Older horses that don’t want to retire?

Is this a thing? Do some older horses just do better in consistent exercise and program, even in their senior years? I remember the first time I tried to semi-retire my horse while I was at college, he dilapidated. He was still in/out 12/12 with a buddy, but just got super bored, depressed, and developed ulcers. Treated it, got him back in a program, and he was back to his old self. Then tried to turn him out a couple years later and he hated it. Wanted nothing to do with being out in a group 24/7. I’ll say that this is a show horse who’s used to a lot of human interaction (and love attention) and a consistent routine, but I know plenty of people that retire their big time show horses in a field.

For what it’s worth, I don’t think the horse needs or wants to retire right now, it’s just something I’ve been thinking about as he’s been getting older. Obviously I’ve changed his program to maintain soundness as he’s aged. He hasn’t shown in a while and isn’t jumping around the AOs anymore. He gets hacked a few times a week, goes outside the ring on walks as much as possible, and then jumps here and there. He seems to much prefer my frequent visits than being left to his own devices for a long time. He also moves around better the more he does. If he sits for too long he gets creaky and sticky.

I’ve had this horse since I was 14 and adore him. He owes me nothing. He’s also a horse with lots of miles jumping big jumps. my primary goal is to keep him happy and sound for as long as I can. He gets a routine lameness exam every 6-8 months, injections as needed, gets adequan etc. If he tells us he needs something, we do it basically.

Curious as to other people’s experience with this type of horse!

Edit- I guess I should add his age. He’s 19, turning 20 next summer!

2 Likes

Elmer Bandit easily comes to mind, he was a horse we rode against in NATRC competitive trail… he competed all the way to his death at just shy of 38…amassed about 21,000 miles in trail competition

4 Likes

My coach retired one of her lesson horses a couple years ago. He was 30 or close to it. For the last couple years, he only did very beginner kids walk/trot lessons. He naturally was a very balanced horse and moved in a way that was ‘easy’ on his body. He had good muscle tone and top line until his retirement. I think the consistent exercise was key for him. He lived turned out 24/7 except coming in to stall for extra snacks.

He retired to a clients farm to live on grass pasture until it’s his time to go. He started to get a bit cranky and my coach decided he’d done enough. If your horse still feels good and is happy to work, I’d keep riding. 20 is not that old for a horse that’s been well cared for.

2 Likes

20 is not old for a well cared for horse! I expect him to be kept in a consistent program lol! My friends horse (passed away last night RIP) was ridden until she was 29 (lightly/appropriate work) because it kept her happy. When she told he owner I’m done being ridden, she was retired. She was going to turn 31 next week. :frowning:

2 Likes

It does not matter to my senior that he is three-legged lame at the trot on some days. He feels that it is right that he is taken out of his paddock and given the opportunity to affirm his lifetime’s worth of skills under saddle (he is a former lesson pony and takes W/T/C around a circle, then change directions, very seriously). When he gets consistent “work” (we work to his comfort level), he is affectionate, goofy, snuggly, curious, a voice of reason among the other horses, and just generally perfect. When he goes a few days just in his nice big in/out situation even with views of the whole farm so he can supervise, he gets crabby and snooty and “Well, obviously I’m not that much of a priority to you anyway, so dump the snack and go.”

6 Likes

A friend bought a two year old and started him, then competed with him.
He turned out to be so talented he competed at the higher levels his discipline and won plenty.

Friend had a daughter and she competed him all thru high school and did very well with him.
Daughter became a horse trainer and used him as he aged for a lower level competitor and lessons.
Once he was late 20’s, they tried to retire him, but he was not himself, just cranky, so they put him back on the lesson program and minimum, light competition.
He was 36 when they finally just retired him as he was getting a bit sore after even light riding.
He had been sound and healthy all his life, so they decided when physical problems started, if he liked it or not, he was being retired now.
He was fine and looked good until 40, when he started to look old.
By 42, age finally caught with him, he was having trouble getting up and down, so their vet put him to sleep.

Imagine to have such a great horse be your steady partner all thru your life for 40 years.
Don’t know how much his work ethic, wanting to keep being a horse to his humans, had to do with that long, contented horse life.
Everyone needs to know their horse and then it would be easier to manage when the time comes to ask them to slow down, or age/physical problems tells us we need to retire them.
That will be different for each horse, age just one more consideration.

11 Likes

I was able to bring my almost 20 year old home this past summer so he could “retire”, but he’s one of those who can never be truly retired. He’s been a show horse his entire life, and getting thrown in a field with a shelter would have made him very unhappy.

