Ranger Jim's Ramblings Return
After too long a hiatus (or perhaps too short a hiatus, depending on your opinion), I've returned to the Western Fictioneers blog, to once again post about horses, Texas Rangers, or whatever might happen to cross my mind. Lately, I've been working on modern day Texas Ranger novels, the recent release TEXAS JEOPARDY, and its sequel, to be released later this year by Livia and Cheryl's Fire Stare Press, TOUGH MONTH FOR A RANGER. Both feature sixth generation Ranger James C. Blawcyzk, a direct descendant of my original Texas Ranger character, James J. Blawcyzk. Of course, a present day tale doesn't exactly make a good fit for a traditional Western blog. So, I've been pondering about this month's topic. As usual, I ended up coming back to horses, specifically, horses' ages.
As do humans, horses today live much longer lives than they did in the late 1800s. Today, it is not unusual to hear of horses that live into their thirties. However, the more usual longevity for a horse is twenty-five to thirty years. Since a horse ages approximately three years for one human year, a twenty-five year old horse is about seventy five years old in human years.
The other issue with aged horses is how long they can still be used as a saddle or carriage horse. Once a horse is in its late twenties, it is usually no longer able to carry a rider. Right now, Yankee is twenty-five, and I'm still riding him, although not as long or as hard as I used to, for both his sake, and mine. I can't ride for eight hours at a stretch any longer, either. My friend's mustang mare is thirty-one, and was ridden until last year. Now, however, the effects of Cushing's disease are taking their toll. Joya is having difficulty maintaining her balance, so she'll be spending her final days in pasture. Generally, every year past twenty-five is a bonus year. Interestingly, few horses die from heart, brain, or lung issues.Yankee just has his annual checkup and shots. His vet says he has the heart and lungs of a two year old. However, as happens to all of us, his joints, teeth, and legs are showing their age. Sadly, this means that most horses do nit die a natural death, but are humanely put down to relieve their pain. Unlike humans, a horse can't survive if its legs no longer work.
As far as horses in the frontier West, a fifteen year old horse would be elderly, indeed, just as a sixty year old man would be living on borrowed time. The same things that took human lives early also took horses' lives: disease, parasites, particularly worms, and accidents. Gunshot wounds were also the demise of many horses, since they made a much better target than their rider. Down the horse, you down the rider.
As a general rule of thumb, which I have violated many times, when writing a horse as a character into your Western, keeping its age under ten years is a safe bet.
One final fact: Mares continue to go into heat for their entire lives, and theoretically can conceive and give birth no matter how old they are. However, having a foal for an elderly mare is dangerous, both for the mare, and the foal, so breeding old mares is definitely seldom done.
Until next month, happy trails.