As he clip-clopped out of the hospital and into
the sunny spring morning, Copper released an energetic neigh.
The 51-year-old Copper is the oldest horse in the United States, according to
one source. And after last week’s reported death of a 51-year-old equine
overseas, Copper might now be the world’s oldest horse on record.
The Equine Clinic at the University of Missouri-Columbia admitted the former
police horse for treatment Thursday because he’d refused to eat for 11
days. After he began eating again, Copper left the clinic yesterday and returned
to pasture near the eastern Missouri town of Richwoods.
I’ve heard of them getting pretty old, but never anything like this," said
MU veterinary intern Nathan Earl, who treated Copper. "I thought it was
an April Fools’ joke when it came in. I looked at the date" of birth "and
I went: ‘Yeah, right.’ "
A horse’s typical life span is 25 years. Copper, a gelding who is believed
to be a mixed Morgan breed, would have been born in 1953, during the first Eisenhower
administration. He’s outlived much higher-profile equines, including all
three horse-racing Triple Crown winners born in his lifetime.
The Guinness Book of World Records listed a 51-year-old horse in Pembrokeshire,
Wales, as the oldest living horse. That animal’s owners issued a news release
last week saying the Arab-Welsh cross had died. Mester said she’s considering
having Copper’s seniority status verified by Guinness.
Mester said Copper served as a police horse in St. Louis until age 22. His next
owner had him about 20 years, until 1995.
Mester said that’s when Copper escaped from his stable one day. The Jefferson
County Sheriff’s Office found Copper malnourished, with his ribs and pelvis
showing beneath his hide. The owner agreed to release the horse to the humane
society, which sent Copper to a rescue ranch near Union.
Mester volunteered at the ranch. She adopted Copper in 1996. Since then, he’s
been out to pasture with some mares.
When he stopped taking his feed, a Richwoods-area veterinarian came to Mester’s
farm. The veterinarian thought food might have lodged in his esophagus and referred
Mester to the MU clinic.
He was really scared the first day he came here," Mester said of the clinic. "Really,
Earl said he didn’t find evidence of choking, but the veterinarian did
diagnose an ulcer. Earl’s prescription includes an ingested compound that
prevents acid production.
Earl said Copper attracted lots of attention at the equine clinic and the adjoining
small animal hospital, which both serve in part as teaching laboratories for
MU veterinary students. Earl said faculty, staff and students from all over the
complex came to see the old horse they’d heard about.
Copper shows signs of his age. Yesterday’s walk from the hospital to a
horse trailer was slow. Mester said Copper has cataracts that limit his eyesight.
His teeth are almost gone.
Despite that, Earl said Copper doesn’t have any life-threatening conditions,
and there’s no reason he can’t keep going.
Unless he has a catastrophe," Earl cautioned, "but horses are prone
Mester said she spends time and money taking care of Copper, "because I
love him, because he’s worth it."
He put in time for the people of St. Louis, and now it’s time for him to
lay back and enjoy the rest of his life."