Win­ning In­sights

Mind­ful man­age­ment can ex­tend your se­nior per­for­mance horse’s ca­reer and en­joy­ment of his life.

Horse & Rider - - Contents -

Good care will let your se­nior horse shine.

Take a look at the geld­ing in these pho­tos. How old would you guess he is? The ti­tle of the ar­ti­cle gives away that he’s an older per­for­mance horse, but he looks like he’s about 7 years old, in the prime of his per­for­mance ca­reer.

So how old is he? Juarez Whiz turns 16 this year. He’s amassed more than 270 points in AQHA com­pe­ti­tion, has more than $70,000 in NRHA life­time earnings, and con­tin­ues to be a com­pet­i­tive en­try in both am­a­teur/ non-pro and open classes. To what do I at­tribute his longevity, on­go­ing suc­cess, and youth­ful ap­pear­ance? Read on to find out.

Fo­cus on Feed

Think of your horse like a vehicle: Feed is his fuel. If you have a fancy sports car and fill the tank with reg­u­lar gaso­line, you can’t ex­pect pre­mium per­for­mance. All of my horses—in­clud­ing JW, shown here—get high-qual­ity for­age and grain and sup­ple­ments as needed. The key phrases are high-qual

ity— we never sac­ri­fice qual­ity for price or any other rea­son—and as

needed, be­cause we tailor our feed­ing pro­gram to each horse’s re­quire­ments.

Another vi­tal part of our feed­ing pro­gram: we feed our horses by the clock. I’ve men­tioned this be­fore in other ar­ti­cles, and it’s es­sen­tial for se­niors’ di­ges­tive health. At home, our horses are fed at the same time ev­ery day. When we’re on the road, we ad­just ac­cord­ingly by time zone.

Com­mit to Main­te­nance

When JW came to our barn eight or nine years ago, he had a bone spur in his right hock. The vet said if we in­jected his hocks twice an­nu­ally, he’d be com­fort­able and happy. We stuck to that schedule, and now he’s down to hav­ing in­jec­tions just once a year. Se­nior horses usu­ally come with some sort of an is­sue—or more than one. Com­mit­ting to the ve­teri­nary work re­quired to keep the horse com­fort­able and happy ex­tends his ca­reer and can even min­i­mize his is­sues to where they re­quire less main­te­nance.

The same goes for shoe­ing. Get the shoe­ing his feet re­quire, and have the far­rier out on the rec­om­mended schedule for that horse.

Ex­er­cise Ev­ery Day

JW gets out of his stall at least six days a week. Even if the weather is bad, he gets turned out to stretch his legs. We’re lucky in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia be­cause weather doesn’t af­fect us much. If you live in a more se­vere cli­mate, you’ll have to work at it to get your se­nior mount daily ex­er­cise, but it’ll be worth it. If you want longevity, your horse has to get out of his stall and get mov­ing. If you want a horse to get old be­fore his time, let him stand in a stall ev­ery day.

Some horses go play and run as soon as you turn them out. Oth­ers take more en­cour­age­ment. Be sure that your horse is get­ting the ex­er­cise he needs dur­ing turnout rather than just stand­ing around in the pas­ture. If he’s less apt to ex­er­cise him­self, you might need to put him on a walker or longe him in ad­di­tion to turnout.

Mind­ful Train­ing and Show­ing

A proven se­nior horse shouldn’t feel like he must have the run of his life ev­ery time he walks into the show pen. Yes, JW is shown to win when it mat­ters. But we also let him re­lax and breathe in the arena on a reg­u­lar ba­sis. He’s mostly a reiner, so we’ll en­ter him in ranch rid­ing to get him in the arena to fo­cus on some­thing other than run­ning cir­cles and slid­ing to stops. When we ask him for more in the rein­ing pen, he doesn’t re­sent it be­cause he’s had op­por­tu­ni­ties to take it easy.

For school­ing at home, we don’t drill him and pick at him. He knows his job, and his ma­neu­vers are solid. In­stead, we think about what needs pol­ish and work on those things. Oth­er­wise, his rid­ing at home fo­cuses on keep­ing him phys­i­cally fit.

When It’s Time to Re­tire

You’ll know when it’s time to back off your per­for­mance horse’s ca­reer. Brother White (“Preacher”) graced the pages of H&R many times, won count­less awards, and was a ter­rific per­former un­til his re­tire­ment at age 18. His de­par­ture from com­pe­ti­tion wasn’t abrupt; we eased him out of it. Even to­day, we con­tinue to main­tain him as a per­for­mance horse. He’s fed well. The vet goes over him at least twice yearly to iden­tify any po­ten­tial is­sues. He sees the far­rier reg­u­larly. And we still pam­per him like a show horse, be­cause that’s what he’s ac­cus­tomed to. Our per­for­mance horses have earned the right to a re­tire­ment that keeps them com­fort­able, healthy, and happy.

A com­pre­hen­sive se­nior per­for­mance man­age­ment pro­gram keeps him look­ing and feel­ing young.

LEFT: A se­nior per­for­mance horse that slows down ages faster than one that keeps mov­ing. Un­der-sad­dle work, as well as turnout, pro­vide nec­es­sary ac­tiv­ity. RIGHT: School­ing of a se­nior per­for­mance horse should be min­i­mal—he knows his job. Fo­cus on pol­ish­ing what needs work and keep­ing him in shape.

Bob Avila, Te­mec­ula, Cal­i­for­nia, is an AQHA world cham­pion, three-time NRCHA Snaf­fle Bit Fu­tu­rity win­ner, NRHA Fu­tu­rity champ, and two-time World’s Great­est Horse­man. He's been named the AQHA Pro­fes­sional Horse­man of the Year. Learn more at bobav­ila.net.

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