The Older horse – To Ride or not to Ride?

The majority of older horses have been with there owners for a number of years. After developing a strong partnership in and out of the saddle, it can be hard to decide when to start the road to retirement for your horse. But when can you really define your horse as old? All horses will individually age differently, and some horses may appear “old” at a much younger age and be able to cope with less than others. Each individual horse will also adjust to retirement in their own way. Some may settle easily into a quieter life than others when gradually introduced.

At first a horse may seem to welcome the break in work and not having to earn his keep any more, but signs such as weight loss and lethargic behaviour could indicate that he is no longer mentally and physically stimulated enough. Knowing your horse’s personality is the best way to assess his behaviour and happiness. If the horse is sound enough, he may appreciate a few quite rides or hacks to introduce variety back into his day to day life. There are alternatives if your horse is not physically able to ride out any more, such as gentle walks in hand and teaching new tricks. These could include pushing gates open or general limb movements, such as lifting the front legs when commanded, to help keep joint mobility lose.

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If you are unsure about the best route for your horse, vets will always provide guidance and perform regular health checks for you if you require. Use their knowledge and other professionals, such as nutritionists to provide you with the top of the industry knowledge.

  • Things to consider before deciding the best route:
  • Is the horse sound? Many older horses with equine metabolic syndrome or equine Cushing’s disease, for example, develop secondary laminitis, which could preclude extra exercise.
  • Is the horse fit enough? Unfit, overweight horses are at risk of developing heat stroke, tying up, injury, and misery, so proceed with caution when dealing with “hefty” older horses.
  • Check eyesight and hearing, as may not be 100% and could increase the number of spooks.
  • Does the tack still fit correctly? Your horse will probably change shape a lot between his teens and 20s due to change in work and ageing.
  • Always advisable to have vets check him over to ensure there are no underlying problems that could inadvertently be hurting, injuring, or damaging your senior partner in any way.

Most importantly enjoy your horse and make the most of them without “writing them off” completely, just because of a number defining their age.