The Senior Horse

Seniority 300x300 The Senior HorseIn the art of riding a 16-year-old is not regarded as old:

He belongs to the best educated and strongest horses!

Even a 26-year-old horse does not have to be regarded as old.

Just because a horse is a little long in the tooth, doesn’t necessarily mean he’s ready for retirement icon wink The Senior Horse

Just like people, horses can be senior athletes:

On the picture you see the 19-years-old horse called Maestro, and I have many students with horses between 20 and 30 years old!

Highly educated seniors: the Professors

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Highly educated older horses are called “Professors“. These very experienced horses have a lot of education to pass on to the rider: all exercises from circle to piaffe, the corresponding aids, you can learn artificial balance, you can develop an independant seat and many more.

Professor 300x252 The Senior HorseTraditionally young riders learned from old and experienced horses under the guidance of an ‘old’ riding master, and young horses were educated by experienced riders.

Here you see me with the 16 year old horse called Mantra. Mantra is very good in teaching young children to ride correctly and to feel the end result of dressage: artificial balance.

And Mantra is not just a very good horse….. he is magnificent, he is a master of the school, he is wise and he is completely confident and safe.

It´s the best what a young rider can get: a school master to learn.  How some of us wish we had had that kind of opportunity at the age of 8,9,10,11….. and even now at age 30-40-50!

Nowadays we also see combinations of unexperienced ‘green’ horses with novice and ‘green’ riders. Therefore the education of rider and horse often lasts much longer as before. It can also be accompanied with problems, because a younger horse might get confused and upset at a new rider’s mistakes.

Reasons why we see novice riders and young horses are:

  • ancient times and the traditions of the past are unreachable for most riders
  • people wants to buy a young horse so their child can grow up with him
  • people think the older horse is used-up

maestroclaudia 300x298 The Senior HorseBut an older horse is always the better match for a novice rider, because he is wise, confident and patient. And he has an excellent understanding of the movements required and is sympathetic to the learning rider’s mistakes. He is even willing to offer correct responses for relatively correct aids.

So seniors are not used-up, they have a lot to offer! And with straightness training, the rider and his senior can continue to have many successful rides together.

As I said before, I have many students with horses between 20 and 30 years old and many of those seniors are still being ridden!

If you keep your educated horse in shape and exercise him regularly, you’ll have many more productive years together than if you let him get overweight and lose muscle mass.

On the picture above you see Maestro, the 24-year-old stallion of Claudia Wolters. He is a very good school horse for riders who want to learn all exercises in walk, trot and canter.

Uneducated equine seniors

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Senior horse 300x214 The Senior HorseIf you have a senior horse that hasn’t done much work, it’s fine to reintroduce him back to exercise by introducing straightness training.

In the Netherlands we have a saying “Rest Rust”. A non-used bit gets rusty, so does a horse… As with people, exercise can increase the health and well-being of an aged horse.

If you would like to have your senior back on track, have your horse checked by a veterinarian first to determine his limits. If your vet gives the OK, keep your horse’s mind and body going with straightness training.

Straightness training will be perfect for the equine senior and the exercises can be very beneficial. The horse will feel better and loosening up after a couple of sessions. It stretches his muscles and strengthens his body.

And remember: 25 is the new 15, when it comes to seniors that do straightness training!

17 Tips to keep your equine senior fit and happy

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With proper care, nutrition and straightness training, senior horses can thrive well into their 20s and beyond, live longer and have more productive lives. Use these tips to help keep your Golden Oldie fit and happy and young at heart:

  • Senior Maestro 222x300 The Senior HorseBefore work, give your horse a daily check: Is he awake and alert? Is he eating/drinking/behaving like normal? Does he have any skin issues that need attention? If so: Keep him moving!
  • Start with some simple work in hand, stretch his muscles and see what your horse can handle. Some seniors have good and bad days so adjust to it.
  • Perhaps he has some arthritis and needs a longer period of time to warm up, to help his joints loosen up so he can move freely without pain during exercise. It’s much like how humans age: our joints might be sore in the morning as we start the day, but once we get moving, we will feel better.
  • With exercises you can strengthen his body and limbs, but don’t ask for too much! Your senior horse with his heart of gold may give you all that you ask for and more, so be careful.
  • For the “Professor” it’s important not to assume that your horse can handle a strict training program. Be careful with your Golden Oldie! Start with work in hand and see what your horse can handle while doing lateral work. Mount him and start your routine, but listen to your horse and be flexible in your approach.
  • A reduced exercise schedule is the best way to keep the not so eduated senior equine athlete going! Start with circles in hand to stretch the body muscles, and a little bit shoulder-in and haunches-in in hand to improve the hind legs. If he’s doing well you can mount him if you like.
  • It’s a good idea to add more walking breaks.
  • Do less speed work and more interval work with your equine senior.
  • Do not work your senior on hot and humid days.
  • An older horse will dehydrate faster than a younger horse, therefore, it’s important, expecially on summer days, to check the gum color, and look at moisture levels in the mouth.
  • Keep his nutrition balanced! The digestive system of a senior become less efficient, and his ability to absorb essential nutrients decreases. Choose good pasture grass supplemented with high-quality hay that is easy to chew and digest. It could be necessary to add complete feeds designed for the senior horse.
  • Keep his teeth balanced! Seniors need dental exams at least once a year.
  • Keep his hooves balanced! The senior still needs trimming every six to eight weeks.
  • SeniorMaestro 150x150 The Senior HorseKeep his social life balanced! As a herd animal every horse will benefit mentally from living in the company of other horses. So don’t forget to meet you senior’s social and natural needs.
  • It would be wonderful if your senior could live outdoors with his friends. Sometimes a waterproof but breathable horse rug will help keep your senior warm and dry against bad weather.
  • Take one day at a time and try to have fun every day!
  • And last but not least: Give him lots of love and extra pats and praise for everything that makes him so special!!

