A Horse Called Wizard
Like many young girls, I was horse crazy as a kid. But living in Chicago didn’t allow for much opportunity to ride. Still, I read everything I could about horses and even made my own “horse” out of a sawhorse with a cardboard head. My exposure to horses for the next 20 years was the occasional trail ride at a park where we camped.
When I turned 35, I moved to northern California for a job and just happened to take an apartment about a mile from a boarding stable. Now I had the opportunity to fulfill my childhood dream of learning to ride. My “lesson horse” was Wizard, an ex-racehorse, ex-jumper, ex-dressage horse owned by my trainer. Wizard was smart. He knew a lesson usually meant walk/trot/canter in one direction, then reverse and walk/trot/canter in the other direction. Once we’d done that, he decided that lesson was over and that was all he was going to do. But over the months, my legs got stronger, my aids got better and soon we were a team.
Then one day I heard my trainer talking about possibly retiring Wizard, who was then 19 and had some navicular problems. I approached my trainer and suggested that if/when he decided to retire Wizard, I’d love to adopt him. So on my 40th birthday, I got my first horse. I became that horse crazy kid all over again!
A few years later, I was able to buy a house with enough land to keep Wizard at home. Unfortunately, the barn had to be built in stages, but Wizard was unfazed when the rain came in the unfinished end and we raced to put up tarps. He was a trooper when he developed a hoof abscess and I was in the barn at night before we had electricity with a flashlight in my mouth trying to hold his hoof to wrap it with my hands. Since horses are herd animals, of course I had to get a second horse to keep him company – a nice 24 year old Quarter Horse mare named Alley. She and Wizard became great friends and it was wonderful to look out my back window to watch them grazing.
Shortly afterwards, one of my horse friends in California called to say she was ready to retire her 30 year old horse and would I consider taking care of him. So now we were up to three horses! But I wasn’t worried because Wizard and CoPilot had been best friends and stall buddies at the stable. However, CoPilot got one look at Alley and it was love at first sight. This 30 year old gelding was behaving like a 4 year old stallion! Alley was definitely HIS mare. His friend, Wizard? Wizard who? Luckily, Wizard’s easy-going personality helped avoid a love triangle and they soon all lived happily together.
But horses don’t live forever and eventually I had to let all of them go. But they had taught me so much about horse care in general and senior horse care in particular. In 2005, in their honor, I turned my stable into GreenGate Farm, a boarding stable for retired show horses.
Kelly O’Neill is owner of a boarding stable for retired show horses. She has over 20 years of horse care expertise, with extensive experience in the care of the senior horse. Kelly has been a groom for two professional rider/trainers and has assisted in feeding, blanketing, turnout, medications and vet visits at several barns before opening one of her own in 1998. She now writes on her knowledge and love of horses for both fun and as the premiere writer for Classic Equine Equipment.