Rachelle & Polly: The Senior Horse Project

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.

Rachelle & Polly | Ponyz on the Rockz, Flemington, NJ

These ladies have such an interesting, layered story because it spans multiple generations. Rachelle has raised two of Polly’s babies, Teddy and Jasper, at her farm Ponyz on the Rockz. Rachelle’s hat is sentimental in these images – she had some past pictures of her with Teddy and Jasper in the hat, so it was fitting that she have some with Polly as well! In her own words, Rachelle shares Polly’s story with us.

Polly (Registered Name: Just Whisper) is a 25 years old, half Connemara photographed at Ponyz on the Rockz in Flemington, NJ.

Photo © Jessica Sanders Photography

How it All Started

Polly was the first quality show horse I’ve ever owned. I grew up with backyard horses at home and rode at St. Lawrence University as a kid where I was lucky enough to be able to show really nice school horses. I eventually went to law school pretty much just so I could afford to own a nice horse. I bought her in 1998 when I was two years out of law school and had saved up every penny that wasn’t going towards rent and loan payments. She was 3 years old and 60 days under saddle. I made an offer and they took it!

I had grown up on a farm and had horses my whole life so I was a very experienced horse owner…[and] had an acute appreciation of how much it costs to keep a horse—especially when I graduated from law school and was living in NYC with my horse [boarded] in Westchester County. For at least the first 5 years, every cent I made that didn’t go to rent went to board, training, showing, vet and farrier expenses, and transportation costs to get me up there to be able to ride on the weekends.

Photo © Jessica Sanders Photography

I primarily wanted her to be a 3′ adult hunter and equitation horse, which she eventually became and was very successful at. I always said I needed my horse to do 3 things well:

  1. be a successful show horse
  2. go trail riding
  3. be a pet.

Polly did 1 and 3 very well – 2 not so much. She’s always good on the first half of a trail ride, until you turn around to head home – then the explosions start!

I did consider selling her when she was about eight, but I am very glad I didn’t do it! I never really thought about her as an investment, but I wasn’t really thinking of the long term future when I got her. I just wanted to get a horse and get back in the show ring.

Photo © Jessica Sanders Photography

Highs and Lows

I did end up retiring her at age 10 because the preparation needed to have her behave in the show ring was just too much. Some days I would literally just let her loose in the indoor and watch her run for 45 minutes. It was draining on me and not the best thing for her long term soundness. My trainer agreed – at one point she announced that she and Polly needed a divorce. So I decided to breed her and found the quietest stallion I could possibly locate! She really would have been a great jumper (or endurance horse).

Over the 6 years that we were doing the adult hunters and eq, Polly won a lot. We qualified for and placed in numerous medal finals. The highlight was probably getting a 3rd place at Marshall & Sterling Finals. Other than showing, she had two spectacular babies for me, which was amazing. Teddy, her oldest kid, showed in the hunters and then we switched to dressage and moved up through Prix St. Georges in just 4 years, getting our silver medal in 2018. Tragically, Teddy died after a pasture accident last year. I still have Jasper, her second kid, who is 12 and currently does the 2’6″ hunters.

Photo © Jessica Sanders Photography

In terms of lowest points with Polly, I’ve been very lucky with her health-wise, but she is definitely a piece of work personality-wise. At least once every few weeks she will blow up when you are turning her out or bringing her in. Occasionally she will lose her mind completely and jump out of the paddock or crash through a gate and run around the farm (still, at age 25).

Photo © Jessica Sanders Photography

Where We Are Now

It is hard to describe Polly as anything other than a character. She is super cuddly on the ground, loves to be groomed, and gives big sloppy wet kisses. I can put tiny children on her and give them walk-trot lunge line lessons and she’s perfect. BUT she’s a pistol with me. To this day, if I get on her she will turn into an unrideable lunatic and try to buck me off. I brought her out of retirement 5 years ago while Jasper was recovering from an injury and took her to dressage regionals. I almost got rung out of the ring. Twice. She also got loose last summer and ate most of a 20-pound bag of cookies. Immediately after getting her stomach pumped, she started begging for more treats – that’s Polly.

Photo © Jessica Sanders Photography

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