I've just been entrusted with exercising a 16 year old quarter horse gelding. The owner's goal is to get him in riding condition again. He is currently stalled 24/7 with free choice hay and grain three times a day. I'm not positive, but I think he's been stalled for about a year, with very little exercise I took him into the round pen today to access what type of shape he's in, which can't be too bad if he gave a nice buck in surprise and galloped around when I asked him to go. He isn't under or over weight, just lacking muscle tone, which is understandable.
My question is, should I be treating him like an 'old' horse? He was lunged for a good 20 minutes before he even broke into a sweat, though I may think its like when you go run for the first time in a month and feel fine, but the next day feel horrible. I'm slightly anxious about saddling him up and getting on him just yet. What would be a good way to go about getting him fit? How often should I lunge him and for how long?
Also, he has a bad habit of trying to put his head down and eat anytime he's near grass, even when being led. My horse has never had that problem, so I've never had to address it. Whenever he tried to stop in the round pen and eat, I made him work harder for a minute or two to get the message across. What can I do to get him to pay attention to me more? He's very sensitive to the lunge line, and I barely have to flick it to get a response, but he loses focus quickly. I try to correct him whenever I'm leading him, but with him so sensitive to any rope movement, it's a little hard to do in close quarters.
Thank you for any help you can give!
Well, first things first.......he's as fresh as a daisy by the sounds of it....that would probably explain the excitement........however I would treat him like a mature horse, not an old one.
This is what I would do, given he seems sound.....and provided he doesn't turn into a bucking bronc or nut case.....
I would lunge him for about 15 minutes for two days......
Day three, saddle him, lunge him for 15 minutes......
Day four, saddle him, lunge him 15 minutes, ride him for about 10 mins.....
Day five, saddle him, lunge him for 10 minutes.....ride him for 15 minutes.....
Do you see the pattern? You are gradually introducing more saddle time and less lunge time while initially taking the 'edge' of him, and as he gets less and less fresh you can spend less time lunging him.....
Once you've ironed out the kinks and established just what makes this horse tick then you can move onto lunging for fitness (ie, adding side reins etc) or you can increase your riding time and intensity.......Initially though a good working walk and working trot will do, loping can wait for a week or two.....let him get the loping out on the lunge line first if he needs to vent out his 'sillies' !
If you go slowly, the horse will remain willing in his work and have a good attitude. Also, when a horse is not fit, don't overwork him, stop when you can see he has a light sweat and is blowing a little.....this will keep him from souring, but remember to work him enough to make a change in him, not just lolly gagging around....if he's stalled 24/7 make his time out of the stall count.
Also, after your initial couple of weeks, change it up for him so he doesn't get bored.....different activities and challenges......
As for being kind of reactive or jumpy to the lead line....I'd say he's just fresh and under stimulated from being boxed 24/7......Id say this freshness is a major reason why he's not paying attention to you....everything is so new and fun!!!
Dropping the head to eat.......toe of boot - meets chin of horse.......you will only have to do it a couple of times before he figures out that he can't do that!
Thank you for the advice! I'm glad to hear I don't have to tiptoe around him. He's the oldest horse I've dealt with so far, though I know horses can easily live twice his age. :P
I would be pretty excited about everything too if I was locked up for that long. It'll be nice to see him calm down and focus once we get into a routine. He's a lovely guy.
The toe to chin comment made me laugh. :D Such a simple solution!
Do you think I need to look out for grouchiness or soreness tomorrow? I only got him into a light sweat on his chest, though with him not doing anything for so long And getting kind of excited I'm not sure.
No, he shouldn't be sore, but watch him move out....you will probably find that he's a little less excitable tomorrow:-)
When I know that a horse is going to be fresh on a lunge line, I just let them get it out of their system and stand there and laugh at them, they usually squeal, buck and kick....then they fart and scare themselves and start all over again.....:-)
He shouldn't be grouchy, just work within his limits and he will stay sound and happy. When he's been good, the best thing you can do for him is let him just stand and rest:-)
Im looking forward to tomorrow! My young fart doesn't give me too many surprises anymore. ( Knock on wood!) I'll post an update and let you know how he does. :D
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Yes, that would be neat:-)
I am still kind of freaked by the "stalled 24/7 for a year" comment. I can hardly stomach thinking about that.
As for him eating, I don't kick the face, especially of a horse that hasnt' been out or ridden much lately. I just kind of 'throw' the rope lead toward the face. You know how you throw energy down the leadline in a back and forth wave? do it so that the wave of energy clonks him in the chin. And keep swinging the lead line at his chin until he moves to bring his head up. Stop then. I back it up with a verbal, "Ach! " to warn him.
I don't mean throw the leadline away, but swing it while holding onto the end.
I really don't like it either. The owner went through some really rough times that year with cancer, but that still isn't an excuse to leave him like that. I'm just glad she's doing something now and he isn't ruined.
What you described is kind of what i did to stop him from eating, though I only swung the lead rope in my hand once and he went into a very fast trot around me. I hope he'll desensitize to the rope once he's out and about more, but right now giving a tug to pick his head up and such isn't really working. He acts like he has eaten in days, even though he's well fed. I'm go into try to get him some paddock time soon. Grass is better than hay, right?
What you describe as 'very sensitive' sounds like he may be reacting out of fear to the whip/rope, rather than responding with trust & understanding. This may be that he was never taught in a way that encouraged him to trust & understand his handler & their tools, so you may need to start at square one, or it may be due to him not having learned to trust/understand you yet. Either way, I wouldn't be trying to elicit responses with a stick/whip until he learns to trust it & you, so he can learn to *respond* rather than react. If you can't ask for a few steps at a walk, IMO you have no business getting the horse cantering yet. Doesn't sound like I'd be considering riding yet either. Hope that made sense & helps!
I wouldn't treat him like an old horse, a horse is a horse- 20+ year old mustangs still fight and play like youngsters. But I would treat him like an out of shape horse, don't over do it, but don't just lung for 20 minutes and call it good because hes older. You'll never see improvement. He's 16, not 32- although hes out of shape, it seems like he'd be well taken care of? What I do if youre just conditioning him work him a little more each day until he reaches peak fitness, if youre doing some school work him until he does the right this, reward him with rest, and move of to a new activity and review each day what you went over the day before. We have a 30 year old barn baby, shes a barrel horse- been racing for over 10 years, she still runs hard and LOVES IT! She bucks and rears and kicks at the other horses and what not! I also have a beautiful 18 yro mare, shes in impeccable shape and she jumps and runs and acts like a youngster all the time. So age isn't always the issue, usually its the care of the horse. Also for the grass eating on lead, jerk his face until he stops eating, then pet him and carry on. For lunging just hurry his feet for a quick second so he pays attention to you- not food, then lung him normally, if you do it too long the horse wont think anything of it. Hope this helpful and that I didn't just restate something previously said- too impatient to read all comments. :)
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