Definition of warhorse (Merriam-Webster)
1: a horse used in war : CHARGER 2: a person with long experience in a field especially: a veteran soldier or public person (such as a politician)
Not included in the Merriam-Webster definition:
“Horses with 50 or more starts are typical of a “war horse”. Everybody admires their durability, yet few want to take a chance on buying them. It’s a sad misconception that these horses are physically used up, when in reality they have proven over and over that they have the brains and body to stand up to the most physically and mentally demanding discipline. Not only must their bodies be sound, but their minds must be as well. They are almost always classy, intelligent horses who are well respected by those on the backside. These horses love their jobs or they wouldn’t have held up this long doing it. They typically carry that professionalism and enthusiasm into new careers and thrive on working rather than sitting in a field.” (from The Retired Racehorse Project, “Racehorse Reality Check: Do Numbers Really Matter?”)
If you follow this site, my blog or my farm on Facebook, you know that I have been enjoying the Warhorse Endurance Virtual Challenges since the start of the pandemic. In particular, they have given me tangible goals to work toward with my own personal semi-retired warhorse, Lee. In 2020, she completed the Valkyrie 100 Mile Virtual Challenge, contributed 20 miles toward the Journey 100 Mile Virtual Challenge and added well over 150 miles toward the 1900 Mile Pony Express Virtual Challenge. This year, not only did she further contribute to the Pony Express total, she completed the Virtual Tevis Cup as well as the 2021 Warhorse 100 Mile Virtual Challenge.
I chose this last challenge particularly for her. Lee has never been easy. She is quirky and sensitive and sometimes has an agenda different than mine, yet at the same time she has been one of the most consistently reliable horses I have ever worked with. You always know to expect the unexpected with her. Helicopters flying directly overhead? Not a problem. Thunder and lightening and hail crashing down in a sudden squall? Also not an issue. Chipmunks, cows and the mounting block facing the wrong way? Not cool.
Lee turned 22 years old this year, and she has been with me since the age of 6. From 3′ jumpers to USEF First Level dressage to the GMHA 3 Day 100 Mile Competitive Trail Ride, this horse has done it all and other than an occasional abscess, lost shoe or self-inflicted cut, she has never missed a day of work due to lameness. I have ridden her with Olympians, on the trails of Acadia and in the mountain of Vermont.
I hate that people discount the older veterans of the equine world, the warhorses like Lee. These horses have proven over and over they are up to most any challenge, and I believe they prefer to have a job over simply being dumped in a field or dry lot somewhere. Do you need to moderate or step down your expectations as they age? Of course. But for those of you just getting started in horses, look for a warhorse. If you are willing to listen, they will teach you more than any human about being a true horseman.