magazine asked for a photo. No kidding? Who doesn’t dream of one of their horses on the cover of a magazine?

OK, maybe it was only a small photo at the end of a short article, but did I mention it was a National Dressage Magazine?

I had a herd, but it was a easy choice: this photo of Spirit, retired at 17. It was a small way to acknowledge him that would make a difference to no one but me. My old salon boy got a bath, a new hairdo, and one last vanity photo.  I am sure I was more proud Spirit’s picture being in that magazine than my article.

“Years are only garments, and you either wear them with style all your life, or else you go dowdy to the grave.”  -Dorothy Parker.

Long in the tooth is a phrase we’ve used for centuries to describe age in horses. That is what Spirit is, and to be honest, I’m long in the tooth myself. Watching Spirit these last years has taught me to hate retirement just as much as he does.

One of my clients brought a horse out of retirement last year. Coro was 22 yrs. old then, with some health questions- but they decided on dressage and gave me a call. Truly, as much fun as Coro is having in lessons, it might have been his idea. He’s plainly grateful. He loves the work and has a wild sense of humor. It’s contagious, I chuckle through the lesson, and his rider…maybe a bemused tolerance.

A year later, Coro has grown so much stronger, his breathing has improved and he’s gained muscle. He feels good, sometimes too good. Coro takes pride in showing off to his barn-mates. His rider has lots of experience, confidence, and focus. And, she is working to keep up with him! Lara and Coro have a second chance that no one takes for granted- because it’s never too late for a shoulder-in.

Retirement Resistance is common sense. Horses enjoy healthy work; strength and suppleness can keep a them sound, body and mind, for precious extra years. Plus, there are good, affordable, and nearly miraculous supplements for added help. If you believe standing out in a pasture forever looks like fun, ask someone who is unemployed how much they enjoy all the spare time.

Spirit says (he is even more blunt than me), “Work = Pride. There is plenty of time to quit living once we’re dead. If you are bored with your horse, you have your own dull self to blame. Don’t retire one day early, because retirement isn’t really like a vacation at all.”

A retirement from injury is bad luck- Spirit and I sympathize. Beyond that, the only limitation a mid-life horse has is their rider. It’s the perfect time to take up something new, and put off the inevitable for a few more years. It’s a great time to adopt a mid-life rescue horse and begin a whole new life together.

As for Spirit, he still teaches the master class in visualization (read). When he retired 8 years ago, I had  two other geldings. I notice there are 3 mares in my barn now. Spirit out-visualized me again. Getting scratched by soft-eyed mares was certainly never my plan. It’s pretty impressive to get a gelding-lover like me on board- three separate times!

But still, when I take a horse to the arena to ride, Spirit stops and watches me. He paws less than before. We spent years inside of each others mind- it’s a bittersweet habit now.

Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.

(April is Spirit Month at the blog, 25 years deserves more than one post. This is #3 of 4.)

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