My mare was 16 years old already when she came into my life.

But I didn’t care. Age was just a number to me. After spending five long years without a horse of my own, I welcomed Belinda, a big black hanoverian mare,  into my family. She was perfect for me in every way.

I had owned older horses before — grumpy ponies and aging jumpers who I showed for years and then let retire as I out grew them. But Belinda was different. I knew after just a few weeks of owning her that she would be with me for the rest of her days. Fast forward a few years and Belinda is healthier than ever. She’s fit and active, and absolutely loves her working routine. This mare loves to jump. She eats up cross country fences and steps up for the bigger distances in complicated arena work. She’s a blast to ride.

Every time we go to a show we always shock bystanders who gawk when they find out her age. “She looks like she’s 10!” I’ve heard before. And: “Wow, I never would have guessed.”

But the truth is Belinda is no spring chicken. There are some days when she comes out of her stall stiffer than others. Some days she needs a longer warm up. And some days, even though she’s always eager to jump, we just don’t.

While I love jumping my mare and competing her in jumping events, her health is my top priority. That’s why I decided that next year will be Belinda’s last over fences.

I’ve watched some really talented horses jump well into their late teens and early 20s. I have no doubt that Belinda could have several years of successful jumping ahead of her. I’ve always said that I would wait for her to tell me when she was done. I see none of that on the horizon. But her health is more important. I’d rather her be as comfortable as possible in her “senior” years than worrying about one more jump off round.

Part of me was bummed to sideline some of my riding goals with this decision. But I welcome the opportunity to try new things with Belinda in our next chapter. We both have backgrounds in dressage, but haven’t done much of it together. I’m looking forward to taking dressage lessons with my big mare in the new year. We’ve both only been competitors, so we haven’t spent a lot of time on the trails until recently. With dozens of state parks and hundreds of miles of beautiful trails just a short haul away from home, I’m thinking that’s going to change next year.

Plans change and that’s OK. I’m just thrilled to have this horse in my life.

I’m looking forward to our next chapter.