Exercising an older horse.
My grandma just bought me a 14.3hh TBxRP mare. She's 24 years old. She's still in great shape but I don't want to over work her.
How much do you think I'll be able to work her (so she still stays in good shape)?
How many times a week should I exercise her? And for how long?
(I was told by my grandma that the previous owner didn't exercise her for more than half an hour.)
Thanks in advance for any suggestions. :D
The biggest factors in exercising an older horse have to do with their conformation and their past. In general, a larger old horse will be physically more aged than a small older horse. We can guess that a 14.3 hand horse will generally be in better condition at 23 than a 16.3 hand one. Just like Great Danes age faster than Cocker Spaniels.
Watch for signs of arthritis or old injury: a stiff gait, any limping when coming out of a stall or changing surfaces, reluctance to turn in one direction. Check the legs and spine for lumps and bumps, pick up and stretch the horse's legs to see if you meet resistance to normal movement.
If you don't see any signs of injury or pain and the horse has lots of energy, then just treat her like any other horse but give her extra time to warm up and cool down. Start out by gradually increasing the time and intensity of your work over a period of a couple of months. But once she is in shape you can ride her for a couple of hours several times a week or daily for an hour with at least one day off each week.
Of course you will always be looking for signs that she is tired or sore, but hopefully you do that with any horse, young or old.
My 15 hand paint will be 25 soon. He still does a couple walk/trot lessons a few times a week, and I hop on him every once in a while. He is actually going to go and do an IHSA western program because they need another a walk/jog horse and he would be great at it. He is in really good shape though, most people don't believe me when I say he is in his mid-20s. I would say just watch for signs of soreness and discomfort, but as long as she is in good shape there is no need for you to be overly cautious about riding. Obviously I wouldn't go for day long trail rides every day, but 30 mins - an hour a couple times a week certainly won't hurt her.
This is my old man
I'll assume your new mare is sound. Congratulations on getting her.
Personally, I would watch her as you ride. Look for signs of becoming tired. Check her respiration. Get over to the endurance section and find out how and what the norms are. Those folks are the best at recognizing when a horse is tired. I certainly wouldn't limit the riding time to something really specific.
It depends my horse has just become a companion horse at 25 and I still go and ride him. I usually do a gentle hack we a few of trots and even a short canter. He is just like any other horse but I just check him when I bring him in and if he is stiff or that I only walk him with maybe one trot of the stiffness wares off. We ride him usually twice a week.
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I pretty much agree with the previous posters.
My girl is 28 now and, right up until she partially tore a suspensory in September, I was riding her myself at least twice a week (some walk, a lot of trot, some canter, and some galloping), she was being used in one W/T/C lesson a week and one walk-only lesson.
The suspensory issue was not work related - she's blind, tried galloping downhill, voila.
She's 100% sound now so she's back to being used in one walk/trot lesson a week. I hope to return her to "real" work this May but we'll see!
Anyway, with her, I just watch for soreness post-ride and I make sure she doesn't get too tired. If she ends up sore, we do less the next ride.
The other thing with her is that I really really focus on getting her condition up, prior to doing anything strenuous. For instance, when I bring her back this spring, we'll start out just walking the trails (5 miles, hilly, etc). As that becomes less taxing for her, we'll start trotting on the uphill sections, keeping it at maybe 30 seconds of trotting every 5 minutes. Then, we'll start trotting for longer stretches since trotting builds muscle. As she acclimatizes to that, we'll add a short canter here and there. Then longer canters to build wind, etc. Only after none of that is really hard for her, we'll start galloping.
The primary gait will stay a walk and after every long trotting/cantering stretch, she'll get a good 5 minutes to walk on a loose rein and work it out.
Often what I would do is have one ride a week that was really intensive with lots of trotting+cantering, then the other ride that week would be a "walking exploration" ride. We'd go explore some trail we had never been on before and walk it, miles of walking. We might have a short trot/canter at the end since Lacey loves her running time, but the goal of that ride would be to get her mind working. The goal of the other ride was fitness.
Some horses aren't capable of hitting that^ sort of level in their twenties, so that's something to keep in mind. But if you're mindful of her joint health and she's sound now (and then stays sound), I don't see trying to see how fit she can get as a problem.
It's been proven that movement is great for arthritis so go get that girl moving! :)
ETA: the other thing I think is important about the level of fitness I got Lacey to is that I never asked her to do anything really strenous two days in a row. We'd have our fast fitness ride on Monday, usually, then our meander ride on Wednesday, then she would have her W/T/C lesson on Friday, and her walk lesson on Sunday. That way her body had a chance to somewhat recover+perk back up post-ride.
I found that even just walking her over hilly terrain for 3 hours everyday really took it out of her (we used to lead trail rides at a summer camp). Whenever she would end up with a lighter schedule, like 1 hour of walking Friday morning, then a break over the rest of Friday, she was perky for a couple hour long walking ride on Saturday morning. But if I asked her to go all day on Friday, then go for a couple more hours on Saturday, she would...but it would be obvious that her heart was not in the ride.
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