Tonight I took Cash out for a bareback ride on the solstice. It was nice - it was a little cooler today (only 102!) than last week and there was a breeze, plus the sunset was quite spectacular. We only saw one other person on the trail, although Cash did a fantastic "spook in place" cutting-horse type move when he spotted the person's dogs. I love my schpotted eediot, really I do.
Bareback trail rides with a horse you trust are a good time for thinking. Tonight I was wondering how old is too old for a horse to really be ridden - not just little hacks at the walk. I retired Cash three years ago because of an intermittent high-up lameness issue that we couldn't diagnose, despite ultrasounds, blocking, and enough x-rays to make him glow in the dark. At 19 1/2, I figured retirement wasn't a bad thing, and he was pasture sound, so off he went to be a lawn ornament. Over the last three years he's continued to be pasture sound, and then about a year ago he suddenly seemed really quite sound. But he was still retired so it didn't much matter, except that he was more comfortable and could do more romping with his retired buddies.
Tonight as I was riding I picked up the reins and asked him to go into the (bitless) bridle at the walk. It took about two seconds and he was like "Oh right! I can do that!" We did a smidge of shoulder in, a little lengthen in the walk, a little bending. I eased the reins out and he followed my hand down. I guess they don't forget much.
So now he's home with me, seemingly quite sound, with years of training on him and a willingness to work - what to do? This is a horse that was doing canter half passes and baby piaffe/passage steps when I retired him from serious dressage competition. Yeah, he's 23 now, but if he's sound and comfortable, should it matter? Should I try bringing him back up and see what we can do? I certainly don't have another horse with his talent or training (Saga's never going to make a fantastic dressage horse), nor am I likely to in the near future.
Worst case, I start bringing him back and at some point he's not comfortable. Since I've dealt with a permanent injury (bone lesion under the suspensory on the LH) with Cash for years, I'm SUPER sensitive to how he's going and am confident that I would be able to tell if he was even a smidge uneven. If there's an issue, we stop and go back to walking trail rides, it's that simple. If he continues to be 100%... who knows? We could have a lot of fun, and I could have the opportunity to learn more on a very willing schoolmaster.
Am I nuts? Is this even fair to him? He loves to work, but after 3 years off... is thinking about bringing him back the right thing to do?