When their competitive days are over and their work careers have come to an end, some senior horses take to retirement very well. These horses able to find happiness outside of the spotlight and are perfectly content with retired life. For other horses, retirement can be more of a challenge.
After successfully competing in local, regional and national circuits, some horses find it difficult enjoy the quiet of retired life. Many of these horses maintained active careers until balance issues or other health problems forced them to retire at 17, 18 or even 19 years old. They quickly grow tired of dividing their days between the pasture and their stall. Some horses even begin to show signs of depression such as rapid weight loss and lethargy.
At this point, many horse owners are left with one question: to ride or not to ride? While this is a very simple question to a very complicated problem, there are a few things to keep in mind as you make this decision:
You Know Your Horse’s Personality
As a horse owner, you know your horse better than anyone else. If you suspect that your horse has just grown bored or depressed about their new change of pace, the solution may be to take them out for a quiet ride a few times a week. Before riding a retired horse, be sure to visit your local veterinarian to get a clean bill of health. If you find that your horse quickly perks up after a few weeks of this, you may have found a viable solution to your problem. If your horse perks up only briefly before returning to their bored, depressed state, it may be time for another vet visit.
Riding is Not the Only Option
If your horse is healthy enough, your veterinarian may be able to help you develop a light exercise program for your horse. This process may involve a thorough examination of their overall health to determine their exercise tolerance. Once developed, this light exercise regimen may be just what your horse needs to keep their brain working. Even just a few walks or jogs a week may be just what your horse needs to keep them feeling vibrant and young. Allow your senior horse to enjoy these activities for as long as they can.
Remember to Take Things Slow
Infrequent rides might be just the solution to keep your retired horse in good spirits. Just keep in mind that there are a few things you need to do before running into the barn and jumping on your elderly horse. Here are some important considerations to consider before “unretiring” an old horse:
- Always start by making sure the horse is in good physical condition before hopping on. Many older horses who develop Cushing’s disease or equine metabolic syndrome may begin to experience laminitis. This condition may prevent the horse from engaging in any additional exercise.
- When riding a senior horse, it is also important to ensure that they remain healthy enough to ensure the exercise. It might be necessary to start with some hand-walking before attempting a full ride. Horses that are unfit or overweight are at an increased risk of developing heat stroke so be very careful when dealing with heavier horses.
- Keep in mind that as horses age, their eyesight and hearing begin to decline. This means that they may scare easily, so be prepared if this happens.
- A horse’s body tends to change shape as they grow older. This means that the saddle they wore in their teens might not be suitable as they enter their 20s. Make sure all tack fits properly before attempting a ride.
- If they have not ridden in a while, older horses might play up their first few rides. It might not be a good idea to put an inexperienced rider on your aged horse for those first few rides.
When your horse is tired of riding and is ready to find a place where they can just “be”, it might be time to consider a horse retirement farm. These farms create a natural, comfortable environment where your horse has access to all the amenities they could possibly need.