Sunday, April 20, 2014

Farewell to Bear

It's been hard to bring myself to write this post, so I have been putting it off. We recently came to a difficult decision. Bear has moved on to a new home. He is now in the hands of the good people at Miracles in Motion - the therapeutic riding program where I volunteered some years ago.

This change is the result of a year and a half of monitoring Bear's health and happiness. While it seems he thrives in light work, too much or inconsistent riding leaves him a little off. It's not a focused kind of problem - not a particular sore spot or definable issue. It's more of a general overall, mild distress that seems to crop up and leave, then reappear at irregular intervals. It's easy for us to over-work him. A ride that is fine for him one week will leave him uncomfortable the next. Or, sometimes, he'll get a week off and come in seeming down and uncomfortable.

We were struggling with this a lot last fall, and almost donated him to Miracles then. In the end, we decided to wait one more season. He's been on the supplement recommended by our vet for over six months now, being ridden in tack that fits him very well. We kept him in good shape all winter, and hoped with enough careful conditioning, we might be able to move him past this difficulty.

But we've seen no consistent change for the better. Every time we seem to beat the issue, it reappears, seemingly at random. He's 18 years old, and it seems like he might just be kind of beyond the point where he can thrive in the work we have for him.

Now, with Oliver and Aiden in our lives, we've found ourselves needing to get back down to four horses. But Oliver and Aiden have a lot of potential, and while we could doubtless sell either of them now, we'd rather keep them for a while, get them fully back into good shape and work, and learn from them as we teach them our way of doing things.

It was the right time to retire Bear. Nevertheless, it was hard. We are lucky to have such a great place to send him. The Miracles people came and met him a couple of weeks ago, and were very impressed. All signs indicate he will be perfect for their program. I have seen first-hand that their horses are well cared for and properly handled. They are used lightly, each horse's load carefully tailored to what he can handle. They are aware of Bear's limitations. The therapy horses are mostly older geldings. They live in a herd environment, get lots of attention, and are only used for therapeutic purposes. The people at Miracles have a lot of practice keeping old guys in good health - far more than we do. I think Bear will enjoy his new role.

Still, it was more than a little sad to see him go. They came and picked him up on Wednesday. He's currently with them on a 60 day trial. There's a slim chance they won't take him, but it seems unlikely. He is everything a therapy horse needs to be - sweet, steady, reliable, solid.

In may ways, it's a win-win. Bear gets the lifestyle he needs, the program benefits from having him. We just have to adjust to not having him in our lives. Our trips to the barn this last week have been a little sad. After 3.5 years, it is strange to walk into the pasture and not see Bear there, dozing in the sun or wandering over for facepets.

We're going to miss him terribly, but I feel lucky to have had the chance to spend some time with such a remarkable guy.


2 comments:

  1. Aww, it's always hard to part with a critter. Especially one that's been with you for a long time. I'll admit though, I kinda thought you might be heading this direction. And it does seem like a good time, and a really good place for Bear to go.

    I think we might be reaching Tranikla's retirement (or semi-retirement) pretty soon too. Kinda like what you describe, sometimes he's fine, sometimes he's off. Sometimes riding helps, and sometimes it makes him sore. I don't really ride all that much during the school year though, so we'll see how it goes over the summer.

    I find it interesting that the therapeutic riding center near you has mostly older geldings. There's one out here that prefers mares, particularly mares who've foaled. They do a lot of work with really troubled kids (who sometimes come from prison for their session), so I suspect it's a different type of therapy than the one near you.

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    1. Thanks. Yeah. We've been on the cusp of this decision for a while. It is really not a good feeling, not knowing whether what you're doing is good or bad for a horse. I'm pretty confident this is going to be an ideal lifestyle for Bear. That's the important thing.

      Interesting to hear you're having a similar problem with Tranikla. I do think some horses can stay in work to an advanced age, and others just don't seem up to it. I wish I knew what made the difference.

      This program Bear went to is mostly for children with physical and mental disabilities, so definitely a different in focus than the one you describe. That is interesting to hear the one near you prefers to take mares that have foaled. Perhaps those ladies have an enhanced nurturing instinct.

      This program deals a lot with kids who can make strange/erratic movements and noises. They need unflappable horses. I'm sure there are plenty of mares that could fit the bill, but I suppose limiting to one gender simplifies some things.

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