We are our horses’ guardians for all seasons. Just because they are past their athletic peak does not lesson our responsibility, nor the gifts they give us in return.
I wrote these words on Monday after having attended a BE90 event where I watched a former 5* event horse cruise round with his new partner in crime, the very person who used to groom for him at those top level shows. The smile on her face and the tears of pride in his previous rider’s eyes as he completed each phase, along with his pricked ears and exuberant demeanour showed that he was exactly where he should be, doing the job he loved, and being cared for and maintained just as diligently as when he was on the international stage.
Yesterday I drove all day to drop off my own Grand Prix horse at his new home with a young rider. She is a beautiful rider and connected with Des instantly. Her mother rode to small tour level herself and now runs a small riding school. Her little sister is a show rider and HOYS title winner. They know how to look after their horses. The young rider is seeking classification as a para dressage rider but may aim for Juniors as well. It will be the perfect ‘step down’ home for Des. All the care he needs, the competition and training he is still able to produce without any of the pressure that he is no longer physically able to sustain.
I had my last ride on him on Monday afternoon. He felt amazing. Light to the aids, up into the bridle and producing some of the best quality work that he ever has. I questioned my sanity in retiring him from the Grand Prix as he felt like he was ready to step out into the arena again. I know that the rider of the little eventer I talk of above had a wee whisper go through her head at the beginning of the year wondering if her 17yr old had another Badminton run in him when a jump school went particularly well. Of course, sanity prevailed in both cases.
I was questioned last week about the fact that I was offering Des to a competition home after ‘retirement’. The thing is, the last thing these horses need is to be thrown into a field somewhere and left to rot. Horses are the same as humans in these cases. Just as the time comes for a runner or rower or cyclist to reduce their distances or slow down, the same thing happens for horses. It doesn’t mean they can’t be useful age group athletes and continue to strive for and meet challenges, it just means these goal posts are pulled in closer to home. They also need the same, if not better, maintenance and care than they have had during their top level careers. The massages, spa treatments, farriers, nutritionists, physiotherapy will continue, as well as even greater attention to fitness and conditioning. In Des’ case I wasn’t going to let him go to a home that couldn’t provide year round turnout as he needs the mental and physical freedom. It was heart-warming to be sent a photo of him in the damp twilight last night out in a field with a friend.
There will come a time in both these beloved campaigners lives when they no longer have the heart to do the work. They are both in situations where they will be listened to. They will step down with grace, and who knows, one day they may share a field where they can graze and grow old and hairy together. Until then, they are giving great joy and happiness to a new level of partner. And we, as their guardians, watch on with tears of pride in our eyes…
From Badminton to BE90...
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