Good luck with your senior!

Do you have a senior horse partner?

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Maestro2 150x150 The Senior HorseHow old is he? Does he need any special care?

Please tell me all about him/her and leave a comment!

If you have another tip to keep our equine seniors fit and  happy let me know!

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  1.   Charlotteon 07 Jan 2013 at 21:05

    Hey Marijke, I have two old girls, one 25 Years old, the other 26 years old. The younger one I got two years ago from slaughter and she enjoys her life and we do just some gymnastics by hand. The other one I also saved from slaughter about 12 years ago. I can ride her without problems. We do a lot of gymnastics on the ground, also with the long reins, and under the saddle. Every day we are in motion… A few weeks ago the vet made an x-ray of her legs and all is perfect without arthrosis. So I am very happy. And I tell all the time in the stable where my horses live how important the gymnastic exercises are. But most people don´t care. It´s really sad. They bring their horses to the slaughterhouse when it´s not possible any more to ride them and buy a new one.
    Just one question:
    I have problems to ride haunches in and half pass but on the ground it works well. And the side movements in trot are a little bit problematic. Do you have any advice?

  2.   Marijke de Jongon 07 Jan 2013 at 22:48

    Hi Charlotte, thanks for sharing! If you have problems to ride haunches-in and half pass, but on the ground it works well, try these exercises with a little help from a helper on the ground. The rider should give the aids first and then the helper can assist on the ground guiding the horse into the exercise. After a while the horse will know what you mean with the aids.
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    About your challanges in trot: A golden rule is, that if something is not working in canter, you go back to trot. If it’s not working in trot, you go back to walk. If it’s not working in riding, you go back to work in hand or ask guidance from a helper from the ground. And then you build up from there again.
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    Good luck!

  3.   Glen Grobleron 08 Jan 2013 at 09:12

    Hi Marijke. I have a 37 year old Welsh Cob X. He has been with me for 5 years now, and I got him because he was “thrown away” and very ill. He has problems with low-grade chronic colic because he can’t chew properly as he only has good teeth on one side of his jaw. I feed him on a stallion mix and add a lot of probiotics, and I ensure he gets plenty of time on grass. I don’t ride him a lot because he is a bit short for me even though my vet says he is more than strong enough for my weight, and he seems to be happiest when he is working. He is teaching me a lot about riding in balance with cordeo which is fantastic.

  4.   Aprilon 09 Jan 2013 at 16:18

    I have lots of seniors. I own Dogwood Lane Horse Sanctuary. I just recently had to retire one, but he likes to come in and do obstacles at liberty, especially getting up the platform. It makes him very tall. As for riding, he’s done. He’s had a hard life before coming to us.

    I have another who is 25 but acts like he’s 10 and sometimes 3. He was trained to run and jump on his forehand. He thought his retraining was wrong and had a breathing fire dragon on my hands for awhile, but he is now learning trever and is really liking it. He loves being tall. He should’ve gone all the way to airs above ground, but time will tell if we get that far. I’m just glad he’s happy. His heart is in jumping. He thinks, breaths, lives for jumping. lol

  5.   Debra Hagenon 10 Jan 2013 at 10:20

    Hi Marijke! I have a lovely Holstein mare who is turning 19 in April. She was in full training til February, then I had physical problems which is stopping me from riding very much. I have done in hand work for several years now but since I have to reasses my horse career I will be doing much more in hand work. So it is interesting to follow your web site. I hope to be able to ride once a week and a few days in hand. Her muscle mass has deteriorated a lot since February, will just in hand work be able to build her up again? She is a talented, spirited mare who loves to work so I often have to stop her before she gives too much. But definately not a beginner horse so not all horses become safe for novices even though they are old :-)

  6.   Marinaon 11 Jan 2013 at 06:05

    Thanks to Professor Romanesque I improved my inner understanding of side movements and my practical skills of work in hand! I remember the one hour lesson he and Marijke gave to me with very much gratitude because it helped me so much in my own practice with my two young horses!

