This month I am working on an article for our winter newsletter and webinar focusing on the older horse. My first horse, Bluebonnet lived into her early thirties. I showed her through her twenties. Once “retired” she packed around my mom, my best friend and even had her 5 minutes of fame on the evening news (that’s another story)!
[LEFT: Bluebonnet and I rocked bareback equitation! (Retro 70's)]
Being grey, she was prone to melanomas (tumors or cysts). In her late teens, we had to surgically remove one eye due to lesions. Once healed, she did great, but had a photogenic side. I still showed her and even placed in trail if we didn’t have to open a mail box on her blind side. In addition to having her eye removed, we periodically had to have tumors underneath her tail removed if they became open sores. Towards her mid-twenties, she developed baseball size tumors in her throatlatch area. Oddly enough, these tumors never bothered her – it’s amazing what the body can deal with!
Besides the melanomas, Blue was always a very healthy horse – no colic or founder episodes. When I was home and showing her, she was ridden at least five days a week. She was always an easy keeper and we had to be careful about letting her get fat. However, I remember leaving for my first teaching position at Sul Ross State University (also known as the cowboy university). Upon coming home for a visit, I was shocked to see Blue at a body condition score of 4.5. For the first time, I could see ribs and hip bones on my easy keeper! My parents had kept feeding her as directed, and since they saw her every day, they didn’t notice the weight changes that were slowly occurring. For me, it was easy to see that in the four months I was away, Blue had lost quite a bit of weight.
[RIGHT: Blue was always queen at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. (Vintage 1981)]
After some initial investigation, we noticed some quids (un-chewed feed covered with saliva) around her hay manger. We had the vet float her teeth and she was put on a six-month dental checkup schedule. We also switched her over to a senior horse feed, which Purina had just started marketing. The senior feed was higher in fat and fiber and could be fed as a complete feed (hay and grain in one) if needed. Within a month of feeding Blue small grain meals multiple times a day along with free choice hay and pasture, she was as slick and pretty as the day I got her. After that, I taught my folks how to body condition score her so that they could keep track of her weight while I was gone.
Bluebonnet taught me so much as a teen and is one of the main reasons I am an equine educator. I look back at all the lessons I learned from her and am amazed at how much a good horse can make a positive difference in someone’s life!
Watch the video below to learn more about monitoring a horse’s age and our February 22 webinar. Keep watching – there is a blooper at the end of the video!