The Senior Horse Project: Lauren & Sly

Photo © Jessica Sanders Photography


Photographer Jessica Sanders started the Senior Horse Project to showcase the special, long-standing relationships between riders and their senior horses. Featuring seniors over 25 years old, she shares the photos of the partnership. These stories share some of the highs and lows they’ve experienced together as well as the challenges (and rewards!) that come with caring for a senior horse.

Photo © Jessica Sanders Photography

Lauren & Sly | Duck Crossing Farm, Kintnersville, PA

Horse: Sly (Registered Name: Custom Macker), 29 years old, AQHA, photographed at Duck Crossing Farm in Kintnersville, PA

When did you get Sly?

Sly came into my life first as a horse to full lease [when I was 20 years old]. I was looking for a horse and my instructor at the time worked out a deal for me to lease him. His owners were very hands off and I had full care of him… I started looking for a horse to buy, knowing Sly’s owners were not interested in selling him. During my time with Sly he had played a huge role in my eventual recovery from anorexia. A couple of my therapists recognized the power Sly’s and my relationship had on my capacity for recovery and helped to encourage and foster that relationship…. His owners had witnessed what Sly had done for me and the nature of our relationship and spoke with me about purchasing him. They told me he was not for sale, but if I wanted to buy him, he was for sale to me. I wrote a check and Sly and I were official! He [was] officially mine and I [was] his.

Photo © Jessica Sanders Photography

Tell us more about your relationship.

Sly saved my life; I know that without my relationship with him I would not be here. I had a very severe eating disorder, was in and out of hospitals, and had many therapists and doctors. Some of them were helpful (I don’t want to discount that), but it was my relationship with Sly that helped me to heal, to learn how to appreciate my body, love myself, find my strength, and to learn to trust myself and others.

Photo © Jessica Sanders Photography

At the time I purchased Sly, I was looking for a horse to work with and take me up the dressage levels. My instructor at the time advised me against buying Sly because she knew my goals and knew that Sly would not be my upper level dressage horse; she also understood why I had to buy him.”

Photo © Jessica Sanders Photography

What challenges have you two gotten through?

The lowest point in my relationship with Sly was when he was colicking constantly in the summer of 2005. My vets could not understand what was happening and I was told he was in kidney failure. I was prepared to do anything I could to help him…. A friend’s trainer out of nowhere commented that she had a student who had a horse that experienced similar symptoms and ended up having ulcers; I treated him for ulcers and he got better. That summer also started the trajectory toward his other issues with insulin resistance; I have learned a lot and we manage his IR and PSSM.

Photo © Jessica Sanders Photography

What was a turning point in your relationship?

I think the highest point was building our relationship and how this effected my recovery from anorexia…his ability to be ever present, to let me feel my feelings, to let me experience positivity in my body, to know that my body could have a purpose so great as to communicate with another being, to help me to learn to stay present.

What do you do today with Sly?

Currently Sly schools low level dressage [and we go on] trail rides. Mostly our riding is for pleasure. He used to jump, and prior to our relationship he did western pleasure. Sly has put up with lots of young horses, and although I know it has not been his favorite job (“babysitting”), he has been such a good mentor and support to those horses. Sometimes I would refer to him as their emotional support horse.

Photo © Jessica Sanders Photography

How you feel about a lifelong commitment to a horse?

I have never ever considered selling Sly. People have offered, and the answer is always no. We have a life long partnership. I am still looking for my horse to work with to get my medals, but I knew Sly was never going to be that horse. We are life long soulmates here to love and support each other through whatever happens, and we have been through a lot. I was and am open to whatever Sly needs in his old age. Sly took incredible care of me (and still does) whenever I needed it; it is my responsibility to (happily) take care of him.

Photo © Jessica Sanders Photography

What is special about Sly?

The most important piece of information in Sly’s and my story is…the strength of our relationship. He was one of my greatest resources and supporters when I was sick, and I have been there for him throughout all of his health issues. Sly has provided so much support, learning, and healing to so many people. He truly has touched a lot of lives. I often refer to Sly as my Bodhisattva, meaning a being who has reached Nirvana but delays this out of a compassionate nature to help others who still suffer.

Jessica Sanders is an equine photographer based in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Originally from California, she now lives in central NJ with her husband Gus and senior Arabian gelding Ollie. Specializing solely in equine and equestrian portraits, her pictures tell the stories of riders and their horses and capture the beauty of each perfectly imperfect horse. You can follow her work and the senior horse project on Facebook and @jessicasandersphotography