"This little girl is named Jenna. Her horse is named Vandy. He is 27 years old. He showed in showmanship halter, WP, horsemanship, and trail for four days. He was in western riding for two days.He is cheerful, cared for, loved, and sound. He is also a ribbon earning machine. I saw him do a flawless western riding pattern that made my jaw drop."
This brings up a good point. I yell a lot about how people need to stick a crowbar in their wallet and pay for horse retirement board, but honestly, many horses never need to retire. If you have taken good care of them and they aren't significantly lame (a little stiffness is manageable), most horses will do better staying in work.
Older horses do have some special considerations. Looking at this guy, you can see that it is going to take some extra padding to keep the saddle up off his withers. If you ride western, you're looking for a saddle with semi quarter horse bars (that's the more narrow cut) and then you'll have to add some creative padding. I've seen people create their own custom set-ups with memory foam for horses like these. You want to make sure is not just up off the withers (and that means that with weight in the saddle, you can insert at least three fingers all the way under the pommel and the saddle isn't touching down to the spine anywhere) but is also level. This is a big one. Everybody pads up the withers but winds up with the saddle falling "downhill" to the horse's back. That not only throws off the rider, but it's hard on the horse as the weight is pulling backward on the horse's withers. So you need to pad underneath the seat as well and put the saddle back into the same position as it would be on a young horse with normal back development.
Some more tips on keeping the old ones going:
- We have great joint supplements these days - use them! MSM and Glucosamine really do a lot to help the old guys keep on going. I swear by Adequan injections and I know a lot of people are fans of Legend. I have never liked joint injections like cortisone, but your mileage may vary. I just get better results with Adequan.
- Turnout! Old bones stiffen up if stall kept. If your old guy likes the comfort of a stall and deep bedding at night, make sure he goes out early and stays out all day. Avoid turnouts with deep footing or mud - that's hard on the old guys. If you live in an area that gets a lot of rain, dump hogsfuel or gravel to provide solid footing especially around high traffic areas. If you live in an area with a lot of ice and snow, you may have to confine turnout to the indoor arena when it's icy or throw out sand to provide more traction.
- Conditioning is always important (and I have blogged about it here) but even more so for the old guys. Please don't let the kids hop on them the first day of spring and ride for three hours. That's what breaks them down - fast. I have taught 10 year olds about proper conditioning - you can, too. They are used to hearing "no" from you on other topics, so hey, this will just be one more!
- Pay attention to those teeth! The #1 reason I see why old horses are skinny is that their owners don't realize they aren't physically able to chew anymore. They don't have enough grinding surface left. Hay pellets soaked in water are a cheap and easy fix. You can add in other stuff - I've used high fat rice bran, equine senior, and specific weight builder supplements like Farnam Weight Builder or Cool Calories. And don't forget, even if they are still eating regular feed, they probably eat more slowly. Separate them to eat, or use feed bags to ensure your old guy gets 100% of his grain.
Now, I want to hear about your oldsters. I know we've done this before, so don't worry if you repeat yourself. There are a lot of newbies here. Who's your oldest horse still in work? What are they doing? Pics? Remember that HTML works to post links to pics in the comments (but the a href tag not the img src tag). What is YOUR best advice for keeping the 25+ horse happy and working?