CON­DI­TION­ING

EQUUS - - Immune Function -

In­ac­tiv­ity is the main cause of lost fit­ness in older horses. Just like peo­ple, horses who con­tinue to ex­er­cise as they age are stronger and more sup­ple than their less-ac­tive peers. And once an older horse loses con­di­tion­ing, it can be dif­fi­cult to re­store be­cause of lim­i­ta­tions im­posed by arthri­tis or old in­juries. Iron­i­cally, early “re­tire­ment” of ac­tive horses to life as a pas­ture or­na­ment can pre­cip­i­tate their de­cline. What you can do: En­cour­age your horse to ex­er­cise for as long into old age as he is able. Con­tin­ual turnout is an easy and ef­fec­tive way of keep­ing a horse mov­ing. Given enough space and friendly com­pan­ions, an el­derly horse will walk enough to main­tain some level of fit­ness. When you ride an older horse, dial back the ac­tiv­i­ties based on how he re­sponds. Some horses thrive on long gal­lops and jump­ing well into their 20s,

but for oth­ers these ac­tiv­i­ties be­come too dif­fi­cult much ear­lier in life. What­ever the case, put off full re­tire­ment for as long as pos­si­ble. An hour­long walk on a trail through the woods is bet­ter, phys­i­cally and men­tally, for a healthy, older horse than lan­guish­ing in a stall or small pad­dock. If rid­ing is no longer an op­tion, hand-walk­ing is bet­ter than stand­ing still.

If you need to get an older, out-of-shape horse back into con­di­tion, al­low at least twice as much time than would be re­quired for a younger horse. And dou­ble the amount of down­time. Con­di­tion­ing oc­curs when tis­sues are stressed and given time to re­pair, but with­out suf­fi­cient rest, in­juries oc­cur. An aged horse may need two days off af­ter a work­out in­stead of just one. Be par­tic­u­larly pa­tient when bring­ing an old-timer back from a lay­off: It will take at least three months for him to de­velop enough fit­ness for even light trail out­ings---as­sum­ing he has no set­backs.

If the pain of arthri­tis or an­other prob­lem lim­its your older horse’s abil­ity to ex­er­cise, ad­dress the un­der­ly­ing con­di­tion and cau­tiously re­turn him to work as soon as you have clear­ance from your ve­teri­nar­ian.

When to worry: When “un­fit” be­comes “weak,” an older horse faces sig­nif­i­cant risks to his health. If your horse seems un­steady in his gaits or has trou­ble ris­ing, don’t ride him and call the ve­teri­nar­ian with­out de­lay.

An hour­long walk on a trail through the woods is bet­ter, phys­i­cally and men­tally, for a healthy, older horse than lan­guish­ing in a stall or small pad­dock.

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