Most senior horses in good health benefit from regular light work, including riding. In this article, we discuss how a gentle exercise program, designed for the individual, supports both physical and mental health for the senior horse.
A horse is considered nutritionally senior at 16 years of age. But, when are they considered too senior to ride? It largely depends on the individual horse — their energy, fitness and soundness.
Movement is fundamental to a horse’s physical and mental health throughout life. As a horse ages, regular movement should still be encouraged, but their workload may need to change to meet their capability, with correct nutrition, veterinary, dental and hoof care remaining paramount.
While your senior horse is no longer as young and agile as they once were, regular exercise has numerous benefits — supporting good health, muscle strength and joint flexibility. Movement also promotes digestion by stimulating gut motility, which is immensely important for the senior horse.
Like any exercise program, your senior horse’s workload should be designed for them. However, all senior horses will benefit from:
- Daily turnout, which requires light movement to access food, water and shelter.
- Light exercise several times per week, which may combine in-hand and under-saddle work.
- Gentle physical exercises that don’t exacerbate any pre-existing conditions, such as arthritis.
If your horse is thriving in moderate work, a complete halt in training isn’t recommended as they enter their senior years. Instead, they should transition into an exercise program that provides them with lighter work at least three times per week, with adequate recovery time.
Nutrition and Care
Correct nutrition, veterinary, dental and hoof care are imperative for the senior horse in light work. As your senior horse’s diet changes, veterinary, dental and hoof maintenance may become more frequent to ensure they remain fit, sound and healthy.
- Veterinary Care: Senior horses should be examined at least once annually by a veterinarian. This may increase if they have a pre-existing condition that requires treatment or management.
- Dental Care: From 16 years of age, senior horses may require twice annual dental examinations. With healthy dentition, they will remain energetic and in good body condition.
- Hoof Care: Senior horses should be visited by a farrier or barefoot trimmer every 4-8 weeks. Only with healthy hooves, can your senior horse remain sound and fit for work.