In Praise of Older Horses: Part 3 – Melvin

Back in the Limelight

Guest blog by Anya Urszulan, Volunteer

With an average life expectancy of 25-30 years, horses, if lucky, live a very good, full life.

Melvin, a Thoroughbred, has retired twice over: first from racing, and secondly from a Hunter/Jumper career. He’s one of the lucky ones. In his second career he, no doubt, had his share of fanfare moments, competing at the Royal Winter Fair and other high-end shows.

In the fall of 2013 Melvin found himself embarking on a well deserved semi-retirement, this time to the therapeutic riding program at Horseplay Sanctuary. He has been busy since coming here. Melvin is one of the cornerstone horses used in the program, not only carrying fragile riders for therapy, but also evolving into a teacher of another kind. He teaches Vet. Tech students, becoming a bridge between theory and practice and now, most recently, in another teaching capacity, as the happy subject of a College level Photography student.

I am a  regular volunteer at Horseplay Sanctuary, and to my great privilege have learned the personalities of each resident horse. So when my neighbour, dear friend and Photography student asked if she could capture me grooming a horse for a project, there was only one choice in my mind. Melvin. I knew there would be a camera set atop a tripod, and a bright light on a stand. Such equipment, flashing and beeping, can be a potential spook to a horse. How many would have experienced such a set up in their lifetime? Melvin.

Melvin StudioDespite his competitive career being a distant memory, I thought surely he would have been exposed to such hustle and bustle at the height of his illustrious career. I also thought it would be fun to give him a small re-creation of the bravado he once experienced in the show ring.

I plucked Melvin out of the herd and, at his pace, we dawdled up to the barn. I placed him in a stall to observe our tiny studio set-up, in the hope it would be less surprising than walking him straight into the shoot. Melvin did what Melvin does, munched on hay with the occasional crib on the water bucket, completely unconcerned with the fuss taking place outside his stall door.

Then moment arrived, the humans were ready for their subject. I led Melvin out, cross tied him and set to work grooming and cuddling all while the camera bulb flashed away.

Any rider, volunteer or visitor who has had the pleasure of meeting Melvin knows quite well his curious, mischievous, handsome, gentle eyed demeanour, usually with slight head tilt or a straight-on “I’m good looking and I know how to work it” look on his face. He did not disappoint this day, he was on-point! Happy mouth and relaxed hind leg, yet ears forward

Melvin Portrait

and alert. The ultimate camera ham had settled in for some pampering on film. This day was a far cry from past his experiences, yet I truly believe he relished every moment, perhaps remembering days gone by, in the limelight, if only for a moment.