Just because a competition horse is slowing down doesn’t mean it’s time for them to retire completely, as one lifelong horse owner and rider from Yacolt has found her aging steeds can help a new generation of riders learn the ropes.

Dianne Rinta’s former competition horses are currently helping get her grandchildren into the saddle, putting years of experience to work at a slower pace than the horses’ competition days. Nowadays, Sparky, 28, and Sam, 22, can be seen at competitions across the region, still competing but at a much less intense pace.

Rinta rode the horses competitively for barrel racing and gaming, she said, before each hit a certain age where they were slowing down. When Sparky was 24 Rinta quit running the horse in competition, instead giving the champion horse to her granddaughter, Ally, at the young age of 18 months. 

In the beginning stages, children take part in leadline competitions where an instructor would lead the horse through a routine with the child in the saddle. That’s what Rinta started Ally off with, before eventually being able to compete on her own.

“The sooner you can (teach horse riding) the better,” Rinta remarked. Ally wasn’t the only Rinta receiving an introduction to riding from an older competitor, as Dianne explained her grandson, Chase, has also benefited from a competition veteran in Sam, a 22-year-old horse.

“My grandson was kind of afraid of horses, and then all of a sudden Sam was his new best friend,” Rinta said, adding that the horse was the only one the three-year-old Chase would ride.

Rinta said Sparky had won some 10 saddles during his main competition days, with Sam having a few of his own. When the horses started slowing down Rinta consulted with her veterinarian on what to do with the aging animals. Given their relative condition, the vet’s suggestion was “don’t leave them home.”

The senior horses have helped to teach the youngsters all the ins and outs of horsemanship and horse ownership, drawing on their prior experience out in the arena.

“Both of these horses have taught them to be responsible,” Rinta said, adding that the responsibilities were age-appropriate given the young age of the rookie riders. She mentioned some of what Chase could do, such as giving Sam treats.

“And these horses would never hurt them,” Rinta added, noting that the older horses are much more cautious with their precious cargo than a younger animal might be. “They are very patient with the kids,” she later added.

“A young horse is not going to be able to teach an inexperienced or young rider,” Rinta said. “The old horses will teach the kids to ride.”

“Ally’s not running Sparky at the times that I ran,” Rinta said, though as the young rider has gotten older, the horse has stepped up the speed some. Chase is currently learning to trot Sam as well as simple commands — things his horse knows well from years of experience.

Though Rinta owned Sparky for much of his life she mentioned that Sam had a notably different upbringing, being a workhorse on a ranch in Nevada until he was 12. Compared to ranch life, involving some 60 miles of daily riding, life with Rinta, and now Chase, has been a nice retirement of sorts.

“He’s in heaven,” Rinta remarked. Apart from the benefits to the children learning to ride, the horses themselves still get to feel a part of the team — a part of the family.

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