College equestrian programs often thrive on horse donations, many of whom come from highly competitive show careers. Kristen Kovatch discusses these horses and their second careers.
Admit it: we love reading those gossip magazines with the “WHERE ARE THEY NOW?” headlines showing the success, or more frequently, the downfall and delinquency of child stars and the various addictions, arrest records and shenanigans they all seem to get into in their young adult years. I have no idea why this is so satisfying, but it’s like a bad reality TV show: you want to pull your eyes away and you can’t.
Horses, it seems, don’t generally go the same way. I suppose there are some that wash up in Alcoholics Anonymous at age seven or get arrested on possession—really, I jest. In a perfect world I’d like to imagine old show horses going to green pastures of retirement farms where they can hang out with other old fogeys in the shade of a live oak and share stories of the good ol’ days; I’m sure there are horses that do get this ultimate reward if they’re lucky enough to have such owners.
A lot of “middle aged” show horses, if blessed with sound bodies and solid minds, will go on after their age events to compete with novice riders. The really saintly ones might make a good kid’s horse or lesson mount, teaching the most basic skills to a series of small-fries with good grace and endless wells of patience. (I am blessed with such a one in my barn, and he is made out of leftover pieces of heaven.) I would love to imagine that no great show horse ever has a Black Beauty-esque tale of bouncing from place to place becoming more run-down with each new owner until he’s hopelessly crippled (but hopefully rescued in a Cinderella tale of love and eternal happiness. I can dream.)
While browsing a breed-show news website, I came across an article about a once-famous show horse and what he was doing several owners later. Unsurprisingly, this thousand-point-earning Quarter horse was doing occasional intercollegiate horse shows as a draw mount for college equestrians. An employee of his now-home college speculates that “‘the vast majority of students have no idea how much experience they’re sitting on top of.’”
I can agree. Most college equestrian programs thrive on equine donations, and a lot of those horses come from highly competitive show careers. When they walk through the doors, however, the students don’t always know their backgrounds, and at intercollegiate shows it’s easy to forget that riders might actually be sitting on former celebrities. It’s especially amusing to hear students complaining about the antics of Doc or Zip or Whiz or whatever and know that they don’t know how many points that horse might have earned in his “past life.”
In a way, it’s refreshing—here, horses are just horses. For the first time in their long careers, they might just be treated like any other horse. They go outside and get muddy. They pull shoes. They have best friends (sometimes in very unlikely places: we have a former Congress champion who hangs out with a retired A-circuit hunter.) They spook at the trash truck EVERY TIME. It doesn’t matter who they were, who trained them, who showed them or how many titles they took home—they’re a college horse now, and most of them really thrive on that second career.
Want to learn more about equine donations? Check out www.equinedonations.com for more information.
About Kristen: Kristen was an English major at Alfred University and was then hired on after graduation as the western teacher and trainer at the university’s Bromeley-Daggett Equestrian Center. She would joke on that irony but her students don’t find it very funny any more. Kristen coaches the varsity western team, teaches classes in western riding and draft horse driving, and keeps several of her own horses in training on the side. She shows reined cow horse and also shows western pleasure and horsemanship for fun. Between her horses and her students, Kristen is never short on stories to tell. Some of these stories can be read at her blog at thewesternlife.wordpress.com. She has also been published in Today’s Equestrian and Take the Reins.
Kristen & her horse Playgirl