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For those of you with a beloved senior horse

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  • For those of you with a beloved senior horse

    This is a little essay I wrote about my lifetime horse, Willa. I would love your comments/feedback/shared stories.

    Willa at Thirty

    The original Bay Mare is thirty this year. I have been promising myself for a long time that I would write “her” piece while she was still alive to revel in it, and while I still have daily contact with her true and often exasperating self, rather than some sugared-up version colored by my own sentimentality and sense of loss after she is gone.

    Willa has no time for sentiment. She has always been a horse who wanted to cut to the chase, no kisses or lovey-dovey stuff. Just let her jump the jumps, gallop down the path, do what needs to be done. She has accepted carrots and rubbing over the years not because she sought affection but because they were her due. She repeatedly saved my bacon going cross country, not out of some anthropomorphized sense of loyalty but because she understood her job and seemed to relish it.

    Willa and I became sparring partners late in the summer of 1983. She was a nicely started 3- year-old and I was in my late twenties, teaching in the riding program at Dartmouth College. I had the use of a stall with the job, and with the financial backing of my mother, I purchased Willa as a likely sales project. Willa had promise and sass and sense, and displayed unusual ability over fences from the first day we casually popped over a log out on the trail.

    In my mind she is inextricably connected with my mother. Not only because my mother bought her for me, but because they remind me of each other, with a dash of namesake Willa Cather thrown in for good measure. My mother was born and raised in Nebraska, and was deeply familiar with the landscapes and people Cather wrote about in My Antonia, O Pioneers, Song of the Lark, and other stories. Like Cather the author and Willa the horse, my mother was not sentimental, but committed to getting on with the business of life.

    I don’t know if this justifies the fact that twenty-seven years later my sales prospect is still eating hay in our barn. Willa was with me when I met, dated, and eventually married my husband Scott. She has moved cross country with us a couple of times. She took me on lovely relaxing hacks when I was pregnant with our twin boys. The twin boys are twenty now and though they have moved out, the horse is still here. She has seen me through better and worse, richer and poorer, sickness and health, and has never uttered a word about obeying anyone.

    My purpose here is not to recount her competitive history, nor to reminisce about her unflinching honesty and courage in front of whatever obstacle she was aimed at. Ribbons, triumphs, fun and glory have certainly been part of the picture, both for me and for Scott. Frustration, too. Her disdain for the dressage ring was legendary, as was her mulish reluctance to load on the horse trailer without a compatible equine escort.

    What I want to celebrate is Willa today. She is an old horse, a cranky horse, an arthritic and arguably senile horse. Equally, she is a living miracle. Her ego, her look, her attitude are as intact and tangible as ever. When I lead her from the barn to her paddock on cool mornings, she snorts and shies and jigs just as she did a quarter of a century ago. She treats me with as little respect now that I am gray and grandmotherly as she did when I was young and ambitious. She no longer dominates the big group of mares in turn-out, but she happily lords it over her designated companion, Becky the mini horse. Age has distilled her into the purest essence of herself. In her great longevity she serves as a daily reminder of the impermanence of our most precious relationships, and as an inspiration to keep moving forward.

  • #2
    As one who only yesterday lost my much loved 27 year old gelding, let me just say how much I loved your tribute to your mare.

    Thanks for posting.


    • #3
      That was lovely.

      Horses are so much more than competition partners.
      Facta non verba


      • #4
        <tears> sniff......
        Monty & Theo http://community.webshots.com/album/...tneese?start=0



        • #5
          Thank you. She sounds very much like my old man King!

          I like that you wrote it now, while she is still here to revel in it!

          I cleaned and oiled King's tack two weekends ago, getting them ready for Cooper. I was fine until I was finished. Then, admiring my work, a news reel suddenly started playing in my mind of all the adventures King and I had in that tack. I cried like a baby, consoling myself only with the knowledge that King is still RIGHT HERE. He is as cranky as ever.

          I was glad I had cleaned and oiled the tack for Coop now, while King is still right here. Somehow, it just seems like This It Be Right.

          Thanks for sharing your mare's story. It touched my heart. You two are so blessed to have had each other!


          • #6
            Awww. My senior is the grandpa I never had. That sums it up for me. I'll have to write his sometime.
            Any time someone talks about their horse in a bar, there's love in the room.


            • #7
              I never knew the old guy as a fiery young saddlebred, but I like to think that he was as sweet and honest then as he is now. Lovely story, thanks for sharing!
              Courageous Weenie Eventer Wannabe
              Incredible Invisible


              • #8
                As one who has spent almost 13 years with her going-on-19-still-as-handsome-as-ever OTTB...I wish for him that he too, at 30, will be jigging his way out to the pasture.

