Riding Off Into the Sunset Years

As your horse gets older, they can still be wonderful riding companions for quite some time. Just like older humans, the big concern for senior horses are tendons, ligaments and teeth. ~ HfH

From: The Horse Channel
By: L A Rose

senior_horseJust because a horse has reached his older years doesn’t mean he has to hang up his horseshoes and be content with pasture life.

My old grey mare just wasn’t what she used to be. At 28, Ginger’s lip and back had begun to droop. She was overweight. When I took her out, she groaned and took mincing little steps. She had been a delightful riding partner because of her calmness and her willing nature. But, past her prime, she seemed ready for retirement. I put her out to pasture.

Sound like your “mature” horse? Have you been considering a retirement plan for your old campaigner or trail buddy? Well, before you decide to send him off to Leisure World, listen to this. Some time later, I was reading about the positive effects of exercise on people who are aging and I’d been on two rides where the horses were older than my own Ginger. Both animals still had good conformation, were spirited and extremely happy. They had a purpose and they were active. As I looked at these two energetic horses, I thought, if people 50 and older can improve their physical performance, why can’t horses? So, with the thought of rejuvenating Ginger, I began to research the possibilities.

I found good news for Ginger and for your older horse, too. Dr. Karyn Malinowski, equine extension specialist at Rutger’s, the State University of New Jersey, and older-horse expert, says many horses continue to be active well beyond the age of 20. But to keep them active as their body condition, muscle tone and general well-being start to decline, Dr. Malinowski says, “You’ve got to change your older horse’s diet and lifestyle.” With that advice, I went to trainer Kim Sullivan, a graduate of University of California at Davis and former member of the Davis equestrian team, to learn what I could do.

Equine Checkup
Kim said the first step was to have Ginger evaluated by both my veterinarian and farrier. Once we knew Ginger’s limitations, we could set realistic goals and make modifications to our exercises that would allow her aging joints, bones and muscles to ease back into activity.

My vet, Dr. Jim Garfinkel, looked at Ginger’s overall condition and soundness, her respiratory and musculoskeletal systems, and found no significant problems except for her weight. Then he focused on her eyes, ears and mouth, and in particular her teeth, since decayed teeth and sharp points that grow on the older horse’s back molars can cause improper digestion. Ginger’s sight, hearing and teeth were good, but I was advised to watch for excessive salivating, which is an early sign of teeth problems. I then went to my farrier with Dr. Garfinkel’s diagnosis. Certified farrier Rick Williams pointed out that proper trimming and shoes are extremely important when starting any horse on an exercise routine because of the increased stress on the animal’s legs and hooves. But in the older horse, preventive shoeing and trimming can help minimize concussive shock, aid flexion and extension, and alleviate lameness or unevenness of gait due to arthritis or degenerative joint disease.

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AUTHOR: Amber Barnes
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