Our daughter Ashley started asking for her own horse at about the same time she learned how to say the word "horsie". She read about horses, collected horses, and had horse pictures all over the walls in her room. We decided to wait until she was older to let her have one though, which was not a popular decision with her. As we explained to her, a full-sized horse is a lot of work and we wanted her to be able to be physically able to handle helping with the work. We didn't want it to be that we did all the work, while she got to have all the fun.
The Summer after her 8th grade year, we found "Champ", a 15+yr old Appaloosa. He was the PERFECT first horse. Seriously, we couldn't have asked for anything better. He had been trained for several years, and been shown in 4-H and other horse shows. He had also been used to give lessons to young children. He LOVES kids and is so good with them. He knew the commands in shows when the announcer would tell them what to do, and he'd do it before Ashley even signaled for it. He is very patient and nothing fazes him.
Over the years, Ashley has shown Champ many times in many shows.
As he got older, the sag in his back got more noticeable, so she only used him in classes where she'd have a saddle on. By this time, Ashley also had a young horse (Max) that she used for halter and other classes. As she became more of an advanced rider, she sort of "outgrew" Champ and used Max for shows. Champ was getting slower as he aged, but still was a great horse. He loved attention and came up to the fence anytime you were there.
Some friends of ours have a daughter ("M") who wanted to learn to ride, so we let them use Champ this past year. He was as great with her as he was with Ashley as she learned to ride. "M" has a younger sibling who would walk around under Champs belly, walk between his front and back legs, everything, and Champ just stood there. "M" is tiny for her age, and Champ is so gentle with her. He's always watching her as if to make sure he doesn't hurt her. He lets her do whatever she wants...including buying a bright pink halter for him (you have to be a pretty secure gelding to get away with wearing pink LOL).
Champ has even won me over. I like horses, but honestly, they scare me. I saw Jay get kicked by one (not Champ) a while back, and since then, I want nothing to do with them. Only Champ. He's amazing. I've never seen a horse like him. He looks at you as if he's really listening to you.
This past County Fair, Ashley only used him in the games show, which is barrels, poles, and other fun things like that. And when they were done, Champ officially retired from showing. Everyone in 4-H had gotten to know Champ and his sweetness. His nickname was "Spike", because as he got older, his mane got thin and short and stood straight up off his neck. Everyone also knew that Champ had one speed....slow. Ashley knew she was never going to win anything like barrels or poles with him, but she didn't care. She loved riding him, and everyone loved Champ and would cheer him on. Even the announcers would shout "Goooo Champ!" and everyone would be clapping and cheering for the "grandpa" of the show.
This picture was taken after their last class at the fair this past Summer. Ashley would never admit it, but we could tell she was sad, knowing their show career together was over:
Now Champ is sick. He is in his early 20's which is considered elderly for a horse. He's been losing weight no matter how much we feed him. The spark appears to be gone. We've had him to a good vet and they ran all kinds of tests. Several things are off, but with horses it's hard to narrow it down further without surgery, and we won't put him through that. It could be something as easy to treat as worms (even though we worm him often...the vet said they can get immune to wormer), or as severe as a blood disorder. And sadly, it could also be cancer.
We brought him back home from the vet hospital a couple of days ago. He is on medicine and if he responds, then we'll know what's wrong. If he doesn't, they'll try a couple of other medicines. If he doesn't respond to those either, then cancer will be the assumption. At that time a decision will have to be made. I'm praying it doesn't come to that.
So hopefully, Champ will get better and he'll keep living a fun retired life of pasture grazing, neck scratches, and apple slices for several more years.
I love ya Champers.