The years form a bond between two seniors, horse and rider

By Nancy Jaffer
March 13, 2016

Peggy Christ and Tristan competing.
You’ve seen the ads; they’re all over the internet.

“Free to a good home, can no longer keep my 21-year-old horse. Not sound to ride, but would be a good companion.”

There are lots of reasons for giving up a horse. Sometimes financial or personal situations change drastically, or serious illness strikes. But too many people don’t take responsibility for the welfare of an animal who has done them good service.

A horse’s old age alone shouldn’t be reason enough to send him away, even if you can’t afford another horse but want to keep showing or pursing your equestrian goals. Try to find an alternative to an uncertain destiny for an older horse.

So I was intrigued by the story of 70-year-old Peggy Christ, and her 23-year-old Intermediare I horse, Tristan, the first horse she had owned as an adult.

“I felt as long as we had some kind of connection, I was taking him on as a lifetime commitment,” said the amateur rider, who bought the Dutchbred in 2002 and saw him through severe dental problems in 2010.

“He’s given me far more than I would have ever expected; I started saying that about eight years ago.”

When she bought him, “He was Second Level dressage, I was maybe First Level,” she recalled of their beginnings, after trainer Stephan Cheret found the son of Farrington for her.

“It took a few years, but we moved up the levels together,” said Peggy, who is retired from a position as director of publications at Rutgers University.

“We’re not CDI quality, but we mostly compete against ourselves with the hope of improving. Knowing he’s 23, I was not necessarily committed to showing him again this year, but I haven’t ruled it out, either,” noted the Princeton resident. Show or no show, however, Tristan has a home for life.

A proud Peggy Christ and Tristan.

He was the first horse Peggy owned as an adult. She had ridden where she grew up in New York State until she went away to college, then didn’t take up the sport again for 35 years. When she was in her mid-50s, a coworker invited her to meet her horse. Peggy got on a school mount at her friend’s stable and suddenly, she was back in the game.

She is content with all Tristan has done. He was third in the Eastern States Dressage and Combined Training Association high-score I-1 standings for 2015, and reserve for Prix St. Georges the previous year, when he also was fourth at I-1.

He has been high-score FEI champion at the Labor Day weekend show at the Horse Park of New Jersey, where he won the I-1. She has collected a number of Master’s recognition titles (for riders over 50) “because we’re always the oldest person.”

Tristan’s record also includes a reserve championship in the regional Great American Insurance Group competition.

“That was pretty neat, to be able to do an awards ceremony with a tricolor ribbon,” said Peggy.

At the same time, “Our thing has never been to compete with other people that much, but just to improve on what we can do,” she explained.

Ironically, Tristan “never has been wild about dressage. He puts up with doing this because I ask him to.”

What would he prefer?

“He loves to explore; he’s the greatest trail horse in the world. You can put his footsteps wherever you want. I feel I am on the safest creature I can imagine.”

Peggy likes to characterize herself as a “70-year-old working student” for her trainer, Lauren Chumley, at her farm in Pittstown.

Whatever he does, Tristan is appreciated by his owner/rider.

Lauren shares Peggy’s feelings about what an owner owes a horse.“Everybody nowadays thinks of the horses as a little disposable,” said Lauren.

Of Peggy and Tristan, the trainer commented, “He’s not an easy horse. He doesn’t give it away, he makes you work for it. They are great together. She keeps him, and I think that’s awesome.”

With Tristan’s showing days obviously numbered, “most people would move on down the line, but not Peggy,” said Lauren.

“I understand if you are in a situation where you can only have one horse and you still have dreams. but find a situation for your horse, don’t give it away on craigslist–they don’t wind up in good places,”  Lauren noted.

That is what led the 31-year-old trainer to bring her first horse, an aged saddlebred/thoroughbred cross named Gryphon, to New Jersey when the friend who was boarding him in Ohio had to move and couldn’t keep him anymore.

“He’s still my problem and my responsibility,” she explained.

While she enjoys competition, Peggy is really into horse care. That working student title isn’t honorary.

“She pitches right in,” said Lauren, who got in a bind when she was short of staff at her stable in Pittstown and Peggy volunteered.

“She does a darn good job. She really cares about the horses,” continued Lauren, who said Peggy has “helped me out so much whenever one of my girls is away or I need an extra pair of hands. She works like a 21-year-old” and does everything that’s needed, whether it’s grooming, cleaning tack or any one of the many other jobs at a busy stable.

“She’s a very unique individual,” said Lauren, who noted age hasn’t dimmed Peggy’s interest.

“She really wants to be a better rider. That’s such a cool attitude to have.”

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