Life begins at retirement

Prospect Point was 7 of 72 as a runner but has been retired since 1985. Gail Earle Photo

On the racetrack, he was just another horse. Not famous, not fast, not one who ever made any serious money. Now, he's just an old, slow horse. A very, very old slow horse, and that's what makes him extraordinary.

Prospect Point celebrated his 37th birthday last week, as he was born on March 4, 1978. Of course, no one knows who the oldest living thoroughbred is, or what the record is for the oldest of all time, but Prospect Point is no doubt right up there when it comes to longevity.

According to a story on the website raceday360.com, a race horse named Merrick lived to be 38 and died in 1941. The Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, which has dealt with several thousand old retirees has never had a horse live past 34. In general, the average life expectancy of a thoroughbred is somewhere between 25 and 28.

How has this guy lasted so long? He just has.

"I guess it is just luck," said his owner Gail Earle. "I try to keep everything the same with him; I don't change up his food and maybe that helps. I don't know. I am just grateful every day when I wake up and I look out the window and he's here standing up."

Prospect Point raced 72 times and won seven races. He retired from the racetrack after finishing 11th in a $1,500 claimer on July 10, 1985 at Waterford Park, which is now Mountaineer Park.

From what Earle has been told, someone tried to turn him into a polo pony after his racing career was over and gave up when the horse didn't take to that game. Earle acquired Prospect Point in 1988 and set out to turn him into a show hunter. He showed until he was 15, his career in that realm interrupted because he had off and on problems with lameness after stepping on a rock. But Earle, who lives in Pageland, South Carolina, kept Prospect Point busy and rode him recreationally up to 2010, when he was 32.

He's doing better than could be expected for a horse who is probably about 110 in human terms.

"I think his health, in general, is great," Earle said. "He's thin but it's not like he's a walking skeleton. I am under the impression it's better to keep an older horse on the thin side rather than too fat. He's lost a couple of teeth over time. Three weeks ago I found a molar in the bottom of his feed tub.

"His appetite is great. The only problem is trying to get enough food into him because when he eats he chucks his head up and down and turns his head and, of course, the food falls out. It's hard to get as much food into him as I'd like. He eats well. He can still eat hay. I know some horses when they get old, they can chew their hay but not good enough and it ends up being in a wad and they spit it back out. I haven't seen any of that. He still has enough teeth that he can process everything."

Ok, so it's not easy being ancient.

"He is getting a little bit senile," she said. "He might be starting to get cataracts because his eyesight is not good at all. He tends to doze a lot, like right after he eats. Sometimes I'll have to really holler for him, so I don't know if he has hearing problems. But overall I am just amazed at how well he is doing."

At this point for Prospect Point it's all about quality of life. If he were in any way suffering he would be a candidate for euthanasia, but Earle says he behaves like he's very much enjoying his life. One of his favorite activities is to play with the female donkey Earle bought for him as a companion.

"Usually he is very well mannered and well behaved and you can catch him any time, any place," she said. "Every once in a when I try to go get him and he knows something is coming up that he won't like, like getting his feet trimmed, he'll trot away. We got a little donkey for him several years ago and he and her will get to just racing around. If he could he would leap off the ground and buck and do lipizzaner type things."

There's not much else to be done with the old fella. Earle will just love him and care for him as long as he is around. He couldn't run a lick, but for some horses there's more to being special than being fast.