Senior horses are often a better fit for older riders.
Gail M. Staines, Ph.D.
Founder, The Senior Horse
Recent statistics indicate that baby boomers (those of us born between 1946 and 1964) make up 21.19% of the U.S. population or about 70 million people, with about 50% being female and 50% male (Statistica, 2021). There are approximately 2 million horse owners in the U.S. (Equo, 2017) of which 93% are women (Loving, 2020).
An estimated 9.2 million horses reside in the United States. (American Horse Council, 2017). And according to the National Animal Health Monitoring System 2015 survey, 11.4% of horses in the U.S. (or about 1 million) are over the age of 20. Interestingly, more than 50% of horses over 20 are still being ridden and 10% still compete! (Paradis, 2011)
Although the number of people owning horses is declining, the percentage of Baby Boomers owning horses has increased from 6% in 2005 to 18% in 2017 (Loving 2020).
These statistics clearly indicate that older adults are increasingly becoming horse owners (at least in the U.S.), that most horses are owned by women, and that horses are living longer, healthier, more active lives!
Life is Getting Shorter
It is most likely that the increase in older adults wanting to become horse owners is the realization that one’s own life is getting shorter. Dreams of having your own horse may need to become a reality sooner rather than later. Great!
Go ahead and reminisce about when you rode for hours at summer riding camp, took long trail rides, raced up-and-down hills, jumped a course, and showed in your first horse show. Pull out those photos from long ago and feel the joy of riding, and grooming, and just being around these incredible creatures.
Then, take a big breath, and stop….WHOA!!
Almost 100% guaranteed that if you have not ridden in years or only participated in an occasional trail ride, your experience riding today will be an eye-opener. Our bodies do not work like they did 20, 30, or 40 years ago. Even the healthiest individuals in this age category will find that the joints do not work as smoothly and that the brain-to-body part connection is slower. You may find memorizing a jumper course or a dressage test a bit challenging. (Thank goodness for readers!). Even picking out a horse’s hooves can be a task in and of itself.
You may have dreams of finally acquiring your dream horse – a youngster that you can train yourself from the ground up or one under 10 years of age that should be good if you send it to a good trainer for a 30-day tune-up. (As a side note, there is no such thing as 30-, 60-, or 90- training. Useable, safe training takes years.)
What option do you have? Consider the senior equine!
Why older over younger?
Most horses over the age of 16 have “been there and done that” including:
haltered and lead with a lead rope
tacked-up (saddle and bridle)
mounted and un-mounted
groomed (on cross ties, tied, or ground-tied)
trained (at some point in time) to walk, trot/jog, canter/lope, and gallup
seen by a veterinarian (e.g., given vaccines, blood drawn)
seen by an equine dentist/veterinarian (have had teeth floated)
seen by a farrier (hooves trimmed, possibly shod)
rode on a trailer
If the senior horse has been recently active (being ridden as opposed to being in a pasture for a long time), it should be fairly unflappable……meaning safer than a younger horse.
Time is Ticking
Another way to put this into perspective is time. Let’s say, as of today, you are 60 years of age and in good health. If you want to get back into horse ownership, purchasing a seasoned horse of 16-, 17-, or 18-years should give you 5-10 years of riding time. Your age doesn’t stand still either, so in 5 years you will be 65….in 10 years 70.
We all wish to ride for as long as possible while doing so safely. A senior horse provides you with the opportunity to ride on day 1, rather than spend a few years training a younger horse. And, as most of us are aware, purchasing a younger horse then selling it a few years later is not an investment. If you are lucky, you will break even – maybe.
Time is something that we can never recapture. Enjoying ever moment with a horse you can enjoy immediately is definitely something to think about.
American Horse Council. (2017). Economic impact of the United States horse industry. https://www.horsecouncil.org/resources/economics/
Equo. (2017). The horse industry by the numbers. https://www.ridewithequo.com/blog/the-horse-industry-by-the-numbers
Loving, N. (2020). Trends in the equine industry. EquiManagement. https://equimanagement.com/articles/trends-in-the-equine-industry
Navarra, K. (2017). NAHMS survey results on age of equine population. Stable Management. https://stablemanagement.com/articles/nahms-survey-results-on-age-of-equine-population
Paradis, M. (2011). Demographics of aging in the horse. (Proceedings). DVM 360. https://www.dvm360.com/view/demographics-aging-horse-proceedings
Statistica. Research Department. (2021). Population distribution in the United States in 2019 by generation. https://www.statista.com/statistics/296974/us-population-share-by-generation/