How do you know when your horse has reached the end of their competitive career? Karen posted a few weeks ago on this topic, and I said “honest opinions from people that I trust and respect (my vet, my farrier, my trainer, etc…) and a gut feeling.
I know you can’t rest all your stock in a gut feeling, but I weight it pretty heavily (I’m assuming) compared to other riders. I have been lucky enough to spend nearly four years with Justin and I feel like I know him inside and out. I put a lot of stock in our partnership and “knowing” him. A trier through-and-through, this horse will jump you out of some incredible awful rider-induced spots, he will show up every day and give it his all, and at the end of it, he will look around for his fan club. He’s always enjoyed getting the attention he so rightly deserves – it’s not unusual for him to finish a stellar jump round with a yee-haw and a buck. He can be a snot at times, but that’s a reflection of his playful attitude rather than his work ethic.
So when we started hitting road blocks this fall, I knew something wasn’t right.
He began stopping at fences, and not just ones that I set him up poorly for. His try-hard effort wasn’t there. I reflected with my vet and farrier and we thought we found a good solution. Justin has a myriad of arthritis-related joint issues, and I’ve managed to keep him competitive and most importantly comfortable this long.
I’ve always told Justin to tell me when it’s not right. Tell me when it hurts, and I’ll fix it. So, he was telling me. I’ve been listening. Despite a huge effort this fall to keep him sound, I pulled him out after Morven Park and he was off. Not three-legged lame by any means, but visibly not right.
After discussion with all my people and a lot of internal reflection, I’ve decided to take Justin out of regular work. We knew at some point, he would reach the end of the road, where it would no longer be worth it to keep up with the maintenance he requires for full competition. So, with a heavy heart I say this might have been Justin’s last season, and that’s ok.
My people – my vet, farrier, trainer, trusted confidants – agree his soundness is manageable. I can make him sound and keep him that way, correctly. But, I have been wrestling with the idea of it being manageable to me. I don’t know if it is financially and emotionally. Besides, that Justin owes me nothing – he doesn’t deserve to be poked a prodded extensively. My plan is to hack him this spring, to keep him moving a couple of times per week. I will try to pull him out this spring, but I will also listen very carefully to him. We will take it one step at a time.
It’s sad to think I may never gallop across country again with Justin, but it makes me happy to think about all the fun we did have. Our story is by no means over, it just might be starting a new chapter.
He’s my partner, my dude, my best friend. Justin is my heart horse. He will have a place with me for he rest of his life. I will keep up with the forms of maintenance required to make his new leisurely lifestyle comfortable. He owes me nothing. For now I groom my increasingly fuzzy pony every day, spoil him with treats, and take him on hacks. In return he occasionally lets me hug him without having fits about it.
To Justin – thank you for finding a place in my life. The first time I rode you, you tried to buck me off and I could barely steer, yet somehow I was so in love I signed the papers anyway. Thank you for being my outlet, for listening to the constant ups and downs of my life, for being a place of peace and quiet, for being such a constant figure through some of the biggest changes in my life. In April of 2015 a vet told me that you would be dead lame in a matter of months, and that he had no idea how you were even sound then. Over a year later we finished our first Prelim. You have made me a better horsewoman, a better rider, a better person. You aren’t getting rid of me anytime soon!