I try to keep his routine as close to what he’s experienced his entire life and he is thriving. He is out with a friend during the day, gets ridden 4 days a week, and comes in at night. He’s still blanketed accordingly, after years of being body clipped and blanketed I don’t think it’s fair to leave him naked.

As far as his workload, his rides are usually shorter than they used to be, but he has no real soundness issues other than arthritis, so I still work on things we’d work on in lessons just over poles or super tiny jumps. I won’t jump him over 2’3" anymore, and once or twice a week we just hack out to keep him from getting bored.

I think most senior horses do far better in consistent work, even if that just means a 20 minute trail ride a few days a week. Besides being beneficial to their joints and digestive systems, I think it keeps them much happier!

OP, you know your horse best. It sounds like he’s also one who would prefer to have a job in his senior years, and it’ll be up to you to decide what type and frequency of work keeps him happiest.

4 Likes

Well, you’ve seen mine. He’s coming up on 26 next year (that sounds so much more senior than 25…) and has been told multiple times he can retire whenever he wants. He doesn’t want. He gets bored with a week off of work and starts amusing himself by tearing the barn down, and his physical wellbeing also goes south in a hurry if he’s not moving gently.

I really think that motion is lotion for these elder statemen and they do best when they’re able to continue an appropriate fitness program that keeps their heart and lungs exercised and their muscles and soft tissues able to support their aging joints. That includes horses who have had past injuries: the more limber we can keep them, the better their chances at avoiding reinjury.

If I could pick one thing I’ve done that I think has been best for him as he has aged, it has been to step him down before I thought he needed to, and to keep him moving as much as was reasonable- turnout, long walks, and a flatwork program targeted for flexibility. The second-best thing is to let him make his own judgment calls about what he wants to do today. Some days he really wants to hack across the road and watch the mini-donkeys, and some days he has a wild hair and wants to do “gallop sets” on the turf around the ring. If he comes out of the barn and clearly wants to do something other than what I had planned, he does it. This keeps his exercise varied, which keeps him interested, which keeps him from feeling emotionally ready to retire, which allows him to stay at appropriate fitness and soundness, which keeps him happy in his work. He can say when, and a couple of times I’ve thought he was about ready to say “now,” but after two weeks of bareback putzing around he starts dragging me to the single oxer on the diagonal again. You know your horse, you know what he likes and doesn’t like, and you’ve been mindful of his soundness and well-being all his life. He doesn’t look or go like his age. He seems like he wants to keep going for awhile yet. :slight_smile:

10 Likes

As of January 1st my two horses will be 19 & 20 years old. Each one is sound and they are free to come and go from their stalls. Each horse hunts one day a week in the Hilltopper Field (hunt pace but no jumping and we cut corners to reduce real estate traveled) and is trail ridden in between, no jumping because don’t jump any longer.

It reads like your horse gets the ultimate in care and is nowhere ready for full time retirement. Best of luck going forward.

3 Likes

The guy I’m riding turns 23 on 1/1 and is still going strong. So strong, in fact, that I spend a lot of our time working on keeping up & down transitions soft, balanced and responsive instead of “wheeeeeeeeee!” He goes happily, with ears pricked and cheerful, and really seems to groove on more complex figures and flatwork. This is a guy who loves having a job to to.

He does take a solid chunk of time to fully warm up, but hey, so do I. :grin:

2 Likes

When I was a kid I had the privilege of taking some cross-country lessons on an older horse (early 20s). The instructor told me they had tried to retire him but he would jump his paddock fence and follow the group out to the XC field anyway, so they put him back in work and he was much happier. The story might have been apocryphal but he did seem to like his job.

My 24-year-old didn’t do his first Grand Prix test until 17 due to many injuries and the fact that we were learning our way up the levels together. At 19 I stepped him down to 3rd Level and leased him out to keep him fit until he was no longer sound enough. He’s been retired for three years now other than the occasional trail ride, which I don’t think he enjoys much honestly. His main interest in life is food, despite having an excellent work ethic in his younger days… so I guess you never can tell. He owes me nothing so I feed him, smooch his nose, give him scritches, and let him be a horse. Sometimes when I see his total lack of topline I feel guilty for not keeping him going in some way but I truly think he’s happier retired.

2 Likes

I ride one! She’s 20, definitely not show ring sound, sometimes nearly sound sometimes pretty gimpy but always willing, always eager to come out and lavish in all the attention, always grabs the bit when offered. I’m so grateful to have had the ride on her for the last year, she’s taught me so much and helped me make incredible breakthroughs with my effectiveness as a rider. Grateful for all the rides we have left, and know my trainers and her owner will do right by her when she tells us she’s ready.

