We love and appreciate our senior horses; they’re reliable mounts in and outside of the show pen, and they can also be great teachers for riders with less experience in the saddle because they know their jobs. But the way you ride and take care of your older horse day to day is probably going to differ from riding a younger horse.
Take time to evaluate your current training and riding routine, and see if these slight riding and horse-care adjustments can help your horse stay happier well into his golden years.
Avoid Mental Fatigue
Has your horse been doing the same job for several years now? If so, he’s probably experienced mental fatigue at some point in his career. It’s something that happens to all of us, both in our personal lives and riding.
If your horse knows his job and has years of training under his belt, reconsider how often you’re training on him. Instead of schooling him six times a week, like you might do with a younger horse that’s still trying to figure out basic maneuvers, maybe only include two or three training sessions into your weekly routine.
This doesn’t mean you can’t ride him on other days, but instead of drilling him on a pattern, or practicing the same obstacles over and over, give him something else to do. Exercise him under saddle, but on non-training days focus more on conditioning him and less on schooling. Let him move in an extended trot and lope around the arena and save the tougher tasks for a different day. These less-intense training sessions give him time to relax his mind and just enjoy being out in the arena with you.
Or try taking him out for a trail ride, or a ride around the property. Getting out of the arena isn’t just a good mental break for your horse, it can also help you relax and get rid of any mental fatigue you might have. It’s also a great way to bond.
On non-riding days you can also use a hot walker or longe line to your advantage. This will help him stay conditioned and fit, but still give him the time he needs to mentally recover before his next intense training session.
Turn Him Out
If your horse lives in a stall full-time, but you have access to pastures or paddocks for turnout, use them. I find that the best way to keep my show horses happy is by making sure they have time to relax outside and be a horse.
Obviously, this philosophy isn’t exclusive to senior horses, as I think all horses benefit from having time to just be a horse and spend the day outside, but when a horse has been doing a job for several years, I think that it’s extremely important to give them time to decompress and stay excited for the job they have ahead of them.
Horse Show Prep
If you compete, the way you prepare for a horse show is also going to differ from younger, less experienced horses.
Once you figure out your show schedule, start to plan your riding program around it. You don’t want your horse to peak before you get to the horse show, so you must be strategic with how you prepare him. This is especially important with horses that compete in patterned events, like reining or ranch riding.
It might seem like practicing the same pattern repeatedly is beneficial, but over-drilling an older horse that’s been doing these kinds of patterns for several years now can just cause additional burnout. Instead, slowly fine-tune your horse and focus on different pattern elements, then gradually ramp up your training over the next couple of weeks, or months, before your show.
After the show, give your horse plenty of down time so he can mentally, and physically, recover from the competition.