When is it time to stop riding an older horse? - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 22 Old 01-23-2020, 12:54 AM Thread Starter
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When is it time to stop riding an older horse?

So I donít think weíre at the point of retiring yet. But... how do you know when itís time to stop riding an older horse? I know its a loaded question, and is very individual dependent. But what are some markers to look for?

Montana, our paint QH gelding will be 27yrs old. Up until last year, you couldnít tell he was older. A year ago now, we lost his long term buddy (theyíve been together for 12 yrs). Since then he started losing body condition and weight (went from ~950lbs to 850lbs) and became depressed. With extra feed and time, for the last few months he's been mostly back to his perky self. He is sound, although still lean. Seems to enjoy going out on rides. He doesn't like to be left behind when I go riding solo on Duke (he'll run the pasture until we come back). We take it easy on him, and don't do anything strenuous. Mostly walking and some trot/canter which he often initiates on his own. Doesn't appear sore once we're done.
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post #2 of 22 Old 01-23-2020, 01:33 AM
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I couldn't say, but as long as the horse seems happier going out than being left behind, you should take him out, I think. What my friend does, with her 29 year old warmblood, is take him out frequently as ever, but do shorter rides. More warm up/ cool down, too. He is very happy to go out, and still gives wonderful canters . Just not the 2 hour trail rides of his youth.
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post #3 of 22 Old 01-23-2020, 04:09 AM
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A horse can be ridden until it's the end of its life. As long as the horse has been active all its life, has no lameness issues, keep riding it. Just like a human, the more active you are, the healthier you will be. Use it or lose it.

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post #4 of 22 Old 01-23-2020, 04:53 AM
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horses can go downhill fast. He looks quite skinny to me, so no reserves.

Animals appear to have the same age related problems as people; they can get winded just walking, stumble, loose their balance easier, not be able to chew foods, not be able to handle extremes of heat and cold, etc.


Which one each horse suffers first, is a mystery.

The first sign seemed to be with the feet, slower growth and more cracks, less resistance to bacteria and fungus.

With my horses, I noticed that they were breathing hard with just a good forward walk. Some I could ride only 15 minutes, some 30 before they started looking winded.

The next sign was eating hay slowly, leading to not eating hay at all, or very little.

The point that they can't eat hay anymore is close to the end. I will try feeding alternatives, like soaked hay cubes and lots of senior feed, but it is just a mater of time before they just seem so weak, and it costs so much to feed them, I know it is time when they seem rather listless. The other horses will often pick at them too. It is sad, but I don't let them suffer long.
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post #5 of 22 Old 01-23-2020, 05:40 AM
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I stop riding, or stop others from riding, when a horse can't maintain good condition. When a horse becomes short of breath doing very little. When a horse exhibits pain, even though it really tries to do what the human wants.
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post #6 of 22 Old 01-23-2020, 08:36 AM
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Horses that go into a depression from losing a buddy or team mate can recover both the lost condition and overcome the depression then resume riding. It may be they need that work and introduction to new herdmates to help over come. As the above posters have mentioned when they start to have physical issues or exhibit pain that is not passing then time to cut back or retire.

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post #7 of 22 Old 01-23-2020, 09:41 AM
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I think he's fine to still be ridden, as long as he's sound & enjoys it. If he is struggling (even on short rides) or just not able to maintain good condition, then I'd consider retiring. He does look a bit on the thinner side, but it sounds like he lost weight from the depression of losing his buddy, which is not uncommon. He's cute!
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post #8 of 22 Old 01-23-2020, 09:47 AM
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Retiring a horse for no other reason than that it's reached a certain age has a tendency to shorten the horse's overall lifespan. Just like with humans, keeping fit has been proven to improve life expectancy.

If he's still happy to go out and be worked lightly, then by all means keep taking him out. I retired a 17 year old from jumping because it was no longer safe for either horse or rider (he had one knee that was buckling on landing) and by the time he turned 18 he no longer wanted to be ridden, even lightly on trails. Couldn't even get him to the end of the driveway before he started making grumpy faces. That being said, I do think he could have been made comfortable again with the use of joint injections - I just didn't have the money for them, and had an up and coming young horse I could move on to, so I didn't mind letting him sit in the paddock and see out his days. He passed away at 18, and I do think that his relatively early retirement contributed.

On the other side of the coin, I have a friend who had a horse that went out and won a (low level) one-day event at 37. He was retired not long after that simply due to his age and the fact that he had earned it, and he died at 38.

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post #9 of 22 Old 01-23-2020, 11:19 AM Thread Starter
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He is much happier being out riding than left behind. He seems content to walk quietly. Whenever at home, he’ll run the whole time that duke and I are gone and will be an anxious / sweaty mess by the time we come back. He can do 7-9km without really breathing hard. But like I mentioned we mostly just walk.

He is on the lean side. Up until last year he has been a butterball, completely easy keeper. He’s has had teeth done in the summer and will get them done again this spring. He’s on a senior feed with flax, another weight gainer (shine), corn oil, and recently I started adding a bit of molasses and sms. Not sure I’ll see much improvement until the warmer weather comes back, weight wise.

I might try ponying him when I go out with duke just to see if that would increase some easy work. Not sure how to go about that though. Guess we’ll try in an enclosed area first.

May be difficult to see on pics but these are the summer of 2018 and feb 2019. The on by the fence is where he’s alone for the first time in over a decade.
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post #10 of 22 Old 01-23-2020, 11:44 AM
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I have a 23 year old that I retired last year. He has arthritis pretty bad in his back end and he won't lay down to sleep anymore. He still keeps weight on pretty good and I rode him a few times last year and he did his best but he has become very slow and even on easy rides you can tell he is not comfortable and he prefers to be left at home in pasture and just petted and loved on. I also have a 21 year old mare that is retired because she has painful arthritis in her front knee joints and she is in significant pain if you ride her. Both are on diets and supplement plans for arthritic horses and keep weight on well but it would be mean to keep riding them. They have earned their rest and will remain here with me until they die of old age or have to be put down. We had another horse that we rode until he was 29. It really just depends on the horse and how they age.
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