                Joy to you both!
                a 501(c)3 organization helping 501(c)3 equine rescues


                • Original Poster

                  Thank you for the responses! And so sorry saddleup for your loss.


                  • #10

                    Thank you.
                    There is no such thing as "bad" horsemanship or "good" horsemanship. There is simply Horsemanship or the absence thereof.



                    • #11
                      yes - saddleup - so, so sorry.
                      a 501(c)3 organization helping 501(c)3 equine rescues


                      • #12
                        that was wonderful. especially because willa and my senior gelding sound as if they are cut from the same cloth.


                        • #13
                          Baymare, that was really thoughtful and lovely! Thanks for sharing the memories and history of Willa. She sounds like quite the wonderful partner; you have been so fortunate to have her in your life.


                          • #14
                            Oh Saddleup! I am so sorry for your loss! >sniff<


                            • #15
                              Thanks for sharing. How lucky of you to have each other.

                              As another person owned by a senior horse (26 yrs young), I am thankful every day I see, groom, ride or just give him lots of love.

                              My senior gelding has been racing my younger one for the past 6 years in the trails and fields and has never been beaten. Tonight we had our usual "race" up the hill and I only saw his tail up high running in front of us. Gotta love the old sassy ones!
                              "Another member of the Barefoot Eventers Clique"


                              • #16
                                Thanks for writing that.

                                Saddleup- so sorry for your loss...

                                That made me think about what I would write about my senior horse (he is 25 and we grew up together- we were born two weeks apart....) and I have to agree that in his age he has become the purest form of himself- his quirks are that much quirkier and his attitude is so much more obvious (and sometimes obnoxious ).
                                My blog:



                                • #17
                                  What a lovely tribute to your girl! Great job!
                                  In loving memory of Chutney (1977 - 2008)


                                  • #18
                                    Wonderful tribute to your girl! Reminds me of my great grandmother who wrote her own obituary. Willa reminds me of Magnolia my grandmother's horse. Mags as she was affectionately known or Steel B when she was being recalculate was a grand mare who never compromised all the way to the end.
                                    Adoring fan of A Fine Romance
                                    Originally Posted by alicen:
                                    What serious breeder would think that a horse at that performance level is push button? Even so, that's still a lot of buttons to push.


                                    • #19
                                      I lost my old friend October 18, 2007 at age 36. A year after his death I still could cry thinking about him. He sounded a lot like Willa, very stoic, not one to show affection but always ready to do his job and get a carrot or whatever. You found out later just how much he did care about us, beside taking care of his green riders and showing the experienced ones a good time and loved the trails and jumping. He easily jumped 4 foot and he was only 15 H himself. The fence was there for him as a young horse to pop over and eat the grass of his choice no matter where the fence was and then before dinner pop back into the fenced pasture. He was a champion through and through and later a school master. Always eager for adventure.

                                      Though not an emotional type horse, when his teeth were wearing and he choked on his food he was so stressed and he came to me and put his head in my arms. Finally the vet arrived with a shot of Bannamine to give him relief and both of us were relieved. One thing he knew, I was there for him, tried to never let him down and he knew he could trust me. He was territorial around me when he could be. He knew it was Thursday and about time for us to come for a lesson so he left the distant grazing area of his large pasture and his pasture mates and came to the gate, got a drink of water and waited for us, alone. He only did this on Thursdays when we were coming for a lesson and he was never late for the lessons.

                                      He lay now 10 feet lower where I found him at 6 pm that evening when he didn't come in for dinner as always. I still miss him, and it will be 3 years next month. He was an awesome horse in so many ways and made me believe that horses were really easy to keep. He was so easy to handle but spirited enough to pull some tricks on us and he had a superior attitude because he knew he was awesome. RIP Nomad, I still miss you, uh oh, here it comes again. So make that 3 years till you stop crying.


                                      • #20
                                        Baymare that was lovely. Saddle up, I am so sorry for your loss.

                                        We lost our 24 year old Medallion 3 weeks ago. It has been a day of tears today. I find myself still thinking about him needing his "old man cardigan" sheet at night as its chilly. And picking up wintergreen mints at the CVS before I remembered he is gone, and I won't need them.
                                        "To whom Much is given, much is Expected".
                                        The care of an older, much loved horse is a blessing. But, it is so very hard to say goodbye.
                                        RIP Triple Take (aka Indiana )