I’ve spoken before in Just Get On And Ride about the incredible value of the old pony who teaches at least one child from each family at Pony Club on a lease arrangement in its lifetime. These little guys don’t take much to keep ticking over and seem to appear at Pony Clubs for decades, generations even!
The value of an older horse can be immeasurable. We’re understandably, very careful about what sort of horse we put our precious children on but sometimes the wisest choices are not made for ourselves. Nervous riders on green horses, even with adequate support and/or instruction, can often end in tears. Older horses are sometimes overlooked for nervous riders and you can be missing absolute gems!
Is an older horse for me?
As a general rule nervous riders aren’t interested in going fast or too far off the ground over solid objects. As a general rule neither is your older horse! He may have competed at a higher level and be physically unable to sustain that level of work any longer. These wear and tear type injuries certainly don’t mean his riding days are done, far from it. It’s often much more beneficial for an older horse to remain in light work to maintain muscle tone and function in consultation with your vet and/or bodywork professional.
I wrote about matching the horse to the rider in Purchasing a Horse and honestly assessing your riding level. Of course if your realistic aim is to be competitive at a national level an older horse may not be the right choice for you. If you’re interests are more modest, two or three reasonably quiet rides a week, trail rides with friends, maybe some low level competitions then an older horse could be perfect for you! As a coach I prefer to see a nervous rider gaining confidence, experience and skills on a horse they may have to encourage forward rather than the opposite.
An older, seasoned horse has usually been there/seen and done that and can be very reliable to take out. This makes your trail ride or competition with friends a thousand times more enjoyable than when you’ve a horse being excited in its surroundings and stirring up your own nerves.
How do we keep them going?
It’s a fact that it can cost a little more in body-work to keep an older horse ticking over. With the support of your vet, other treatments of choice and common sense it’s very likely you’ll be able to keep your older horse sound and comfortable for some time to come and he’ll be in much better health than if he was just sitting in the paddock!
There are many supporting treatments readily available now which can assist in prolonging his ridden life from hands on treatments through to vet administered synthetic joint supplements.
Use your common sense. If you see soreness or even a change in attitude towards being ridden call the vet. There are many treatments available to make your horse more comfortable. Calling ‘time’ in your friends ridden career is something you need to consider very carefully. Your horse may have a change in attitude towards being ridden or you may see a very obvious soreness. Either way, try to be aware of how your horse is feeling both outwardly and within himself.
Sarah and Hobbit
Sarah was an adult beginner when she purchased Hobbit when he was 21. He’d been a well-known competitor in local circles and took Sarah from being a nervous beginner through to competing in dressage, navigational rides and even some low level jumping. She’s now capable and confident enough to move onto a younger horse and more challenging horse. Hobbit is now 24 and still enjoys trail rides once or twice a week to keep him active and happy and Sarah’s also enjoying competing on him in the occasional Navigational Ride!
One very important thing to bear in mind with purchasing an older horse is to ensure you seek the advice of your instructor and a vet or equivalent health professional to check him over. Not all older horses are suitable for a ridden career and it’s a heartbreaking thing to find out after you’ve got the horse home and fallen in love. Older horses are more than likely going to cost you a little more to maintain in treatments and vet visits but will repay that attention many times over in providing you a safe and reliable mount for years to come.
I’d love to hear some of your stories about your very own ‘golden oldies’!