BY DIANA BEZDEDEANU
If I had to pick out the biggest lesson I have learned to date from owning horses, it would be that nothing ever goes according to plan…
As every Equestrian knows, owning horses is not easy. My most recent vet bill can verify this! When we say we are going to the barn “for just an hour to check-in”, we really mean that we will spend the rest of the day there. We shell out hundreds—if not thousands of dollars—for quality food, shoes, supplements, medication, tack and equipment each month. We often put our horses’ expenses before our own.
Like people, horses can be moody one day, and completely serene the next. But, also like people, horses are fiercely loyal. They crave a deep physical and emotional connection with their person. They truly are gentle giants. Not to mention whip-smart and incredibly athletic beings.
I certainly never imagined owning an ex-racehorse—let alone two at the same time. However, I am so thrilled that these special mares nestled their way into our family in the last year.
In the Spring of 2022, both of our mares went through a plethora of changes, for the better. When we moved to a new boarding barn, they also gained a new trainer/farrier/vet team, a new turnout schedule, and a new diet plan. Through all of the changes, these mares have remained attached at the hip. Their stalls inside the barn are next to one another, they go out in turnout together, and they work together in the ring. When one moves, the other follows.
However, each mare has their own designated job. The 17-year-old is my mom’s therapy horse for adaptive riding lessons, offering both physical and emotional support under saddle to improve her quality of life. She was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis eight years ago, and we have found that equine-assisted therapy is far more effective than any disease-modifying medication could ever be. The 4-year-old is my personal therapy horse. She is not ridden, as she was recently diagnosed with kissing spine and is not a surgical candidate at this time. In the future, I hope to incorporate her as a partner in my Equine-Facilitated Learning sessions.
Horses are herd animals, happier when turned out in a group for both social stimulation and security. Before moving to the new barn, our two mares were separated, only “allowed” to be together once in a blue moon. However, we are finding that they rely on one another and when not side-by-side, will whinny continuously until they can see each other again.
This has resulted in my 4-year-old becoming a part of my mom’s twice-weekly adaptive riding lessons with her 17-year-old. I walk her around the outside of the ring, while my mom rides in the middle. At all times, the mares can see each other and are visibly more relaxed.
On the track, racehorses often have another horse with them before the race, known as a “companion pony”. These companion ponies help racehorses stay as relaxed as possible and allow them to focus on the impending competition, rather than the rambunctious crowd.
I never planned on my heart horse becoming another horse’s companion pony, just as I never planned on owning a non-riding horse. Sometimes, horses are not destined for the career path that we as owners want them to have. However, if I had to do it all over again, I would not change a thing.
Horses Offering People Education was built on the idea that the relationship between horse and human extends far beyond the saddle. My mare has reinforced this concept through countless lessons in the past year. She may not have been a winner on the track, but she has certainly found her blue-ribbon second career as a companion pony to her older equine sister. And that is far more valuable to our family than any purse winning could ever be.
Diana Bezdedeanu (Massachusetts) is a certified Equine-Facilitated Learning practitioner through The HERD Institute. Her blog, Horses Offering People Education, chronicles the many lessons learned along her first-time horse ownership journey, as well as highlights the training journeys of those headed to the Retired Racehorse Project’s Thoroughbred Makeover competition.