Second Careers for Older Horses

Posted on April 2, 2018 by Jerrilee.
Categories: breed, therapy, training.
Author riding 25 year old Morgan Mare

Author riding 25 year old Morgan Mare

I once had an instructor who firmly believed that we don’t pick our horse, the horse chooses us. Whether that be true or false, purchasing or accepting the gift of a horse from someone is one of those decisions that compares with finding the right relationship, or the best job. First of all, it calls for a clear and honest evaluation of  both our intended use for the horse and of our goals, such as the strategies for training, if needed, and are we equal to that task. Ignoring this simple process has left many a hopeful horse owner with post-purchase blues.  Secondly, the number of horses rescued from squalor or brutality indicates the need for correct assessment, not just of our riding skills, but also our available funds and time to spend with our horse, and our ability to provide a clean, natural environment once we accept the horse as our own.

Every level of rider will find their equal level in a horse when it comes to matching talent for talent, skill for skill. Horses range to each extreme in temperaments and athletic ability. But one of our most valuable resources in the horse industry is the older horse.  These seasoned campaigners are one of the best catches for children, novice, handicapped, or elderly riders. The older, more traveled horses provide safe, predictable interaction for novices learning their way through the horse world. The slower pace of the beginner, whose focus is on position and saddle competence rather than on high level, show-quality performance, is an easier pace for the older horse. The elementary curriculum also provides a job for a functionally impaired horse, who may have arthritis or soft tissue weakness.  How often we discover that the new schedule gives old chronic injuries the time to heal, and our impaired horse is much sounder and healthier.  An extremely aged horse who can no longer be ridden can still live out its remaining years serving as a companion for foals, breeding mares, or convalescing horses.

Choosing a horse in its late teens or early twenties still offers many years of opportunity for a rider to continue to learn from their horse. I once had a friend who accepted the gift of a 26 year old horse and found it to be the perfect companion for an occasional ride. He had never ridden or owned a horse before but his horse carried him around the mountain trails of his home with ease and with perfect manners.  This same horse lived to be 31 and my friend still reminisces about the five years they spent together camping out in the mountains. But his happiest moments, he said, were those just spent hanging around the barn with a beer and his favorite horse buddy.

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