Ranching Blog: Retirement Home

Ranching Blog: Retirement Home

Every horse deserves, at least once in its life, to be loved by a little girl.

An older gray horse stands in a grass field.

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By Jenn Zeller

There comes a time in the life of every horse and every horse owner that you have to decide what to do with an older horse. For each of us, that decision may be made for a different reason. Maybe it’s financial – you don’t have the money to keep a horse that you can’t ride or enjoy or whose original purpose you’ve outgrown. Maybe it’s that you don’t have time to keep the horse, because you have young ones coming up. If you’re a breeder, maybe the horse can no longer produce but can go on and live a happy, healthy life elsewhere. No matter the reason, it’s something we’ve likely all had to face at one time or another.

In 2005, I bought a gorgeous gray mare. She was 5 and didn’t know much, but I had to own her. She was bred to fly and could really stop. Rate was natural in this running-bred mare. To say she was kind would be an understatement. To say she was forgiving wouldn’t really be a fair estimation. She was more than forgiving. She tolerated a lot – took it all in stride and never stopped being incredibly patient. I spent quite a few years not appreciating what a gem she was. I’m sure many of you can relate.

So the story with Streakin Iron begins. We affectionately called her “Sonora” or “Nora” or “Dragon” and she turned out to be some of the best money I ever spent on a horse.
I never got her to clock faster than a second off, despite the fact that she’s bred to fly. However, she did provide an income for me in the form of lessons. Anyone could borrow her and make a run on her. In fact, she carried several young barrel racers through the course of her life and was a great confidence builder for anyone who rode her. Nothing upset her. You could turn her out for three years, then saddle up, get on her and go do whatever job – ranching, jumping, packing a kid around. We chased a few cows here on the ranch, counted bulls, sorted. The job didn’t matter. You could count on her.

Because I could never get her to clock, but anyone could ride her, I turned her into my first broodmare. She was an incredible mama. I raised my very first baby out of her when she was 7. She gave me a gorgeous, sorrel Flit Bar filly, who gave me two gorgeous red dun colts before she died two years ago.

The Dragon also blessed me with three really nice geldings. 

When she was 8, she was attacked by a mountain lion while she was foaling. And that injury, over time, has been what’s kept her open for the past three years.

I’ve known she needed a forever home for a while. Not that I didn’t have a use for her – there are nieces and nephews and young ones here all the time that always need a safe, fun, horse to ride. But, in our situation, the stallions and most of the saddle horse herd fit that bill. And I believe it’s not fair to the horse that has so much life left and so much to teach to leave her in a pasture only visited by me when I have time.

It’s not that I don’t love her or appreciate her. Quite the contrary. Finding a forever home for a priceless horse isn’t as easy as one might think. I needed someone who would appreciate everything she is. Someone who’d be grateful for the gem they’d be getting. The right fit just hadn’t come along – until now. 

I was scrolling through Facebook the other day and it so happened my friend in Minnesota was looking for something for her 7-year-old daughter. I reached out. We visited about her daughter and the mare, and I knew it was right. Dragon will get to spend the rest of her life being adored by a little girl. I cannot think of a better way for a horse, who has given me so much, to spend the rest of her days. 

I threw my leg over her for the last time when I snagged her out of the pasture for her trip to Minnesota – rode her home bareback. 

I’m sure gonna miss this great teacher. But I know it’s time for her to teach someone else all the things she taught me. I’ll miss you Sonora Nora. Thanks for the rides.

Jenn Zeller is an aspiring horseman, photographer, freelance writer, barrel racer and collector of horses and chickens. She resides in South Dakota on the DX Ranch, a third-generation cattle ranch where the family raises Angus and Brangus cows, as well as Quarter Horses. Contact her at jennifer@thesouthdakotacowgirl.com.