The equestrian world was devastated by the sad news of Opposition Buzz`s death . He was a prolific cross country horse, who took Nicola Wilson to eleven four star events.
The sad thing about Opposition Buzz was that he had only recently been retired. Nicola said that “he would not know the right time to stop, so they had to make the decision for him”.
This led me down memory lane, and a certain pony came to mind.
This pony was 13 hands high, a wiry black mare flecked with grey hairs. Her name was Bubbles. Bubbles was a raving lunatic. To ride anyway. On the ground she was quiet as you like, but as soon as she hit the arena she was a powerhouse. She flew over everything and was faster than lightening. Oh, and did I mention she was ancient?
I first remember Bubbles when one of the older teenagers took her on at the yard. There were various teething problems, such as Bubbles spinning on a sixpence and leaving the yard, discarding her ungirthed saddle as she went. This rider was fifteen and soon went off to university, so Bubbles was passed to a friend of my age. When I finally got my chance to ride her, aged eleven, I loved her! Yes, she pulled my arms out of my sockets, but it was great not having to kick! Shortly after that Bubbles contracted strangles and was severely ill.
She recovered well, and my friend continued to ride her until she grew too big. Another girl a few years younger than me took her on then, and again grew to have a great relationship with her. This was the last permanent rider Bubbles had.
The biggest problem about Bubbles was that she was immensely strong for a small pony, so it was difficult to find a rider gutsy enough to jump at a hundred miles an hour, yet strong enough to apply the brakes when necessary, but also not too big for Bubbles, as we were aware that she was “aged”.
The last winter Bubbles lived in, as she always dropped weight badly, and was exercised by us all in varying degrees – even if we could wrap our legs around her stomach. No rider appeared for her and by the spring the yard owner decided to retire Bubbles, and let her nanny the yearlings and youngstock.
We all accepted this, Bubbles was old and grey, she was still full of life, arthiritis-free, and jumping anything put in front of her, and galloping full pelt along the green lane, but it was useless if we didn`t have someone to enjoy her.
About a month later I remember arriving at the yard, where the atmosphere hung grey and dreary like the March day. Bubbles had colicked and died as she was rushed to the vets.
It was tragic that Bubbles had been so full of life and energy, but hadn`t enjoyed retirement. Despite a large field of lush grass and companions, she still whinnied everytime we rode up the lane.
I believed, and I still do, that Bubbles was a worker. A bit like Opposition Buzz. A bit like me. She liked to be kept active and feel useful, but being out in the open field babysitting the youngsters hadn`t occupied her mind. I think she became stressed and eventually that triggered the colic.
Which leads me onto the question. Perhaps Opposition Buzz hadn`t wanted to retire? Perhaps he still needed to stay in a lower level of work to stay happy and healthy. That isn`t to say his owners made the wrong decision, because he probably needed to stop top level competition, but maybe he wasn`t a horse to be retired. Health wise, I don`t know the ins and outs of his seizure, or any other factors involved, so it may just be an unlucky coincidence.
So how do we decide if our horse should be retired? I guess their general health gives you a good indicator, but also they will tell us. Not trotting over to us in the field, or being lethargic in the school. It`s the same indicators which tell us that they need a holiday or change of workload, but owners of veterans may need to ignore the jogging, excitable horse underneath them, and not let them jump more than twice a week because the arthritic changes will cause them pain – even if the adrenaline pushes them through at the time. Retirement for some horses may mean working at a lower level, or it may be no jumping, or less frequent exercise, as opposed to complete field rest. I guess this is where it counts to know your horse.