Q: My older horse still seems to love work, but I’m concerned as his stiffness is definitely increasing. I’ve had my vet to look at him, and she agrees that we need to slow down, but how do I do this when he enjoys his work so much?
A: Many horses bodies start to slow down long before their minds. Stories such as yours are not uncommon and you are absolutely correct that most horses like this aren’t generally happy to retire completely. They tend to be used to a busy life, and enjoy their routine. For these horses you need to try and find a way to maintain a modified workload. He may, for instance, enjoy being a regular happy hacker, with the emphasis being on the ‘regular’. If he is a high level jumper or dressage horse, you can simply step back to a much lower level but still keep him training. It is important that older horses don’t feel abandoned once they start to lose their ability to compete at higher levels. These horses have worked with us for years and deserve the investment of our time in their golden years.
Movement will always be good for his body and mind, and as long as you work an older horse regularly he should be fine with this. In fact light work in older horses can help to ward off stiffness and maintain condition and muscle tone. The biggest mistake you can make with an older horse is decreasing the frequency of work, rather than the intensity. These older horses need to be moving their joints regularly to prevent them from stiffening up. Draw up a realistic programme for his work and then consult your vet to check that she thinks it is appropriate in your horse’s particular case.