EQUUS CON­SUL­TANTS

EQUUS - - Equus -

Rid­ing an older horse

Q:I have a Shire/Thoroughbr­ed mare who just turned 30 years old. She is healthy and still as spry as she was at 15. My ques­tion is this: I haven’t been on her in about two years and was won­der­ing if I would hurt her if I got on her now. Her back has dropped a bit but not dras­ti­cally. I wouldn’t do any­thing but walk and maybe a lit­tle trot­ting. We might go out on a trail. What do you think? Loretta Hor­ri­gan Hicksville, New York

A:A 30-year-old Shire cross is re­mark­able in it­self. If she is healthy and rea­son­ably sound you have a true bless­ing that is rare in the horse world. Cel­e­brate her! You do need to be care­ful on a horse this old who is not con­di­tioned for rid­ing, but it cer­tainly sounds like she could do a few laps around the pas­ture.

Be­fore you start, I would rec­om­mend talk­ing to your vet­eri­nar­ian about your rid­ing plans. A thor­ough phys­i­cal ex­am­i­na­tion can help make sure the horse is re­ally healthy and sound. Your vet­eri­nar­ian can also help you de­cide if your mare is still able to safely be an ath­lete again.

As you re­con­di­tion an ag­ing horse for trail rid­ing, you’ll need to go more slowly than you would with a younger one. Stick to walk­ing on level ground at first. You can grad­u­ally in­crease the du­ra­tion of the ride and trot a lit­tle, but re­mem­ber she is older now and is not in ath­letic con­di­tion. A lit­tle sweat and hard breath­ing means your horse is build­ing fit­ness, but scale back on your de­mands if it takes her more than 10 or 15 min­utes to re­turn to nor­mal af­ter you stop. You don’t want to ex­haust her.

Older horses also re­quire more time to recover from ex­er­cise. Give your mare two or three days of rest per week to al­low her body to ad­just to the new work­load. As with any ath­lete in train­ing, stay alert for signs of lame­ness or changes in at­ti­tude. The in­creased work may ag­gra­vate arthri­tis or other con­di­tions that had pre­vi­ously gone un­no­ticed.

Good luck! I hope you en­joy your horse for years to come. Bruce A. Con­nally, DVM, MS Wy­oming Equine Long­mont, Colorado

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