Great for Them and for You!
Gail M Staines, Ph.D.
Founder, The Senior Horse
April 19, 2021
Horses, like humans, slow down as they age. However, this does not mean that they cannot continue to have exercise as a primary component of their health and well-being. In fact, senior horses benefit greatly from regular, consistent exercise. Like you gaining weight, losing muscle and the ability to move around by being idle, eating, without any form of exercise as you age, the horse also gains weight, experiences bone loss, and can be on the road to developing such medical issues as PPID (Pituitary Pars Intermedia Dysfunction also known as equine Cushing’s disease).
Engaging your senior equine with low impact exercise maintains muscle tone, keeps circulation going, may assist in reducing incidents of colic, and will improve your horse’s (and your) over all well-being.
Consistent Exercise is Key
Many of us lead busy lives with work and family resulting in limited time spent with horses. Sometimes we become “weekend warriors” with our horses – only riding on the weekends. Since we want to get the most out of our time with our horse, we may overdue it by going on longer trail rides, over training, or riding in too many competitions. This is not a good exercise plan for your senior equine. In this situation, your horse may be somewhat sedentary during the week. Ramping up exercise on the weekend may result in your older equine becoming quite sore (or lame) and take a lot longer to recover. This does not mean that you should avoid exercising your senior equine; it just means that you should aim at doing this in moderation as well as consistently.
The older horse (like any horse) should be outside a good portion of the day/evening in an area where they can roam, eat, drink water, and rest at will. This self-exercise should be a large part of your horse’s day. However, for the older horse who may not move on its’ own as much as a younger one, additional low impact exercise is quite useful to keeping healthy and happy.
Exercise Does Not Need to be Boring
Exercising your older horse on a regular basis does not mean that it needs to be boring. Develop a weekly exercise plan based on what your horse is capable of doing without harm. For example, a 20-something horse could still be able to follow this type of weekly program with daily turnout:
Monday – rest day
Tuesday – riding lesson
Wednesday – rest day/spa day
Thursday – light training ride
Friday – rest day
Saturday – fun ride
Sunday – light training ride
If your horse is able, practicing a dressage test or Western pattern, hopping over small jumps, or working on your equitation is fine.
Also, horses (like people) do enjoy some variety in their exercise routine. During inclement weather (and if you have access to an indoor arena or covered area) keep on with your exercise schedule – just be creative! Here are some examples:
Walk a dressage test or Western pattern
Walk/trot (jog) around barrels or cones
Set up a jump course without poles or with poles on the ground and “pretend” jumping courses at the walk and/or trot
Teach your horse a new trick
One of my favorites is to turn Frankie out in the indoor arena and play! This can be more structured play (I can lunge him (without the lunge line) on just voice commands) or just interacting with him at liberty.
Senior horses need exercise to stay healthy and happy – both physically and mentally. Develop your own daily exercise schedule, aiming for 30 minutes of exercise several times a week.
Even if you do not have time during the week to do a full ride, exercise your senior horse for at least 30 minutes (provided they are healthy and able to do this without stress). Be creative! On days you are unable to ride, spending time hand walking your horse along with good spa time (bath and/or super grooming session) gives you opportunities to bond. You should feel the connection to your horse, and your horse’s connection to you, strengthen.
Have fun and interesting exercises to share? Feel free to respond to this post!
Kentucky Equine Research. (n.d.). Exercise Benefits Older Horses: Regular Exercise Crucial for Keeping Your Mature Horse Sound. http://horsebitsmagazine.com/Events-Calendar/ArtMID/2540/ArticleID/224/Exercise-Benefits-Older-Horses
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