Carly and Gold are the next pair in The Senior Horse Project. In the 13 years she’s owned him, Carly and Gold have been through so much together. They’re a great example of how we as riders learn to adapt to the needs and abilities of our horses. At the time of their photo shoot and interview, Gold was living at Dream Valley stables at Hidden Spring Lavender Farm in Skillman, NJ. He literally had a paddock with a view of the gorgeous lavender fields, as well as some friendly alpacas!
Horse: Gold (Registered Name: Wrapped in Gold), 26 years old, thoroughbred, photographed at Dream Valley Stables at Hidden Spring Lavender Farm in Skillman, NJ
Gold was 12 years old when we bought him. He had papers, but he is a thoroughbred and he never raced. They were not super official and just showed when he was born. My parents bought him for me when I was a freshman in high school, and he was our first horse. I started riding when I was 9 and had taken lessons, helped at the barn, and leased other horses [but not owned one]. My mom took lessons as a kid but I did not come from a horse family.
Our trainer at the time found Gold online on Dream Horse and we went to see him. He was at a sale barn with tons of other horses and weird farm animals in South Jersey when we went to look at him. I remember there was a huge pot bellied pig and a massive steer there. He was underfed and his teeth hadn’t been done. They said that the “kids fed him but sometimes forgot”. I think that my mom really felt bad for him. She kind of pushed for us to “save” him because he was so sweet. Also he was really good and jumped really nicely when we tried him. Again, I don’t recommend LOL.
Gold was the first horse we ever tried and I did not know what I was doing. Our trainer didn’t even come with us. It was just my parents, who didn’t know anything about horses, and me, I was 14 at the time. Obviously my mom and I fell in love with him and had to have him. Our trainer went the next day and got a PPE and took him home. I do not recommend buying a horse this way.
I bought Gold to go to local shows or “C” shows and do 3′ courses with the ability to jump a little higher here and there. He was unpolished and so was I, but he was a really talented jumper. [With] my lack of knowledge [I] didn’t know that buying a [12 year old] greenish horse wasn’t a good idea, but there we were. I was initially wanting to do the hunters with him and we tried both hunters and jumpers.
I was only 14 but I had a lot of knowledge about horse care for a kid at the time. I’ve never been an accomplished “show” rider or anything of the sort. At the time I would say that my best ability was being able to ride a lot of different horses and not fall off, no matter how green or evil/pony/mareish they were. An unpolished barn rat if you will. I worked hard helping at the barn and wanted to learn but I needed help. [Relying] completely on my trainer [for guidance], I have always used whatever trainer I was working with as my primary resource for training and guidance, in addition to vets, farriers and whatever other professionals I am working with.
I think our trainer pretty realistically explained [the yearly expenses] to my parents at the time, [for] the level that I was then [competing] at. As I got older and wanted to get more competitive with the sport I realized that you can always be spending more on your horse as far as maintenance and care goes. When my parents decided that we were going to buy a horse, my trainer told them to “imagine that they were going to throw all of the money down the drain and never see it again.” She was trying to emphasize that this was not an investment and more of a hobby which is definitely true. At the beginning, our plan (my parents’ plan) was to keep Gold for 4 years during high school and sell him when I went to college. The long term/lifelong care was not something we had thought about when we first bought him.
About a year after I bought Gold, he was going really well and my trainer said that we could sell him for a lot more than we bought him for (we got him for almost nothing), and get a nicer horse. I was too attached to him at the time and said no. About 6 months after this he had colic surgery. I was also supposed to sell him before I got to college. By this time in 2011, he was post colic surgery and had slowed down a lot and I was nervous about what kind of future he would have if we sold him. I am thankful for my parents’ support and for allowing me to keep him even though that was not our original plan. He is so special and to me will not be sold because of the support of my family over the years.
Initially, I had hoped that he would take me to the next level and we would be able to learn together. At first, this was true and I really enjoyed and we both learned a lot from each other riding-wise. When I bought him we had thought he was a little younger, and I didn’t realize he would slow down so quickly. A combination of arthritis and colic surgery slowed down his career and I outgrew/outpaced his jumping ability. I was very frustrated and sad when this happened and I honestly think I wished I could’ve brought myself to sell him. It would’ve been better for my riding. But I couldn’t do it and we were much too attached. I always found other ways to ride other horses and rode him on the side when he wasn’t able to do what I wanted, and never considered selling him.
We didn’t really have a plan for his retirement other than to keep him going and as comfortable as possible for as long as possible. I have always had him with me. I had him when I was in high school, then brought him back and forth to college with me in PA for 4 years. When I moved to Charlotte, NC for my first job after college he came there for 3.5 years. At the end of 2018, I moved back to NJ and he moved to Dream Valley Stables at Hidden Spring Lavender Farm. [Our] riding slowed down dramatically since 2011, and he really hasn’t jumped more than a crossrail here and there in years. I was riding him consistently to keep him in light work and comfortable until September 2017. He told me that he was no longer comfortable and he just wanted to spend his time being a horse. Every now and then, a little girl gets on him and he ponies them around like a saint. Other than that, he is free to just relax and eat treats.
The lowest point in owning Gold was definitely his colic surgery. On the morning of June 19, 2009 he colicked really badly and had to have surgery. We got to the barn and he was thrashing all over as my trainer tried to hold him for the vet. The vet told us to hook up the trailer and take him to Mid-Atlantic, but that he had never seen a horse colic that badly and make it out alive. We got to the hospital and he went into surgery about an hour and a half later. One of his ligaments was wrapped around his small intestine, killing it, and they took 26 feet of the small intestine out. They vet said that it was an extremely risky surgery with a high risk of failure.
He miraculously made it through and survived the recovery without incident, to the surprise of all the vets. He was so weak when he came home and he was on stall rest for months in recovery. I actually broke my leg during his recovery while riding another horse, and my parents had to help out with his care. He was supposed to be hand-walked and hand-grazed for an hour each morning and night. Since I had a huge cast on my leg, my mom and dad took these shifts. I think this is when our whole family became connected with him. He got through the recovery process in about 9 months without complication.
The high point of having Gold is probably not about a championship or title. He always hated showing or going off property or doing anything scary. He was always very spooky. After his colic surgery, I wanted to be the one to bring him back and rehab him, even though I had [recently] broken my leg [at the time]. His first ride back was really exciting for me. I was so proud of him making it through all he had been through, and so happy that I was better after my leg had healed. The farm he lived at had a 1/4 mile racetrack, and right after he had his surgery he couldn’t walk 1/2 way around the track. So his recovery process was long and hard but he was such a fighter through it all. But riding him and then eventually getting him back to jumping full courses and back to his happy self was probably the best experience.
Thank you so much to Carly and her parents for not one, but TWO lovely evenings at Hidden Spring Lavender Farm!