Young Owner Helps 42-Year-Old Horse Pippin Age With Dignity

Morgan Hamilton with her 42-year-old horse, Pippin.

At 42, Pippin MacDuff doesn’t sound like a particularly old resident of Loxahatchee Groves. However, as a paint Paso Fino horse, that age can be translated into human years — making Pippin an astonishing 118 years old, with many of the geriatric issues associated with advanced age.

Pippin’s current owner is 20-year-old Morgan Hamilton. She graduated from Seminole Ridge High School and is currently a junior at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville.

Hamilton originally wanted to become a veterinarian, but after trying a high school Spanish course, she turned to American Sign Language. “It is much easier than Spanish,” Hamilton said. “I fell in love with the culture, the people and the language.”

She credits her ASL teacher with recommending UNF to her, where she is studying sign language interpretation.

Hamilton is also a trophy winner for the equestrian club’s western team. She is currently taking a semester off from school to spend more time with her ailing horse, also working at Broward Motorsports alongside her sister to earn income to provide food and veterinary care for Pippin.

Hamilton visits Pippin at least twice a day to spend time with him and place ice packs upon his hooves to provide some comfort. She is no longer able to ride him, but she does enjoy the moments they share, including feeding him watermelon — his favorite.

Hamilton started her equestrian career at the age of 12 as a trail guide at Equestrian First Place. At 14, she was a volunteer at Dana Caplan’s Tiki Kiti & Poni Rescue. That was where she first met Pippin, which would turn into a life-changing experience for them both. She later purchased the horse from the rescue for $1.

“I had no idea what I was getting into,” Hamilton recalled. “I didn’t know [anything] about horses. I didn’t know the extent of ownership.”

For the past three-and-a-half years, Pippin has lived on the 2.5-acre equestrian property of Darcy Dean Murray in a well-kept stable with other horses. Murray has nearly three decades of experience in the equestrian community.

“I don’t know where I’d be without Darcy and [her husband] Mike,” Hamilton said.

At the farm, Pippin is living out his golden years in comfort.

“This is the oldest horse I’ve been involved with,” Murray said. “He has staff here. He is treated like royalty. He has quite the personality.”

The story of Pippin is one that has become all too familiar for horse rescues. A father purchased the horse for his daughter, who gradually lost interest. At that point, money stopped being spent on the horse, including quality feed and veterinary care.

“He was just left in the back to rot,” Murray recalled. “He was emaciated. You could count every bone in his body.”

“He’s been through a lot,” Hamilton added. “Getting him nourished and back to a good weight was a struggle — it took a year.”

Hamilton has a strong message for those considering purchasing a horse who may not be up to the responsibility. “If you have an animal, you have to treat it like it deserves to be treated,” Hamilton said. “Treat them like part of the family. They are creatures with feelings and needs.”

There were scares along the way where Pippin would randomly stop eating and then would just as randomly start eating again. He has a number of health issues, including stomach ulcers, laminitis and Cushing’s disease, a condition that affects the pituitary gland and causes shocks of insulin that skyrocket and alternately go really low. Cushing’s disease causes him to constantly grow hair and leads to hoof problems.

Pippin has a well-stocked medical cabinet that includes medication to help with muscle problems, pain and arthritis.

Hamilton and Murray credit treatment from veterinarian Dr. Eileen Gesoff, who has been treating Pippin since he was rescued.

“She’s incredibly helpful and super reliable,” Hamilton said. “In an emergency, she’ll be here immediately.”

Farrier Chris Burrell has also been instrumental in prolonging Pippin’s life after diagnosing him with laminitis. X-rays determined he had a nine-degree rotation of his coffin bone. A rotation of 11 degrees or more typically results in the animal being euthanized.

Hamilton also credits her father, Scott, for emotional support during her six years with Pippin. One especially difficult time came when an emergency veterinarian misdiagnosed him with navicular syndrome, which would have also resulted in Pippin being euthanized.

“Rehoming is the best thing,” Murray said when asked what an owner should do if they no longer are able to care for their horse. “There are rescues. They can also sublease the horse if they are showable or ridable. But if you save a horse’s life, you should keep them until it’s time for them to go.”

Hamilton looks back fondly on some of the moments she and Pippin have shared. One was in 2013 when they were riding east along 40th Street North near the Royal Palm Beach Pines Natural Area.

“He was feeling really good and in great shape cantering down the road,” Hamilton recalled. “He was spooked by a dog and took off. When he stopped, I got off and looked at him, and he let out a big, huge huff.”

The young owner and the elderly horse have become quite attached.

“He’s not an ‘in your pocket’ horse,” Hamilton said. “He doesn’t let anyone else pet him — not even my dad. He gets grumpy if he doesn’t see me for a while. When I get there, he’ll come trotting up to the gate.”

She’s not sure if she’ll be ready when it finally is Pippin’s time to go. “He has been in my life for the past six years,” Hamilton said. “He has been there with me through everything. He has been my best friend.”

Through all the ups and downs, she has enjoyed the experience.

“I don’t know if I’ll get another horse — it’s expensive,” Hamilton said. “But if I had to do it all over again with this horse, I would.”