Allison & Dino | Chestnut Hollow Farm | The Senior Horse Project

girl with chestnut horse in the woods at Chestnut Hollow Farm

Allison and Dino “The Wonder Pony” were a pair I was super excited to connect with. His story is amazing – he and Allison just so happened to find each other at just the right time, and because of that, he’s living his best life in his senior years at Chestnut Hollow Farm in Perkasie, PA. For so many horses with a story similar to Dino’s, they do not have such a happy ending – Allison & Dino’s relationship is a good example of how senior horses can continue to lead productive, happy, fulfilling lives when they are lucky enough to have an owner that learns to adapt their expectations to the abilities and needs of their horse. This story is a bit longer than some of the other senior horse stories, but Allison wrote out her thoughts so beautifully that I didn’t want to abbreviate it at all.

Allison & Dino | Chestnut Hollow Farm, Perkasie, PA

Horse: Dino (Registered Name: Caradino, also “The Wonder Pony”), 22 years old, German riding pony photographed at Chestnut Hollow Farm in Perkasie, PA

How it all started…

Dino was my “Senior Training Project” horse during my senior year at Delaware Valley University. All seniors were assigned a problem horse and tasked with making a plan to improve the horse over the course of a semester. Being the smallest person in my class, I got assigned the pony. He was an absolute hellion, but we connected instantly. He was difficult and cheeky and not at all easy to ride, and I loved him. You’d put your leg on and Dino would just plant his little pony feet into the earth, slap his ears back, swish his tail, make an absolutely wicked face, and if you insisted he move forward, he’d just buck. He was awful. But he could jump like a son of a gun, and I truly believe we had both just been waiting all those years to find each other – I adored him and he would do more for me than he would for anyone else. When I graduated, I told the head of the equine department that I wanted Dino when he was done, no matter when that was. Even if he was 30 years old and had no teeth, he was mine and I wanted him to live out his days with me. Luckily for both of us, Dino only lasted two more years at the college before he got so fed up with the lesson horse life that they decided to retire him from the program. I got to take him home when he was 12 years old, and my husband proposed to me on the day we picked him up. It was THE BEST DAY EVER.

I had been showing in the jumpers at that point, and it was a discipline I thought Dino would excel in when I was riding him at college, so when he came home it was my goal to eventually make him my 3′ jumper. That dream never quite worked out for us, but considering all the wild, incredible things I’ve done with this horse, I’m not at all sad it turned out differently!

Dino was and is my first pony. I had leased several horses before him, worked in lots of barns, and gotten a degree in Equine Studies, so while I was very experienced caring for horses, he was the first horse I’d ever owned. I’d researched pretty thoroughly the costs of ownership and was fairly prepared for the expense. I also chose a boarding barn where I could work off the majority of my board, which as a fresh college graduate was a huge financial help. When Dino was diagnosed with Cushing’s and ended up needing daily medication, special grain, and shoes…those things were a bit of a surprise but certainly nothing I wasn’t able to handle financially. Thankfully over the years my income has increased and Dino’s living arrangements have gotten fancier, and I haven’t had to work off board in a long time!

Dino was, and is, always going to be with me until the end of his life. I wanted to adopt him knowing that he may not have ended up being my show horse, and was prepared to care for him as a friend instead of a competitive partner if that was what he needed. But incredibly, he exceeded everyone’s expectations and became a phenomenal competition horse in multiple disciplines and we have grown in skill together. But regardless, I would never consider selling him to purchase a younger or more talented horse. He’s my four-footed soulmate. I’ll keep paying board on Dino until he dies – he’ll never get “put out to pasture” or sent away, even if that means I can’t afford a younger riding horse if and when he finally retires. (Which doesn’t seem like it’ll be any time soon!)

Highs and lows…

There have been so many high points [with Dino]! The first time we won a horse trial, literally every time out foxhunting, qualifying for the local GMO’s 1st Level championship last year, making a comeback in eventing after a really rocky season in 2016, winning a year end award in 2017, cantering bareback and bridleless for the first time, running cross country at Fair Hill, the first time he offered a true collected canter, hacking out alone without a care in the world… most of our time together has been high points. The lowest points were definitely when he was first diagnosed with Cushing’s the spring after I brought him home – I thought I’d have to retire him at 12, he was so lame and miserable – and when he colicked badly last spring…I really thought he wasn’t going to make it. But Dino pulled through every time and came out the other side stronger than ever. There’s a reason they call him “Wonder Pony”!

Until we found each other, Dino had flunked out of every job he’d ever had. He was imported to the U.S. from Germany as a 4 year old, had a short, unimpressive stint as a children’s hunter pony (his USEF record is dismal), and was then donated at 9 years old to a college riding program. Dino then proceeded to flunk out of college, finding the lesson horse life absolutely miserable. He was unhappy, and he hurt, and he didn’t have a person. It was at that point that we were brought into each other’s lives, and everything changed for both of us. While I had to wait a few years to officially call him mine, Dino was a thousand percent worth the wait.

The past nine years together have not been easy – We’ve dealt with Cushing’s, colic, ulcers, lameness, injury and other medical scares. We’ve had loads of training problems, ranging from years of knock-down-drag-out pony temper tantrums, to jumping refusals, to training holes owed only to my own lack of knowledge. But despite the many, many times I thought about giving up, retiring Dino, not jumping anymore, quitting showing, quitting eventing, I never did. I never gave up on Dino, and he kept forgiving me and trying for me. In the midst of all the struggles, our relationship was growing, and after those first few tumultuous years we became an unstoppable pair. I trust him implicitly, and as long as I’m fair, Dino will try his heart out and take care of me. We read each other’s minds, we operate as a team, and he is truly my once-in-a-lifetime heart horse. He has carried me through the hunt field, stormed across cross country tracks, flown over show jumping courses, loped around the western pleasure show pen, carried me bareback and bridleless through the dark night, danced down centerline, blazed new trails, been my strength and my bravery, and showed me just how deep a connection a human can have with a horse. He has surpassed everyone’s expectations beyond my wildest dreams: this failed show pony and badly-behaved college dropout that no one wanted to ride became the most incredible partner I could ever ask for.

Where we are now…

As he ages, Dino just keeps getting better. Since he turned 20, I’ve wondered every year if I should retire him or step him down. Every show season has been my “last,” until he comes out the next spring better than ever, and so we head out for another competition season. This year he turned 23 in May, and I hope to ride Dino down centerline at 2nd Level for the first time. He is sound, strong, healthy, and loving his work as a dressage horse. Besides, accomplishing things no one ever thought he could do seems to be what he does best.

Thank you so much to Allison & Dino for a lovely evening at Chestnut Hollow Farm! Chestnut Hollow Farm

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