  7.   Maxine Carron 11 Jan 2013 at 09:44

    Hi Marijke
    It’s lovely to see the old hands honoured. My old fellow is 31 now and most of the time he thinks he’s still 3 He’s the most energetic and playful one of my three horses. He is a 16.1 chestnut Anglo arab and his name is Ginge. He has done years of ground and in hand work especially at liberty. His paddock is right beside the house and he regularly calls me out to play He sometimes parks up by the fence so I can climb aboard and off we go. He’s always been naturally balanced and still has beautiful self carriage even in his stiffness. His front teeth are now worn down so much that his tonge hangs out which looks quite comical especially when he’s prancing and dancing. He still has a beautiful topline although his back has dropped. I always make sure that he has long grass to pick, ablib hay and two big feeds. Recently he got himself stuck down a little bank when rolling when he was not in his own paddock. I called the Fire Brigade to get him up they were great with him and very impressed at how co-operative he was. Needless to say he’ll never be going into that paddock again to graze. Ginge is an active team member in my Equine Assisted Psychotherapy practice I don’t think he’ll ever retire.

  8.   antje schneideron 14 Jan 2013 at 17:38

    Hi Marijke, I find great enjoyment in reading your posts and articles! However more often than not I see pictures of yourself or other people working with horses without an appropriate riding hat. I do not want to point a finger here, but I just can not understand why people trying to teach others by setting examples do forget about this basic safety requirement! Here in Ireland, at every level it is compulsory to wear one and I understand that also under FEI rules it is now obligatory to wear a helmet when riding. So why is it that people who follow the very commendable road of “academic”/ “classical”/ “traditional” riding seem not to care about this?

  9.   Emmaon 15 Jan 2013 at 13:39

    The love of my life is a 23 year old Anglo Arab gelding that I have had the pleasure of working with for the past 20 years. I can only say, please don’t tell him he is 23 as he quite strongly believes he is still a 3 year old! He canters 6m voltes in the paddock and performs a variety of “airs” if he thinks he needs to be bought in to his stable.

    Yes, he takes a little longer to warm up than he did when he was younger, but I know what he knows (I taught him), he knows what I know (he taught me), and I find we keep each other honest. If I ride him properly I get the correct response, if my riding is not so good – he won’t do the movements correctly.

    He has reached an advanced level in dressage, & although lacking time to get him fit enough to perform at that level, he is more than capable of doing all the movements & I now quite often use him to demonstrate movements or exercises I feel might benefit other people working with their horses & to give people a feel for a movement they want to learn.

    He is very much a Professor & definitely demands/commands Respect from all who handle him.

    He is fat and happy and loves the mental stimulation of being ridden regularly. It would be criminal to retire him to a paddock to do nothing.

  10.   Anne Sentanceon 15 Mar 2014 at 15:24

    Hello, I have just read your article about riding the senior horse and feel so reassured by it. I have a 24yr old home bred trakhener that has been out of work for about 4 years, not through any physical problems but through lack of time as i had a younger advanced dressage horse taking up all my riding time. Plus i thought i was doing her a favour to let her retire. However, a year ago i had no other horse to ride and wanted to keep myself saddle fit till i found another horse to train, so brought my very senior girl gradually back into work. She absolutely loves it and has now regained amazing suppleness, easily able to do all lateral work, simple changes etc. My main area of concern, however, is that her back has definately dropped and, being very high withered, looks extremely dippy and rather sharp in the croup. The work does not seem to have helped to build up any topline over her back though, and wonder if it is unfair to expect her to carry on taking the weight of a rider.

  11.   Pam Rathsackon 09 Jul 2014 at 15:59

    My thoroughbred Domingo turned 30 this summer. Other than a couple of missing back teeth he is in perfect condition. I feed him Nutro Senior feed with a couple of cups of Calf-Mana and add a scoop of cosequin powder for his joints. He always has fresh soft hay and pasture in the summer. His recent blood panel showed he is in perfect condition. Hot bloods like Thoroughbreds, Arabians and Lipizzaners can live well into their 40s. He is still ridden and loves it! He does not look a day over 10.

  12.   Juliaon 08 Jul 2015 at 10:05

    I was lucky enough to be able to afford a schoolmaster type horse. I think this is the biggest reason why we see green riders and horse combination, is the cost, a well trained horse with decent confirmation is not cheep. However, the money you spend upfront is well worth it. In the five years of ownership of my schoolmaster I have never had a bad ride or interaction. I have develop great feel because of my horse. Yes, he has slow down with age but I am in college now and just having a dependable mount that I don’t have to regularly school is exactly what I need. Schoolmaster or senior type horses are extremely dependable, forgiving, safe, calm ( even if a more hot type horse, less spooky), worth their weight in gold.

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