He Keeps Going

He Keeps Going

Just To Be Black is going strong at age 33.

Willie Matthews and Just To Be Black, age 33, enjoy a ride in the snow. (Photo provided by Willie Matthews)

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The American Quarter Horse Journal logo

By Holly Clanahan

In 1993, the 3-year-old gelding Just To Be Black went to the All American Quarter Horse Congress to strut his stuff in western pleasure. Now, three decades later, this equine Energizer Bunny is still going and going. 

Molly Brockman and Wes stay active together. (Photo courtesy of Wilie Matthews)


About eight years ago, “Wes,” then 25, found his way to the St. Paris, Ohio, barn of trainer Willie Matthews, who began using him in her lesson program and leased him out occasionally to students who were between horses. The barn favorite is now being leased by 76-year-old Molly Brockman, who has been riding since the early 1960s, and Willie uses him herself whenever she needs a reliable mount. 

“I just ponied an 8-month-old off of him two days ago, and I was trying to get the baby to canter, and so I was cantering Wes around,” Willie says. He is amazingly sound, and his maintenance consists only of firocoxib tablets and monthly IM injections of polysulfated glycosaminoglycan to keep his joints lubricated. A nutrition consultant recently gave him a body condition score of 6 and said he was the fittest 33-year-old she’d ever seen. He requires no special shoeing, and hay is still a major part of his diet, a testament to his good dentition.  

It’s remarkable that a horse of his age – considered “late elderly” – is still active and healthy. According to an article on thehorse.com looking at horses in the United Kingdom, only an estimated 2.2 percent of horses are over 30. Another study showed that 77 percent of horses in that age bracket are considered lame – but not Wes.

“I say, ‘Bodies in motion stay in motion, bodies at rest stay at rest.’ And I feel like having him ridden two, three times a week has really helped keep him going,” Willie says. “He can walk, trot, canter totally sound. We put him out every single day. We've had a really mild winter, but he tells me when he wants to come in.”

Wes was retired from showing only last year, after having introduced his last exhibitor, a 6-year-old girl, to the ins and outs of showing. Willie estimates that over the years, Wes has given beginner riding lessons to 100 different kids. With Molly as his regular rider now, “she works on all kinds of stuff, bending, long trotting, posting the trot, she hand gallops him, and she works on trail stuff. She wanted me to do a lesson with her a few weeks ago on in-hand trail, and so we did it with Wes.”

Wes earned an amateur AQHA Register of Merit in 2004, and he has 26.5 points in halter, showmanship, trail, western pleasure and horsemanship. And this doesn’t count the myriad open shows and county fairs that Willie’s students have taken him to. He is by Just To Impress by American Quarter Horse Hall of Famer Impressive, and his dam is Poco Pine Girl, a descendant of Poco Pine by Poco Bueno.

“He’s really broke. He's just one of these horses that once you’re cantering, he gets cantering, and he never speeds up unless you ask him to,” Willie says. “When they say horses like this are worth their weight in gold, I'm not kidding. If you don't know how to ride at all, you'll get on Wes, because he's not running off. He might stop, but he's not running off. You put the reins where you want the horse to go, and that's what he'll do.”

The only thing that Willie has found that bothers Wes is gunfire, but at 33, he’s allowed to have his preferences. 

“He's just one of these horses in my life that I'm so thankful for. He's a one in a million,” Willie says. He’s the only horse at Bar W Equestrian Center who is permitted to be hand fed treats. And “he always expects a treat after he gets done with the lessons.” 

Wes has been through a number of owners in his life, but he has found his forever home. “He will definitely die at this farm,” Willie says. “I’m glad he’s here. Who knows how much longer it’ll last, but time will tell.”