Question about aging horses - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 6 Old 06-19-2011, 08:29 PM Thread Starter
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Question about aging horses

I'm starting to think seriously about buying my first horse. I know that because I'm not a really experienced rider I should be looking for an older, more experienced horse.

I live in the middle of town, so I'm going to have to board any horse I own. I don't think I can afford to board more than one horse (due to job and some physical stuff, I am going to have to full-board the horse, not rough board it, because I won't be able to muck out the stall often enough on my own).

So here's the hitch: I'm worried that if I get an older horse, I will not be able to ride it for many years, and then I will need to be keeping it at full board when it is too old to be ridden, and then I won't have my own horse to ride at all - and then what? go back to lesson horses? when I've got my own?

I'm sure I'm not the only one who had had to think about this - how do other people deal with it? I'm not even sure how old a horse can be and still be ridden (I'm going to assume - because I will be paying for exams and such - that I will get a horse that is fundamentally sound, and that I will be getting appropriate veterinary care, supplements, etc.). So what does the best-case scenario look like? What do people who only have one horse do when that horse is too geriatric to ride? Is this even likely to be an issue?

I'm asking this because I understand how important and long-term the commitment to owning a horse is, and want to make sure I understand all of the important pieces. This is the major piece that is missing for me. I've had animal companions - from the mundane to the exotic - my whole life...but none of them have been things where my ability to ride around on them is an important part of the relationship, so it hasn't been as big of a deal if they get arthritic or old.
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post #2 of 6 Old 06-19-2011, 08:51 PM
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first off, I would like to commend you for thinking this all the way through. So many first time horse owners dive in head first, without thinking about long term care, or whether or not they can even afford it.

You're definately on the right track. A been-there-done-that horse is always the best choice for first time owners, inexperienced riders, or people with little confidence around horses. However, many people tend to lable older horses as a 'waste' or as 'almost used up' and figure they shouldn't bother- even when its completely the opposite.

There are many different views on when to consider a horse 'old.' Many people will set a certain age such as 25, and say 'alright, this horse is now 25 so its old and shouldnt be used anymore.' this, atleast in my opinion, is wrong. The average life expectancy of a horse is 25-30 years, but with all of the healthcare available now days, many horses live well into their thirties.

Even so, older horses are in every way capable of working as long as their physical condition is good. Good joint care and conditioning can keep an average horse working into their twenties, and even thirties- comfortably.

If you bought a 12-15 year old horse with a good foundation already put on them, and made sure to provide good vetenary care for it (teeth floating, vaccines, shodding, etc) you could get 10+ years of intense riding out of it, as well as 3-5 years of moderate work such as walking, trotting, occasional canters, and trailriding. In fact, riding senior horses is often thought to be benificial to even older horses with minor artheritis, because it keeps the joints loose and mobile, and the muscles strong.

I personally think a horse should be ridden until it is no longer able to comfortably hold a rider due to joint, heart, or nerve problems, etc. We have a 49 year old quarterhorse mare who is still ridden twice a week at a walk and trot, and she's in fantastic condition BECAUSE we ride her. We believe that working a horse can actually prolong their life, as long as it is done carefully and in moderation. You just have to remember that the older a horse gets, the longer it takes to get it into condition, and the quicker it can fall out of condition.

If your horse does end up having to be retired because of physical issues (having a vet check the animal for any joint problems or prospective problems before buying can eliminate or atleast greatly decrease the chance of getting a faulty horse) there isn't too much you can do, unfortunately. You can choose to sell it as a pasture puff to someone who needs a companion animal, or you can choose to keep it. This all depends on you personally.

All in all, I think if you choose your horse carefully, a 10-15 year old would be a very wise choice for you. Buying an animal with good conformation, no history of health problems, etc can help a lot, so I'd seek help from someone experienced when buying your horse.

I wish you luck!

Everyone in your life is meant to
be in your journey, but not all of
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post #3 of 6 Old 06-19-2011, 10:46 PM
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A 49-yo quarterhorse??? Wow!
How long have you owned her? I was told that teeth and feet are primary concerns as they age. Any other advice?
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post #4 of 6 Old 06-20-2011, 12:56 AM
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Endiku pointed out some lovely points. In regards to horses, "old" is relative. When someone suggests getting an older, more experienced horse, they don't mean look for some decrepit old nag that can hardly walk.

By older, they mean something that is mentally mature. That may mean anything from 6 years old and up, depending on the horse. My Dobe didn't start to really mentally mature until he was about 7. I've ridden other horses (am riding one right now) that are pretty darn mature at 3 or 4, but they aren't the norm. 'Experienced' is relative as well, most of my horses have done more by the time they are 5 than many other horses do in their entire lives when it comes to exposure and desensitizing.

I think that pretty much anything from 6-8 years old an up can qualify as an "older, more experienced" horse. From that age, you could easily get another 20+ years of good riding out of them if they are well taken care of.

Even if they do begin to slow down, there is still a good market for older (20+) horses that are 100% kid/beginner safe.
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post #5 of 6 Old 06-20-2011, 03:30 PM Thread Starter
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Thanks, y'all, for the advice. It's very helpful. It hadn't occurred to me that there was a career for retired horses to be pasture companions, but it should have - I do know that one does not keep horse, only horseS... While I was looking into that, I came across an industry of retirement barns, too. It is good to know that there are options other than euthanasia.

@Endiku - 49? This is older than I am! I am VERY impressed!

@Smrobs - thanks for the additional guidance on the concept of "older" and "experienced" - that will really be helpful too, when I get around to this purchase (which will be after I start leasing and lease for a while...I really don't want to jump in over my head).
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post #6 of 6 Old 06-20-2011, 05:34 PM
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indeed! She'll be 50 next february, and if you ask me- she's looking better at this age than she did when we first got her. outnabout, we've had her for longer than I've been working out at the barn, so I"m not completely sure. I'm wanting to say nine or so years. Teeth are definately the biggest issue with horses past 30, so you heard correctly. Often a horse's teeth wear down before the rest of their body does, making it extremely hard for them to eat their normal hard feed. We have been very lucky with Delriah though, and her teeth are still in fairly good shape. We have them floated every 4-5 months though, just to stay on top of things. As for hooves, she's always had fantastic feet. I dont ever remember her getting thrush or anything similar. I guess we just lucked out!

Smrobs- thanks so much for clarifying that ^^ I forgot that many people don't understand the difference between old and experienced, but you're completely right! And it DOES depend a lot on maturity. Theres proof in that when looking at a 12 year old mare of ours who still acts like a greenie, then comparing her to our freshly started four year old who you'd think had been working for years.

Everyone in your life is meant to
be in your journey, but not all of
them are meant to stay till the end.
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