Spot Turns Thirty!

We horses are generally longer lived than our four-legged, human-companion counterparts, the dog and the cat. Dogs get the short end of the stick (pun completely intended) with a life expectancy of just seven to fourteen years, depending on breed and size. Although, there was one little Cattle Dog (good news, Chico) who lived to twenty-nine and a half. Cats live longer, in the fifteen to twenty range, with one outlier named Creme Puff living to thirty-eight years old.

Horses, on average, live to be anywhere from twenty-five to thirty, but many live into their thirties and a handful have lived decades beyond the average age. Three reached fifty-one, a pony named Sugar Puff lived to fifty-six, and a guy named Old Billy made it into the record books when he lived to sixty-two. Wow, right? Based on Creme Puff and Sugar Puff both living well beyond the majority of their species, I just might change my name to Storm Puff. What do you think?

Enjoying his birthday meal and party hat.

Nevada isn’t registered and there’s no record of the month and day of his birth, but, as a horse born in 1991, he officially turned thirty on the first of January. It’s likely he was born between April and July like the majority of Alberta-bred horses.

He was added to T and Nollind’s then collection of one horse and three cats in 2002. As T tells the story, Nollind started taking riding lessons that year and in the fall started shopping for a horse. Nevada was advertised as a well-trained, eleven-year-old, Appaloosa gelding. Another horse named Jack, advertised at the same time, was in his teens and reported to be a very experienced trail horse. Since the two horses lived in the same area, a day was set aside to go and see both of them.

Still likes showing off in the snow.

They saw Jack first. T loved him, thought he was perfect. Great temperament, good age, lots of trail experience. Nollind thought he was okay until they drove up the driveway of Nevada’s home and the big guy came loping along the fenceline through the deep snow, looking majestic and impressive, as he does. Nollind’s eyes lit up, and the two rides that followed, one outdoors, one in, were really just for T’s satisfaction. Fortunately for Nollind, Nevada passed her scrutiny and has been part of the clan ever since, moving here to the farm with Alta, T’s mare, in the spring of 2003.

Nollind’s new (and first ever) horse at Park Stables west of Calgary.

In case you’re wondering what happened with Jack, T liked him enough that she sent a student down to see him and then buy him, and years later, when that person was ready to sell him, recommended him to a friend who was shopping for a husband horse. In 2010, T, Nollind, Nevada and I went trail riding with Jack in the Smithers area of BC where his new people had moved. By then he was in his mid-twenties but still rocking it on the trail.

Jack in the lead, where he most liked to be.

Nevada’s name was Snowflake when they bought him, usually just called “Flake” for short. I won’t comment on whether or not Flake suits him, but Nollind didn’t think so. Since we horses are more inclined to come for the sound of oats in a bucket or maybe a whistle with a bucket of oats to follow, name changes aren’t really a big deal.

T and Nollind had learned some Spanish while travelling in Central America so started searching for a good Spanish name that was a translation of something snowy, to keep the spirit of his existing name. When they landed on Nevada, Spanish for snowfall, they’d found it. Little did they know they’d be spending quite a lot of time in Nevada a decade down the road.

Lunch break on the trail.

Somewhere along the way, he earned the nickname Spot, sometimes Big Spot, which is how I tend to think of him. He’s the biggest horse in the herd and has spots. I like things that make sense.

Spot was Nollind’s mountain horse for about ten years, until he was in his early twenties, and he really excelled in his trail boss role. Strong, brave, and setting a good pace, I couldn’t have asked for a better leader when I started out on the trails as a youngster.

My first big, multi-horse trail ride with my trusted leader as coach.

When he began to show signs of hind end challenges on steep hills, Nollind retired him and started riding Rosa. On Spot’s last trip to the Rockies, he was ponied behind me without a rider and that didn’t sit with him too well. On one narrow, downhill trail where the hill rose and dropped steeply on each side, he climbed the bank and went around me, accustomed to his front-of-the-ride position.

There was another creek stop that wasn’t this peaceful, but that’s for a future “adventures on the trail” post.

So, the big guy is thirty this year, which puts him on the back edge of the life expectancy range, but other than some of his incisors being worn down to nearly the gums, and a bit of a hitch in his backend, he’s in great shape. He needs a little extra feed to keep him in good condition through the winter months, but he keeps up with the rest of us just fine. Maybe he’ll find himself in the record books with the horses mentioned earlier. Nevada, you up for another twenty or thirty years?

How many?

Shesa Lil Ichi

The title of this blog probably seems a bit weird. What’s even weirder is that it’s Rosa’s real name. Unlike the rest of the horses on the farm, Rosa has registration papers, and her registered name with the American Quarter Horse Association is Shesa Lil Ichi.

T and Nollind could have called her Shesa or Ichi or some other derivation of her full name, but they thought she looked like a Spanish lady with her long, dark hair and big, brown eyes and called her Rosa. Even when she first came here to the farm, at just eighteen months old, Rosa had a longer mane than I’ve ever had.

Baby Rosa.

Like me, and many other horses, even the purebreds, Rosa ended up at a livestock auction. Auctions in and of themselves are not a bad thing, but some of them are places to get rid of unwanted animals, and too many of those animals end up at a slaughterhouse. Rosa and I both went through the same auction yard about four years apart. I was purchased by a meat buyer, and quickly rebought by T and Nollind (whew!), and Rosa had the good fortune of being picked up by Bear Valley Rescue, along with her half-sister.

She gave up her sister but got this guy.

T and Nollind bought Rosa from Bear Valley as a project horse, with the intention of finding her a good home when she was four years old, trained to ride, and had seen some miles on the trail. On June 5, Rosa will be fourteen. She’s trained to ride, and she’s seen those trail miles, lots of them, but she was just too sweet to part with.

