The oldest horse is the world was said to live until the ripe old age of 62, equivalent to 186 in human years! Whilst most horses don’t reach this stage of old age, they are tending to live longer and healthier lives. The life expectancy of a horse can now reach well over 25 years but as they say, age is just a number. Different breeds can age at varying rates and the age of retirement is very much dependent on the individual horse. Knowing when to retire your horse is down to their capabilities rather than how long they’ve lived and how to retire them should be based on a mutual understanding between equine professionals, you and your horse.
When to retire
You and your horse will undoubtedly have a strong bond so you should be able to pick up on things when they’re not feeling quite right. Horses age at different rates but they are generally considered senior from the age of 15 onwards. As they age, they may tire faster during exercise and take longer to recover. You may also notice that they take a while to get moving in the mornings and appear stiff and sore the day after longer bouts of exercise.
It’s important to recognise their limits and take time out if they are showing signs of slowing down. If they are coming into their senior years but not showing many of these signs, it’s a good idea to consult regularly with the vet anyway as horses can be experts at concealing any ailments or concerns. Remember though, age is simply a number so go more by their physical capability and overall health than anything else.
If you decide that your horse has reached a point where they need to slow down, it’s not time to pack up their things and send them off to the nearest retirement home just yet. You don’t need to suddenly stop everything you and your horse are doing, it’s more of a case of reducing their current level of activity and learning how to adjust everything else accordingly.
In fact dropping their exercise routine completely can result in unwanted weight gain, loss of muscle mass and boredom. If your horse is struggling with certain activities, adjust when, where and how they exercise to better suit their changing needs. If they are starting to find hills and steep trails a mission, try swapping them for flatter routes and eventually use shorter ones. Lighter, more regular exercise may work better for your senior as opposed to longer rides. Additionally give them a longer warm up and cool down and consider treating them to a massage every so often to help alleviate any niggling muscle and joint pains.
When your horse begins to slow down in life and they are continuing with the same diet, weight gain can become an issue. Consult your vet or an equine nutritionist to tailor a suitable diet for your horse’s activity level, health concerns and age. Keep up with regular, low impact exercises and if they take supplements continue with them into their retirement.
When humans retire they often take up a new hobby or activity to keep them mobile, engaged and entertained. Horses are no different, retirement does not necessarily mean that they want to sit back and relax. Older horses can make perfect schoolmasters for novice riders as they can be more experienced and patient than younger horses. Senior horses can also be of benefit for older riders who only want to enjoy shorter and less strenuous rides. Similarly working horses who retire can still enjoy their previous profession, just perhaps not at the same level. A show-jumping horse can continue to jump, just not as high and a dressage horse can carry on pursuing those dancing dreams, just at a lower level.
Even when they reach the level of seniority where they can longer be ridden, your horse can still play an important and vital role in life. They can offer great companionship to other horses, be they senior or young, and can greatly benefit from this socialisation themselves. They can also still participate in activities they enjoy, for instance they could become a travel buddy to competing horses or take a soothing swim.
Sadly ageing is inevitable and there will come a time when your horse will not be the sprightly, energetic animal they once were. However slowing down should not mean sacrificing enjoyment in life and with the right veterinary care, affection and commitment you and you horse can continue to thrive well into their senior years. So, in the words of renowned writer Betty Friedan, “ageing is not lost youth but a new stage of opportunity and strength.”