The old horse sported colorful strands of yarn lovingly tied to his mane and a bright green wrap around his tail.
His freshly polished hooves shone inside the barn in Union Township and a braid on his face showed the gray and white hairs growing just above his eyes.
Around him, several young girls, volunteers for Shady Hollow Assisted Riding, showered the standardbred horse with affection and praise.
"You're going to look so cute, Aksel," one whispered to him.
"He's loving this," another volunteer told the Reading Eagle.
About 30 people were about to gather to sing "Happy Birthday" to the 35-year-old animal, long retired from his glory days as a pacer horse. He'll nibble at a large carrot cake made especially for him, even when Tony Giangiacomo, Shady Hollow's executive director, nabs a piece and eats it himself.
But for now, this old horse stands mostly still as the girls brush and pet him. When he throws his head up they step back. He's gotten cranky in his old age, but they love him anyway.
Aksel came to Shady Hollow, a riding program for special-needs riders, nearly 10 years ago. He was one of the first horses used for their therapy program, though upon retirement from the program he spent a few years at the Daniel Boone Homestead before returning to Shady Hollow.
These days, Aksel eats a special mash three times a day and tries to keep the younger horses in line, said Michele Cooper, Shady Hollow's program director.
Shady Hollow has several senior-citizen horses, including a 32-year-old, a 30-year-old and a 28-year-old.
Each human year is equivalent to about three horse years, Cooper said. That would make Aksel about 105 years old.
The birthday celebration accompanied Shady Hollow's first ever Tack Swap, a fundraiser to sponsor program scholarships.
Nearly 40 vendors rented spaces to form a sort of flea market, selling horse related items and knickknacks, said Megan Dissinger, the swap organizer.
Hopefully, as the years go on the swap will grow and attract more vendors and shoppers, Dissinger said.
And that could ensure more horses such as Aksel have a place to grow old gently — and help children, too.