Demonstrating her sweet nature as a 3-year-old.

I wasn’t exactly well-handled when I came here either, but Rosa was a complete untouchable, not much different than a wild horse. Funny story about that. After being kept in a neighbouring paddock for a couple of weeks, T decided it was time to turn Rosa out with the rest of us. We’re not an unfriendly lot, but we are pretty curious about newcomers, and when our curiosity pursued her to the corner of the pasture, she up and jumped the fence, stood there looking back at us from the neighbouring farmer’s field.

From running from the herd to leading it out to fall pasture.

And how do you catch a horse you can’t get close to or put a halter on? Well, you use another horse, or two. T and Nollind led Nevada and Alta, the herd boss and his second in command, out into the farmer’s field near Rosa and when they turned back toward the home gate, she followed.  

Typical Rosa, quietly waiting her turn at feeding time.

T and Nollind looked after all of her initial ground training, but Rosa was sent to some trainers when she was three or four to have those first rides put on her. Not sure what those folks did, but by the time she came home, she would just stand like a statue whenever T or Nollind got on and asked her to do anything. It’s common practice to desensitize young horses during their training so that we’re not flighty about every little thing, but it was like they took every ounce of sensitivity out of her. After a few sessions with no success, T and Nollind decided they’d just ride her in the fields over the winter, see about putting some life back in her limbs, with me along to show her the ropes.

Starting her ground training.

Once she was outside the fenced areas of the round pen or riding ring, she was fine, walked out like a champ, wasn’t afraid of much, and didn’t mind leaving home. Between you and me, I think that’s when she became a permanent resident rather than a resale project, when she showed her solid mind and easy attitude. The following year on the trails, it was like she’d been doing it for years, rarely spooky about anything and always keen to see what was around the next bend.

Water crossings were no big deal for Rosa.

Her timing was perfect because, by this time, Nevada was twenty and starting to experience some difficulty with the steep trails we ride in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. It was a natural transition. Rosa became Nollind’s mountain horse and Nevada was semi-retired. Good thing he was reaching retirement age or it might have been me left behind at the farm. I love to go, but I can’t say I have the same relaxed attitude toward strange things along the trail that Rosa does.

Trail horse extraordinaire.

She’s Nevada’s girl for the most part, but the three of us are pretty tight. T often refers to us as the three amigos since we’re rarely farther than a few feet apart. She’s my trail partner and also my diet companion, cursed with the same slow metabolism as I have. Nollind refers to her as rubenesque, which I think is part of the reason she loves him so much. 🙂

She might be Nevada’s girl but she’s my scratching post at the trailhead.

Her ability to put on weight easily is coupled with a tendency toward a condition called laminitis, an inflammation in the feet often caused by too much rich food, like spring grass. And she does love her grass. This year, T is trying some new supplements, Nollind’s got her on a different trim program, and we’ve all got hooves crossed that she won’t have to be locked up in a dirt pen and fed hay for the spring and summer. It wouldn’t be the first time.

Rosa heaven.

To sum Rosa up … you know that girl you went to school with that didn’t draw attention to herself or show off even though she was pretty, and she wasn’t the star or head or president of anything but just a really nice person that everyone liked? Well, that’s our Rosa.

Heigh-Ho, Heigh-Ho

I have to confess to not possessing the strongest work ethic. But, I do like to be the centre of attention.  Herein lies the double-edged sword of horsedom for me, attention and work often come as a package. 

Nevada’s the one with the great gig. He goes out every afternoon for extra food, sometimes a grooming, and does absolutely nothing in terms of work. Although, he does have teeth that are wearing out and a pelvis that gives him grief so perhaps his life isn’t all sunshine and oats.

“Working” at our two different jobs.

Maybe it’s Gidget who’s got the sweetest arrangement. She doesn’t get extra food every day, but quite reliably every second day, plus a grooming and some hand-fed snacks. She has to do a few exercises and gets ridden some in the warmer months but, generally, she’s got the best of both worlds. She’s old enough for semi-retirement but not so old that chewing is challenging and things hurt.

A prairie ride on an autumn day.

If I could only pick and choose .. let’s see … I’d take the daily grain, the snacks, the brushing, but hold the workout. Don’t get me wrong, I do occasionally get pampered just for the sake of it, but my waistline can’t handle more food than I’m already getting so daily grain is out of the question. Damn my pokey metabolism!

Enjoying my Christmas grain.

But, full confession, once the saddle’s on, we’ve shaken off the cobwebs, and the joints get warmed up, I start having fun and can even get a little frisky. When that happens, I can just feel T smiling up there, which makes me smile and gives me the push to keep on doing whatever it is she’s asking me to do.

Summer evening ride, complete with trail dog.

We’re a good team, T and I. She’s not super dedicated to any type of horse sport or competition at this stage of life so we can just spend time together, get some exercise, and enjoy a sunny day. And, if I have to put on a few miles to be the one who comes out of the pasture for some one-on-one time, it’s a small price to pay.

Putting on a few miles in Kananaskis Country.

T took most of last year off from riding and I missed our time together. She had other things she wanted to focus on and I had a wee bit of lameness in one leg that she wanted to rest. I’m feeling good now and I think she is too ‘cause I’ve been saddled up twice in January. That might not sound like a lot, but it is for T when it comes to cold-weather, snowy-ground riding.

Winter ride.

She’s going away for a couple of months and, although that guarantees I won’t have to work, it also means I’ll be watching from the sidelines whenever Nevada and Gidget get out for some food and attention. Judy’s great about giving me a snack or two, but it’s not the same as having my own person around … even when that person does put me to work.