2 Likes

I was riding one of my horses in the mountains up until almost the day he died at age 30. He was still raring to go and out walked most of his younger counterparts. He was a professional mountain horse and loved his job; who was I to deny him? Man I miss that horse.

4 Likes

Absolutely. I have one that is depressed right now because he’s without a job.

In my case, my guy suffers from kissing spine. I’d love to do the surgery on him, since he’s only 13 - but until I find a spare $5 - $7K I’m out of luck.

We keep him “in work” by doing showmanship patterns and doing walk/trot lunge workouts. He still feels that connection and like we’re a team, but no one is on his back. I’d like to see if I could get him driving, as I think he may better be able to handle the pressure of a driving harness and well balanced cart over a rider - but we’ll see.

I actually got him back from a weird, long bizarre story but they had tried to retire him at the school where he was living out his IRS tax donation period. Their director told me the following (this happened several years ago):

A couple months ago we moved him outside to a pasture with 2 buddies. At first he wasn’t loving that life, in fact one morning student workers got there his pasture was open, they couldn’t find him and eventually walked through the barn and he was standing in a stall that was open. Poor guy, but he is now doing much better outside.

Since he’s been back home, he gets his stall every night. :smiling_face_with_three_hearts: Some people don’t “get” it. They insist that horses prefer to be outside 24x7 and that all horses would love to live a retired life of ease. But, it just isn’t the case - a lot of horses spend their entire life with a routine that includes people, and work, and a safe space to live - to take all of that away from them is unnecessarily cruel if they’re practically screaming that they’re unhappy.

2 Likes

I’ve been learning by observation that younger horses are happier in a herd than older horses. The younger horses bomb around and play dominance games and have strong social ties. The older horses often don’t want to get caught up in anything dangerous or confrontational and end up hanging back a little. They may prefer to come back into a stall and have some shelter and privacy.

I think the best solution is to keep them in some kind of work as long as possible.

Of course, the question about cranky is: what does it mean? The horse might be very happy in the field, and just cranky because you are disturbing him.

4 Likes

My regular ride is going on 27 at the turn of the year. She loves her job, and would honestly prefer it to be more than it is now. She gets hacked most days, and maybe a round or two of bitty jumps a week, and I’ll jump a handful of 2’6" on her depending on how her legs feel but her mind would much rather be doing course after course of bigger jumps and horse showing. She’s still the same opinionated redheaded mare that she was when she was 4, and we’ve been saying for at least five years that the minute she stops being an opinionated redheaded mare, then we know she’s ready to retire.

Earlier in the year she had to have some time off due to an abscess and she was overall unhappy. At this point, she feels physically better when she’s in shape and ridden regularly. Her joints feel better when she moves around (and though she’s turned out for 10-12hrs a day, she just stands and eats). She owes nobody anything and has a home for life, but as long as she’s sound she’ll have a job.

3 Likes

This is absolutely a thing. I have (and have had) several of them! My most impressive one is my 36 year old Welsh/Arab/TB. He is sound as the day is long and for a pony that only did lead changes on his terms throughout his (very allustrious) AA circuit career, he’s now decided that he has an automatic change! He still does courses of poles and if we let him, he’d happily still jump. He works 5 days a week and is just generally the most awesome little guy there ever was. He LOVES his job and gets very despondent when he doesn’t work. There are just some that really like having jobs!

4 Likes

I don’t think our horse benefit from retirement any more than us people do. If your horse is sound I think it is in his best interests to give him a job to do. It may just be as a lightly ridden trail horse but they benefit from the exercise and the human interaction.

Most people who retire from a career do better if they find something else to do. Just sitting out in pasture does none of us any good.

2 Likes

My first horse refused to eat his grain if he thought I wasn’t riding him enough. Even though every ride began with a token attempt to turn back to the barn - a very token attempt as all I had to do was tighten the inside leg as he shifted his weight to begin the turn. He had to maintain the pretense that he was not interested - kind of like a teenager who can’t admit that they enjoy doing a family thing. <3

My second horse was content with less than a ride a week, but he was also happy to do something when I did take him out.

My current senior has health conditions that are best managed with exercise so I will be riding him until the end. He enjoys getting out and shows it.

2 Likes

My guy will be 21 shortly… I keep waiting for him to tell me he wants to step down, and while I’ve waited he’s won his debut at PSG and Intermediate 1 at 20, and has a solid piaffe steps and one tempis. So we take every day as one more than I thought and we keep going!

8 Likes