One of my favorite books is by Barbara Livingston, the famous horse photographer, and it is called Old Friends. It was published in 2002, a collection of portraits of retired senior racehorses, and includes text about each horse, and his or her accomplishments. (She has some heavy hitters in the book: Genuine Risk, Affirmed, Seattle Slew, and the Bid.) The horses are depicted at home, no longer in racing flesh, hollows above their eyes, manes allowed to grow long. They are beautiful.
It's a very satisfying book, and I think Livingston is really on to something. There's just something about an older horse that invites confidence. If you want a reliable, trustworthy horse, you start with age. Often, that brings its own, quiet brand of beauty, something that shines through each page of the book.
When our family horse, Sugar, came to us I knew she was somewhere in her middle teens, and while I have her papers, I have to admit I haven't consulted them very often. Recently, someone asked how old she is, and I said eighteen. She is (usually) reliable, patient with the children, and definitely fits the definition of an old friend. She's a good girl, a sweetheart. . .choose your horsey phrase. Eighteen seemed right. Eighteen is a nice, grown-up age. Senior in the sense of an old friend, but not truly superannuated or anything.
But then, one day last week, I realized that there was a quality about her that seemed older than eighteen. Or wiser, or something. Was it that her eyes seemed even more gentle, somehow? It was ineffable, but it was there. So I looked it up, and I realized that Sugar is actually nineteen.
Now this is not, obviously, a huge difference. But nineteen is definitely older than eighteen. Eighteen is late middle aged, for a horse, but nineteen. . .nineteen is an old friend. And here's what Livingston has to say about that.
"In their aged grace," she writes in the introduction to Old Friends, "all have held the hearts of the people who loved them."