I would like to address some misconceptions about older horses. When I was a youth in the 1980s, a 20 year old horse was ancient.
Today we see horses still competing well into their twenties.
Why the difference? There are several reasons.
1 – Better health care. Horses today have consistent dental care, deworming, and annual vaccines. Our horses now have leg wraps, summer sheets, winter blankets, allergy meds, routine hoof care, chiropractic care, and more.
2 – Less use. Horses of the old west were used as machines. They pulled wagons, plowed fields, and herded cattle on a daily basis. In today’s world, they are considered athletes if they are ridden an hour every day. That’s quite a different definition of “use”.
3 – Better quality nutrition. My son’s 20 yr old roping horse and my daughter’s 25 yr old retired rodeo mare both eat special low carb Senior feed. The two 5 yr olds each have their own specialty feed for their stage of life and use. Alfalfa is readily available, and they don’t go a day without pasture and good quality grass hay.
So please don’t think of old age as a “disease”. It’s normal. Senior horses require special care but should never be kicked out to pasture.
They should not be treated like young horses, but they can be usable for many years past their prime.
Zoe is 25. Does she look like some “old horses” you’ve seen? No – because she receives proper care. She was a youth rodeo horse until she was 24 years old. Now she is a babysitter. She still gets used as a gentle horse for beginners to ride.
Beginner riders should always begin with a senior horse. They are “seasoned”, which means they have “been around the block”. Things don’t scare older horses. Young horses are a nightmare when paired with young riders. When both horse and rider are unsure of the world, they feed off of one another.
An older, solid horse will take anxiety from a new rider in stride. They will be patient and ignore minor mistakes. When my eldest son began riding, I put him on Zoe, who was a teen at the time. I asked my son why he was weaving instead of walking in a straight line. He said he didn’t know.
Then I laughed. His seat wasn’t solid, and he was leaning side to side as she walked. She was simply staying under him. He would lean, and she would get back under him. That’s the blessing of an older horse. They teach beginners how to ride.
Please don’t throw an older horse out after their primary career is finished. They likely have many years of teaching left in them.