I worked in television news for about 15 years, so I'm painfully familiar with the notion of age making someone disposable. I recently worked at a place where I was targeted for disposal because I was, in some people's estimation, too old to be effective. I was on the tail end of the "target demographic," which was constantly rubbed in my old, wrinkled, too-old-to-live face. If I were a horse, I would have been sent to Mexico for slaughter; but I have thumbs and a voice, so I fight for myself.
I’m always disheartened by the number of older horses I see on kill lots in my quest to save horses from slaughter. Most of them are “dead broke,” with sweet dispositions and unshakable work ethics. They’re easy to catch, practically halter and saddle themselves, and loyal to the core. Their only shortcoming is that they outlived their usefulness to some owner that, frankly, didn’t deserve them.
I’m also disheartened to see the number of “ISO” posts from people looking for a kid-safe horse that’s easy to catch and halter, “no kick, no buck, no bite,” with sweet dispositions and unshakable work ethics. Time and again, I see prospective owners searching for a horse with an elderly soul, in a 6-year-old body. For $600 or less.
I also see tons of posts from prospective owners that some might consider “long in the tooth” - folks who wouldn't make it to a first interview in many jobs.
When a person in their 50s buys an 8-year-old horse that saddles itself, brings you coffee in the morning and gives you a nightly Shiatsu massage, what happens when the owner is too old to ride, and their horse is in that now-undesirable zone of 15 to 20? What happens if, God forbid, the owner drops dead of a heart attack (it happens) and the family is left with a hard-to-market 15-year-old horse?
The mature horse is the answer. Think logically about the number (age) you’ve assigned to your dream horse. As with most humans, is it "just a number"? Or can you fairly assess the horse’s abilities and overall health? If you’re buying a horse for a growing child – a child whose body, preferences, skills and interests will be totally different in four or five years – you’re probably looking at two different horses. Today you want a horse that won’t bolt for the barn or go nuts over a candy wrapper; but when your child is more experienced, and ready to run and jump and zig and zag, you’re going to be looking for a new horse. Any horse that’s spent four or five years at a beginner’s speed is probably not suddenly going to kick it in to high gear and become a spry racehorse.
If you’re an older person looking for a pleasure horse, do you really need a young horse, and do you have a plan for that horse when your needs change? The elderly horse is the perfect option because he’s “been there, done that.” He’s not going to spook at a Walmart bag and drag his rider through the woods. He’s not going to freak out if things don’t go his way. He’s steady, reliable, calm, trustworthy, and devoted to his rider’s safety.
A young beginner isn’t realistically going to be breaking land-speed records; and an older rider doesn’t need a horse that’s going to last longer than them. With proper care, a horse can live well into its 30s. Trim its hooves, float its teeth, feed it properly, groom it and provide regular exercise, and an older horse can give you years of happy memories.