Every day for 12 weeks straight, a veterinarian traveled to Wildflower Trace Stable in Forest Grove to take care of Hannah, also known as Top Boss Sweetie, a now 31-year-old American quarter horse.
The doctor had to rinse and repack her right foot to avoid infection after performing a three-hour surgery.
Last year, Hannah had bone chips in her front foot, causing a change in her gait. It took a lot of veterinary work, and much care from her 76-year-old owner Carol McGilvra, but Hannah was eventually able to walk again — and more.
Both McGilvra and her horse will be inducted into a nationally known group for senior dressage riders and horses this month.
Dressage is an equestrian sport that's all about the connection and communication between horse and rider, enthusiasts say.
"It's an honor to be able to do this," said McGilvra. "Most horses average 25 to 29 (years old). There aren't a lot of 31-year-olds in there, which makes our position in this catalog of people that have done this even more unique."
The ages of McGilvra and her horse qualify them to become members of the Dressage Foundation's Century Club. The club recognizes dressage riders and horses whose combined ages total 100 years or more.
In addition to their combined age, the horse and rider perform a dressage test of any level and are scored by a dressage judge.
When asked if she was nervous for the test, McGilvra said no.
"(Hannah) remembers everything," she said. "It's interesting, because I've not wanted to pressure her because of the injury she sustained. When I've worked with her, we've walked through the pattern, (and) she remembers it quite well, even with the period of time we've not ridden."
There are different levels of dressage tests — from introductory up to Grand Prix — and each level has different movements that the horse and rider must perform.
After the tests, the foundation provides a Century Club ribbon and wall plaque to each horse and rider team. Local dressage clubs, family, and friends usually help to make the ride into a celebratory event, but with the coronavirus pandemic, things are a little different this year.
"In more 'normal' times, riders complete their Century Club rides at dressage shows in their areas," said the Dressage Foundation's executive director Jenny Johnson. "This year, for the first time, we've allowed 'virtual' rides to qualify for Century Club membership. There are quite a few dressage clubs that are hosting virtual shows, and the rider submits a video to be judged. Doing this might not be as fun as an in-person show, but it's a way that we can continue to offer membership into the club."
McGilvra's ride will be streamed online June 27.
Johnson added the celebration brings people of all backgrounds together for something they share: their love for horses.
"Sharing the inspirational Century Club member stories is one of the best things about working for the Dressage Foundation," she said. "They all have unique stories and varied backgrounds."
Virtual or not, Johnson says it's important for these riders to be recognized. She hopes the honor can inspire others to keep riding as they age.
"I receive calls on a regular basis from riders who aspire to join the Century Club, even if they're years away from meeting the age eligibility requirements," Johnson said. "It really is a bucket-list item for many dressage riders."
For McGilvra, caring for and bonding with Hannah was a way for her to keep herself active later in life. She adopted Hannah in 2007 from Bradley's Equine Assisted Therapeutic Riding Center in Banks after the horse was given up by her owner.
McGilvra remembers Hannah being shy at first, but then their relationship flourished. The quarter horse became part of the family joining McGilvra's rescue pets and twin greyhounds, Leo and Bravo.
"When I first saw her," McGilvra recalled, "I really was taken with her. She's very gentle and kind. I took her as my responsibility — and they're like a great big dog."
The Forest Grove resident says the Century Club honor is sort of a victory lap to celebrate how far Hannah has come. From McGilvra adopting Hannah, to installing Tempur-Pedic style flooring in her barn after surgery, to now riding into the sunset for one last show.
"Once you've had that interaction with them, then you have that bond — it's unlike any other," McGilvra said. "The outside of the horse is good for the inside of the person, and being able to have that experience is unique. And at some point, I won't have that with her. I'm very aware of that. I do have an opportunity at some point to maybe think about another (horse), but I still want to enjoy her for as long as I can."
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.