An aging horse requires special care to ensure that their medical and physical needs are met. To put things into perspective for you, horses age three years for every one human year. A horse that is 17 years old would be around 51 years old regarding human years. At this age, they are getting older, but they are considered “middle-age.” There shouldn’t be any signs of deteriorating in their aerobic abilities.
Age Doesn’t Always Bring Limitations
When comparing middle-aged horses and younger ones, there are no measurable differences. A 17-year-old horse still can perform and compete. Do you remember the Anky van Grunsven’s 2012 Olympic mount horse, Salinero? He won the bronze medal at the age of 18. The team dressage medal is a big honor, but it’s even more of a feat for a horse that is considered to be “middle-aged.” No one treated this horse any differently than they treated the younger ones. In return, he was able to compete and win a top honor.
Studies Show Some Concerning Changes In Older Horses
Over the years, there have been various treadmill studies completed, which test horses and their aerobic declines. Horses beyond the age of 20 are of particular interest. The tests show that their capacity declines beyond this age. Theories speculate that it’s because of a reduction in the amount of blood pumped from one ventricle of the heart. With each beat, the heart’s stroke volume reduces. In general, this means that the heart must work much harder to get the blood throughout the body. During exercise, this heart issue only complicates things further.
We’ve established that older horses can’t perform like the younger ones because of their heart’s abilities. However, there are other issues to consider too. For instance, when involved in strenuous exercise, a horse has a problem controlling their body temperature, which is called thermoregulating. The treadmill tests also show that the core body temperatures of an older horse rise much quicker than it does in the younger ones.
Oddly enough, when put through a strenuous workout, the older horses still seem to recover quite quickly. Thankfully, the same tests also confirmed that the core temperature of the older horses returned rather soon. In fact, about 10 minutes after the exercises cease, their temperature is normalized. It’s just the same as the temperature in the younger horses.
Obesity Is A Concern In Horses Too
Serious medical issues come when horses don’t get enough exercise or overeat food in their later years. Elderly horses often suffer from obesity, similar to humans. They usually develop problems like metabolic syndrome, which causes them to put on excessive weight. An active horse that gets plenty of exercise will have a better quality of life in their later years. Think of a senior citizen that still works out every day. They can improve their aerobic performance and lose body fat. The key to better health is an active exercise program, whether it be for man or horse.
As the owner of an aging horse, you should be concerned with planning proper training programs that give the most benefit. The horses used in various studies showed they had an increased flexibility and are more exuberant when they exercise. In general, their overall attitude was happier. Horses often experience orthopedic issues before they have any loss in their ability to do aerobic activities. When there are signs of arthritis, which includes stiffness and soreness, after a ride, it’s best to reduce the horse’s workload. A liniment rubdown over the stiff joints may also help. Bute is an excellent anti-inflammatory medication that is helpful before and or after a hard workout.
Keep Exercising-But Reduce Routines For Seniors
As a horse progresses through their 20’s, the exercise level needs to go down a notch. Try to keep them doing activities they enjoyed in their younger days. Who knows, the horse may end up being like Lord Nelson and still going strong at 40 years of age.
The risk of overheating is much higher in an older horse due to thermoregulation. So, monitoring their exertion levels is critical. Watching their breathing and sweat quantity is imperative. On hot and humid days, the risks increase and exercise should be lessened in inclement weather.
Though there are things to be concerned with, older horses still have plenty of strength and ability to exercise. To understand their aerobic capacity, we must look at the V02 max. This is where we measure the body’s ability to use oxygen. Comparing an elite Olympic marathon runner to a horse shows promising results. A 20-year-old horse sill has two times more oxygen than the runner. A horse is designed to get plenty of exercises even late in their lives. Lord Nelson, a 40-year-old Quarter Horse, is trained at the Rutgers Equine Center. He still gallops up to the gate every morning for his breakfast.