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Older Horse

 by Walter Berger © 2001

Many times you hear my horse is too old to do this or that, but the age tends to vary a lot when you actually ask for it. There aren’t many 10-year-old Thoroughbred racehorses, but there are quite a number of Pacers at that age. Most people would consider a ten-year-old pleasure or performance horse to be reasonably young, with many top dressage or Eventing horses not hitting their prime until their mid-teens. One example is the Ex-Olympic Eventer Kibah Tic-Toc who competed in the Badminton four-star Horse trials when he was eighteen.

In the less competitive world of trail riding, horses have been known to go on much longer. From personal experience I used to know a buckskin gelding of no particular breeding that used to be boss of a pack of about 55 horses. Mitchell used to go out on regularly on beginner and intermediate rides until he was about 36 years old. He made a fabulous lead horse, as he knew all the ways to bluff the horse behind him to stay there. The tricks included everything from tail swishing, pinning the ears back to actually baring the teeth while looking back at the horse behind him. He never actually did anything. He also knew all the trails (there were quite a few where we used to ride) and how to make it appear that the beginner had some control, while Mitchell was actually fully in charge. He died about five winters ago after getting pneumonia.

There is one example of longevity that I know of that falls in the category of exceptional. This particular horse is a gelding called Jumbo, who belongs to my neighbour. He is forty-three years old (43 – not a typo).

He used to be ridden by Dianne Russel as a child back in the early seventies and was quite successful in his time. At the Berwick Show in 1973 he won Champion Childs pony at age of 15. According to the judge he had a lot of quality, which was hard to find. Eighteen years ago 1983 whilst at the Melbourne Royal Show, he gained fame due to being stolen one day and turning up the day after in the center of Flemington racecourse, none the worse for wear.

Jumbo as he is and as he was

Picture of  Jumbo as 43 year old horse and younger pony

Currently his lifestyle is a bit more subdued. He has a bit of trouble chewing grass, but still loves getting the occasional titbit. He has progressed onto pellet food designed with the senior Equine in mind. And he still gives the occasional pony ride to kids.

Horses age at a different rate to us humans. An approximate translation is one horse year to three human years. Another age scale than can be used would be as below. But this too can vary between different horse breeds as some mature at different rates. So a 10 year old horse would be between 30 and 12+7+4+4+4+(5*2.5)=43.5 years old. In the case of Jumbo the three to one ratio would be more appropriate.

Horse Year

People Years

1

12

2

7

3

4

4

4

5

4

From 6

2.5

But just because a horse is aging, doesn’t mean that it should be retired, as age does not seem to affect horses in the same fashion as humans. They are born to walk and run around all their lives, and can usually do so until their lives are over. In fact moderate exercise will be off benefit to the horse, as it tends to keep them physically in a better condition. If the horse has had years of hard work, it may develop problems related to that. Sometimes arthritic or other changes will slow them down, but again exercise can sometimes slow these changes. If in doubt ask a vet. If not that way inclined ask a herbalist or horsy naturopath. There are drugs, herbs and additives available which can lessen the effects of arthritis.

What becomes the hardest thing to do is to actually keep weight on the horse. The average horse has about 6.5 centimeters of tooth in his head. When these are worn down to little stubs or gone totally it becomes very difficult for them to eat. It is important to regularly have the teeth checked to make sure that there are no problem teeth, which could make eating even harder. Anything coarse or hard is out. Fresh green grass, or soaked and therefore mushy pellet feeds are the best feeds at that stage. The age that this happens tends to vary a lot depending on the horse’s lifetime of feed and tooth care. A horse living on short pastures on sandy soil will have a shorter tooth life than one kept on long, lush pastures.

Basically a lot of it comes down to common sense. Good quality feed, moderate exercise, good foot and tooth care can help prolong and improve that favourite horses life. But sometimes all of that will not help to improve the comfort levels of the horse. Then it comes to personal choice as to what decision to make.

Postscript - Winter 2002 Jumbo passed away at the great age of 44.

For questions, drop me a line, Walter                                  TOP

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