Watching My Senior Horse Age is Breaking My Heart

Watching a life-long partner in her last years is a hard pill to swallow.

I’m one of the lucky ones whose bedroom window overlooks a pasture full of horses—specifically, my pasture full of broodmares, colts, and Onyx, my 26-year-old retired barrel horse. 

Pulling back the curtain each morning, I scan the pasture for a head count, and then, I assess Onyx’s movement for the day. Some days, she’s trotting along with barely a limp, easing my worry. 

Some days, I cringe as she hobbles from the round bale to the waterer, struggling with the arthritis in her ankles, the navicular in her heels, and the wear-and-tear on her stifles. For years, we’ve had so many more good days than bad, but, coming off a long, hard winter, I’m terrified to think the latter is becoming the norm.

[LEARN MORE: Senior Horse Care Tips]

[READ MORE: 30 is the New 20 for Senior Horses]

[FIND OUT: Rest and Relaxation for Your Senior Horse’s Retirement]

Every day, I remember that I watched proudly as she packed the neighbor kid to her first belt-buckle win at the local barrel race. Shoot, the saddle pad she won us for placing in the 1D average at the NBHA State Finals just four (so short) years ago is hanging in my living room. I’m 31, and the best memories of my horse life for the last 20 years came with Onyx. 

These days, I watch the small star on her forehead spread to a large grey patch, and I poultice her from the rib cage and hips on down just for a bit of relief, I know decision day could be here before I’m ready, because lets face it—we love them so much, we’re never ready. 

Summer days, I hope that Colorado’s green grass usually perks up her body condition, filling in her ever-withering topline and adding to the hollow spots in her hips. 

Most days, she’s not that bad, all things considered, and she still eats and navigates the pasture pretty easily.

Winter days, I brave blizzards and howling winds to tuck her into a stall, warm in the barn, but I dread how keeping her locked in a confined space will affect her arthritis. Lack of movement, after all, is hard on the girl. 

Hard days, I remember when my husband and I lost a horse prematurely, (24-time world champion) Trevor Brazile told me I didn’t realize what a blessing it was, to not have to watch her get old, like he was having to do with his great one, Texaco. In my sorrow, I didn’t get it, at the time, but now, I can relate. He meant that horse died in an instant, without this slow but ever-so-obvious aging. 

Today, I thank her for everything she’s done for my life, and I look around at the world she helped me build. I smile at my daughter and her love for horses, and I realize that if it weren’t for my old horse, I might not have had that love to pass on. I look at my passion—writing about, breeding for, and riding great horses—and doubt I’d have nurtured it without her infallible help. I thank her for watching out for the weanlings and yearlings, and for packing my kiddo around on small walks around the arena. I wish she’d get to carry her through the poles and the barrels like she did me, but I’m afraid time just isn’t on our side with that wish. I’ll settle for teaching my kiddo the lessons Onyx taught me about having a good one, while driving out to meet her in the Ranger with a bucket full of senior feed and treats.

One day, I’ll say goodbye and hope she knows how much she has meant to the last two decades of my life, and thank her for a life well lived. That day, I’ll cut off a piece of her tail and send her on her way to the Rainbow Bridge, and I’ll look forward to wrapping my arms around her neck again. 

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