Older horses that don’t want to retire?

My guy is turning 27 this year. He hasn’t been showing sound for a number of years now but he is servicebly sound. I tried retiring him. He was grumpy and got a number of abscesses. I started riding him again while one was healing up and since then, he has always had a saddle in the barn with his name on it.
He was supposed to be ridden this winter by a little girl but he has become too wild. Romping and leaping in the air gets you put on the lunge line and back in the field…


Horses are people too. And just like some folks take hit from Uncle Sam retiring early, others take the approach “I’ll retire after I die,” to quote the late B.B. King. A friend had a talented, prickly cuss of an OTTB that looked about 8 when he was 20 & died at 30 after less than a year of retirement. His abilities never changed up to the point of his retirement. He was more careful about his approaches & distances but jumped the same heights he always had. Instead, it was a sudden thing where he was fine one day & catastrophically off the next. The vet who had taken care of him for 28 years told friend that the time had come for horse to retire.

I had an aged Percheron who was similar. Bought a forecart with brakes to make sure he didn’t get swept by the britching going downhill, etc. His arthritis got to the point that he was stiff for days after tooling up & down our level, paved drive. I balanced it out as long as I could because he loved to work. He was positively giddy with excitement every time we.went for a drive & pretty much high-fived you after a successful trip.

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I think most horses would happily retire if they had a setup that they were comfortable in, and that gave them enough freedom to move at will, and a regular routine.

Horses preferring their routine is not necessarily an indication that they want to work, but obviously in situations where horses are stalled 12 hours a day - they may need to work to stay comfortable.

But also - taking a horse that has been stalled most of its life for half a day and throwing them out 24/7 in a herd situation can be extremely stressful. So, again, the preference to keep the normal schedule might just mean that they prefer that environment - it’s what they know, and it works for them.

I have three horses and have boarded several more over the years in mostly retirement with several acres of pasture. Even those that are younger and have been stalled eventually adapt to being fully capable and happy to never work again. LOL. But some like it more than others, and some found the transition stressful. My horses always have access to their stalls and at some point every day (time varies based on season) they stand in their stalls and sleep/relax. I think that makes a big difference.

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My 36 year does best in work. The level of work is not as intense as it used to be, but when he is out of work his arthritis is worse and his heaves is worse. He hunted for 2 1/2 hours, covering 11 miles in November. He walks, trots, canters and has the occasional short gallop and I will jump him over things that are under 2’ every now and then. He runs circles around my 2 OTTBs that are 12 and 8 years old. I take each day and take note of where he is that day. Some days it’s only a 15-20 minute walk, others he’s asking if he can go faster? how about now?


My mare is 20 and not quite sound…but if I don’t do anything with her for a week, the next time I pull her out of the paddock she’s practically dragging me over to the shed (not actually, her manners are too good but she would if she was allowed). I still take her trail riding, and let her tell me what she’s up for on any given day. Mostly this involves her frequently requesting to go for a canter in any suitable spot. I figure she’s keen on still getting out, the exercise is likely good for her and her condition is fantastic. People think she’s half the age she really is (she also still pings around the paddock like a lunatic while the lazy 4yo stands there and watches).

Yes, I have seen this repeatedly. One was my trainer’s first horse, who insisted on being a lesson horse until the ripe old age of 32. He was getting arthritic by his mid twenties, but every attempt to retire him resulted in a miserable, cranky horse - paradoxically, he also got more uncomfortable because he wasn’t using himself properly. When put back in “work” (light wtc lessons with the occasional crossrail) he began to bloom again and was much happier and sounder. He finally consented to be retired at 32 when his arthritis went from “I’m stiff and can come out sore but I still LOOOOVE to work” to “Ouch, I would rather not do anything today”. I’m convinced that he would have passed far earlier had he not been kept in work - he lived to get ridden and adored all of the students. He passed about 9 months after his retirement, at 33.

My old man is now 20 and shows signs of the same kind of mentality; he has stepped down from being a 3’ show horse to teaching wtc thru the occasional 2’6 course due to arthritis, and we maintain him pretty aggressively for a lesson horse (equioxx, adequan 2x a year, will inject as needed). We tried to reduce his work this fall and he was visibly upset by it, cranky on the ground, and HYPER under saddle. We upped his work again and now he’s happy as as clam. He’s the type that LOVES to get ridden (especially to canter or jump, being a thoroughbred) and I doubt he will retire any time soon - he is still waiting at the gate in his paddock for me or one of his riders to come and get him and gets seriously peeved with me if I haven’t ridden him in a while. For what it’s worth, I still love on him and groom him plenty - I truly think that he believes that I am “his” person and thus I SHOULD ride him as that is job. He loves all the kids but is not particularly picky about who rides him, although he has an older lady who he has become incredibly attached to - again, if she doesn’t ride him “enough” in his eyes (even if he’s not sound!) he sulks and gets terribly cranky. We keep the jumps small with him at this point but he really thrives going about an hour a day 6 days a week - any less and he is a ball of energy. There are still days where he wants to work SO much that he will go twice, although he let him take the lead and tell us how he is feeling. We regularly get comments that there is no way this horse is 20!

That being said, I have met ponies that happily retired at 16 or so (accidentally, after a period of not having a rider) and stated their commitment to the lifestyle by strategically dumping everyone who tried bring them back into work, refusing to be caught in the field, etc. It really depends on the horse - I think they will tell you what they are up for. I think that being consistently fit, having good farrier work and vetrinary care, and consistently high quality nutrition (especially a LOT of fiber - our horses get basically all the hay they can eat, so long as they don’t get fat) really improves their longevity.

ETA: All the horses I mentioned had ample turnout (the 20 year old lives outside with a shed by choice, the others got at least 8 hours of turnout a day) and didn’t have any significant lifestyle changes in retirement OTHER than riding (i.e. same barn, same herd, same people, same amount of human interaction).


He is 36 and still hunting?! Wow! I salute you and the rest of his team for your care. What is his breeding?

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I think that, barring any physical problems, regular exercise is key for older horses (and older people!). It keeps them in good spirits and in good condition.

My Tb mare is 23 this year.
I bought her at the track when she was 4.
She is totally sound and still feels, acts and looks like a 6 yo (I really REALLY wish she would “grow out of it” but it seems she’ll always be that way! ). I have her on a run-of-the-mill joint supplement but she never had her joints injected. I still jump her but mostly ride dressage with her now. It keeps her supple and balanced and her topline looks great.
A few years ago I had to go away for a bit and she wasn’t worked for a couple months. When I came back she felt like an old horse. Stiff and unbalanced, it was awful.
So now I make sure she’s kept in work year round.

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@Renn_aissance I wish I knew his breeding. He has a BIG brand, but they are difficult to look up since brand registries aren’t centralized. The best anyone can tell is maybe a quarter horse Arab cross. He runs circles around my OTTBs, doing fly bus to try and get them stirred up. This video is from a couple of months ago.

He looks marvelous.

I hope you didn’t want to catch him!

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@Renn_aissance I wasn’t trying to catch me, he was just feeling a bit frisky. He was running around for about 45 minutes. This video shows he was finally successful in getting th OTTB s involved.