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Considering Bringing Horse Out of Retirement?

Hello! For anyone wondering, yes this is the same horse I talked about in my previous question.
I’ve been doing a lot of research on caring for senior horses and I’m realizing that my mare has never shown any clear signs of pain or inability to work. Her joints are stiff at times and she can’t extend or track upbeat well, but even at 23 with fairly advanced arthritis she gallops and jumps and frolicks like a yearling when I work her on the ground. I only ever see her stumble if she’s gallopping and does a tight turn. And, she always seem delighted and attentive when I get her out to work (on the lunge). About a year ago she started being very balky when ridden and I assumed it was because it had become too painful for her to be ridden so I just stopped working her under saddle, but I’m starting to wonder if it was actually just a behavioral thing and not a matter of her arthritis being too severe. Shes a very sassy mare and I was just a kid at the time, so she may have just been taking advantage.
I’ve never had any vet say she wasn’t rideable, I just assumed she’d be happier out of work. But now I’m wondering if I gave up too soon. I know she’ll never be able to work hard under saddle again, but does it seem reasonable to try to bring her back up to light W/T/C arena work? As long as she doesn’t seem distressed?
Anyone have experience in a case like this? How do you know how hard you can “push” your horse when you’re reconditioning like this?
And of course the obvious question: is it just simply unfair to ask her to start working again after a year off?
Sorry if this isn’t the right place to put this.
And thanks for any insight.

I don’t think it’s unfair to ask her to start working again, although if she starts again with the balking I wouldn’t push on that too much. I believe light work is good for older horses. I’ve used my 20 year mare off and on throughout the last couple years, just lightly because I never really have time to get her fully into work, but I see a big improvement in her overall well-being when she’s working a little bit. Her topline and feet look much better even if she’s just being lightly lunged a few times per week.

I brought a 18 yr old broodmare that hadn’t been ridden in 10 years back. In 6 months, we did a mini event and came in 7th (because my dressage was crappy, not because of the mare). In her prime, she was a upper level event horse and she remembered everything. Just take it slow and get her back into shape gradually.

I don’t think it’s unfair to ask her to start working again, although if she starts again with the balking I wouldn’t push on that too much.[/QUOTE]
How will I know if I’m pushing too much?

How will I know if I’m pushing too much?[/QUOTE]

Often the indication is how they are the next day. If my mare is uncomfortable she won’t come to me in the field and will be cheeky about being caught (she comes to the gate when I whistle, usually). The mare may also (most likely) be sore if she is going beyond what she is capable of doing. Remember that it is a much longer and slower process to get muscle on an older horse.

I have found that by not keeping an older horse in some kind of ‘work’
it gives MORE opportunity for the arthritis to set in.
I kept my old gelding, with a mildly arthritic knee,
working steadily until he was 28 yrs old.
He was on a good joint supplement, daily, from age 15,
and he thrived on the 2-3x weekly trail rides.
He started to stumble under saddle a little too often, and I stopped riding him for fear of getting injured.
He lived a few years in retirement and then he passed at 31 years old.
I wished I had been able to keep riding him longer bc I found that the arthritis
worsened considerably, after he was retired.
Lack of regular exercise, be it horse or rider, is the worse thing you can do.
Keeping the horse active is actually the better option.

FWIW, I used to teach beginner lessons on a 32 year old a few times a week. We had tried to retire her several times over the years, but whenever we stopped using her she would lose weight/muscle and just seemed depressed. Eventually, she told us she was getting tired so we retired her again. She passed away 2 weeks later.

I just signed a free lease on my 32-yr old Arab gelding. He will be an on-farm lease to a teeny little 10-yr old girl who weighs all of 50lbs. I will trailer him to her lessons and to the local shows she wants to compete in.

He LOVES that little girl and absolutely lights up when she is on him.

Age is just a number!

That’s great! I really hope I can do something similar for my mare. I’ll be careful to watch for signs of soreness and overexhertion. But what I’m not sure about is what I should do if she starts balking again. Generally what she used to do was be perfectly happy to run around on the lunge and then as soon as I sat on her she would just absolutely refuse to move after a while. My trainer couldn’t seem to fix it any more than I could. So I assumed it was a pain thing and stopped trying. But if it’s not pain, how will I know whether to stop pushing her on the subject?

That’s a tough question, and I was going to suggest having a trainer/experienced person taking a look to give you another opinion.

You could play around with different saddles/etc to see if it’s a saddle fit issue, or even give her a bit of bute to see if that makes a difference… but that can definitely be a tough call. Good luck with her!