For those who are concerned about the condition and treatment of Chief, a beloved horse at the Pine Mountain Gold Museum in western Douglas County, the operators have a simple message: he’s fine.
For some weeks, according to Museum Manager Wesley Berninger, there has been public comment expressing concern about the horse, some of which has included accusations that the animal is starving or otherwise being mistreated.
“The truth is, Chief is showing the completely natural effects of his extreme old age,” Berninger said in a written response to the commentary.
Chief is 37 years old, which is the equivalent to a man nearly 90 years old. Any creature of that extreme age isn’t likely to be buck and prance in a pasture, nor look as fit and trim as younger animals.
“He is the oldest horse I have ever seen,” said veterinarian Stuart Burnett, who volunteers his time to treat all the animals at the park’s farm animal exhibit.
“He is missing teeth, and has trouble chewing food,” Burnett said in a written release. “I have floated his teeth in the past, but cannot fix them. He is having a little trouble keeping weight on.”
Horse’s teeth are “floated,” or filed down, to make sure the chewing surface is relatively flat and the inside of the horse's mouth is "balanced." As horses age, their teeth can change and molar loss can be a concern. Unlike other animals that can digest food with little or no chewing, horses must be able to chew efficiently for proper digestion, so care of the animal's teeth is essential as it ages.
“I ran bloodwork on Chief,” said Burnett, who is one of the few large animal veterinarians in the area. “He is slightly anemic, and I have directed the Pine Mountain Gold Museum to give him vitamins and iron, which may help.”
Burnett added that Chief was dewormed earlier in the year and that he is monitoring the animal’s condition.
Berninger said that Chief’s age is proof that he is being well cared for.
“The fact that (Chief) has reached this advanced age is a testament to the extremely high quality of care provided by Pine Mountain Gold Museum staff, volunteers, and veterinarians,” he wrote.
“Pine Mountain Gold Museum is doing a terrific job with this horse. He is just so very old.”
Chief is one of several animals that visitors may see at the Museum, which is located at 1881 Stockmar Road.