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I Don’t Ride My Horse

At SmartPak, we are well known for being an office full of riders. We go to the barn after work together, talk about the latest color of Piper Breeches, and catch up on the latest news of our Team SmartPak riders. This is an amazing environment to be in because everyone understands how you feel when your horse has an abscess or when they finally poop after hours of walking through a colic episode. Even though we all go to the barn after work every day to see our horses, there is one thing that makes me a bit different from my co-workers: I don’t ride my horse.

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Let me clarify: I used to ride my mare all the time. We never did anything fancy in terms of our riding, we were just best buddies and I always looked forward to her amazing little western jog after a long day. I didn’t stop riding her by choice, in March of 2013 she was diagnosed with DSLD, or Degenerative Suspensory Ligament Desmitis, a career-ending and painful condition that affects the soft tissue in the body. The most well-known characteristic of this disease is the dropping of the fetlock joint in either front or rear legs as the ligament itself stretches. Not too much is known about the origins of the disease and many horse owners and riders have never even heard of it – I hadn’t until my horse was affected. Typically, the prognosis for horses with this condition isn’t good, but in the right environment it can be managed for a time.

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After Cocoa was diagnosed, there was never a question in my mind on what would happen to her next. This horse was my best friend of almost 11 years and our connection was so strong that I never considered sending her away to a retirement farm or even getting another horse to keep riding. I learned that I loved being a horse mommy to Cocoa more than I loved just riding. I did hop on a few horses a couple times, but the same joy I felt when I rode Cocoa just wasn’t there. So I decided that if I was going to spend my precious time at the barn, I would much rather spend it with her – even if that meant just sitting there watching her graze.

It’s been nearly 4 years since Cocoa was diagnosed, not only is she doing well but she is so happy! I spend even more time at the barn with her now than I did when I was actually riding her. We moved to a private backyard barn with tons of turnout and all the grass she can eat. A typical barn visit for us usually consists of giving her tons of treats and letting her roam around the fenced-in property off lead while I keep myself busy either cleaning her paddock (she lives outside 24/7), organizing her extremely long SmartPaks in the feed room (yes, supplements are still a vital part of her management program even though she is not being ridden) or working in the vegetable garden my barn manager let me put in.

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Cocoa is extremely smart, so I definitely make sure to still keep her brain engaged. Here are some of the fun ‘alternate’ things that I do with her:
• Training her to come when called (still a work in progress)
• Teaching her tricks, including giving hugs, giving kisses, and smiling
• Ground work/obstacle courses
• Going for walks down the scary driveway
• Taste-testing SmartPak’s new supplements and treats (such a hard thing to ask of her, I know)
• Taking a ton of pictures and making funny videos
• Testing new products
• Blogging about her new adventure (both ups and downs)
• Visiting all her friends at the barn
• Playing hide & seek with treats (I hide the treats around the barn and she has to go find them…with a little help)
• Much more!

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I definitely miss being able to jump on my horse and go for a trail ride or even to a local fun show, and many people were (and still are) baffled by the fact that I am willing to keep spending a ton of money on a horse that is not rideable. But I can honestly say I’m fine with it – my best friend is comfy and happy and I can still see her every day. That’s what matters to me. The excited look she gives me when she sees me walking across the barn yard and that excited nicker she gives me at the end of the day make it all worth it.

So, when asked what I do with my horse I can’t help but giggle and say “does competitive lawn mowing count?”

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8 comments on “I Don’t Ride My Horse
  1. Christine Simms says:

    I also keep and interact with my orthopedically infirm horses until they die. I enjoy short trail rides at a walk or hand walking them on the trail. Like you, I just enjoy being with them. Although I miss them when they die I take great comfort in knowing that they were well treated and had a humane death. I am 66 years old and the last horse I will ever own is 18 years old. This horse has well managed orthopedic issues and I know there will be a time when she becomes very limited in her rideability. I am happy to go with her whereever her journey takes us.

  2. Lynn tremblay says:

    I understand and completely! Both the wonderment people express about not riding (everyone thinks horses are all about galloping off into the sunset!) AND the total enjoyment of visiting with them or grooming or even just listening to them chewing their hay. There’s the love of riding, and then there is The Love of Horses!

  3. Nora says:

    I completely understant my horse has had an ingury for a year and a half now and I am lerning to be ok with not riding her this gives me hope that she will still be the same fun loving horse I know she is.

  4. Carol Ann Newbury says:

    I,too, understand keep your/my old companion beyond riding days. My old Kissimmee, one of my first show donkeys (the large riding donkey size) manages to go all over the pasture at his own lame pace. He still has a zest for life. He is quite lame with arthritis in his senior years. He is happy to have neck rubs and ear rubs and a good brushing. He often stands by the gate waiting for me to come out. There are other donkeys, but he wants my attention. He gets around the pasture slowly by himself and he does amazingly well at getting out there. He deserves a good retirement! He is my love.

  5. Martha says:

    Right there with you! I bought my OTTB gelding knowing he had some racing jewelry. I rode him a handful of times before he, and I became too disabled to enjoy our little jaunts safely. So for the past 8 years now he has been “retired”.
    I moved him back to the barn I first boarded him at, which is a harness racing stable. He is the only TB there. But he has several acres of pasture turnout, and has his Standardbred buddies that are getting time off. A lot of people don’t get “it”. Why I spend the money to keep him, when I don’t do anything with him. How, and why I make the twice daily, 30 minute one way trip to feed, muck, groom and take care of his old arthritic legs. Why I rough board him and don’t just put him on full board. My husband didnt get it for years. Until I got sick, and he began to step in here and there. While still not 100% on the time and $$ I spend. He now kinda gets it. And my old guy, who will be 21 shortly. Will be with me, in my care. Til I help him over the rainbow bridge.

  6. gms0008 says:

    My guy, 18 year old OTTB that I’ve had since he was nine, was diagnosed with a lung tumor in January 2016 and was immediately retired. I’m still on the hunt for the perfect new riding partner, but in the meantime I’ve talked my husband into moving to a place where he’s in my yard (a 30+ year dream of mine finally realized) so I can fully manage his health and have room to welcome a new, ridable horse to the family. I totally get where you are coming from! 🙂

  7. Katie says:

    Thank you for posting! I too have a horse with dsld diagnosed about 4 years ago. Everyday that he is comfortable and happy is the best day for me. His most recent job as a “nanny” for a weanling colt warms my heart. They are special and we love them and adapt to what they need throughout their lives.

  8. Sheri Pederson says:

    I don’t ride my mare and she seems happier and healthier for it! She is crazy smart though and we do agility through http://www.thehorseagilityclub.com

    They even added a “walk only” group this year. It’s been huge for my mare – keeps her brain active, built her confidence, improved our partnership….highly recommended!

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