"When your horse follows you without being asked, when he rubs his head on yours, and when you look at him and feel a tingle down your spine...you know you are loved."
John Lyons, American horse trainer
image via Equus
If you've had a horse for a long while, you know the above quote from John Lyons is true. And as you retire your horse from jumping or racing or hauling, you and your horse become better friends. You become closer emotionally, and because you spend more quiet time together, you perfect your ability to share just head nods and facial expressions.
Don't make the mistake, though, that it's enough for you and your older horse just to exchange glances; you need to get her movin' and groovin' every day to keep her in shape. No, she won't be jumping or racing, but she will get to enjoy herself in other ways.
1. Spend daily, quality time with your senior horse.
One of the best activities to share with your horse is grooming. A good brushing feels good for both of you and it's a great time to share secrets too. Talking too and gently stroking and massaging your horse a few times a day is a zen tonic for both of you.
2. Get a good veterinary check-up for your horse.
image via JORDAN ROSS | THE CARILLON
Give your horse a complete exam by your regular equine veterinarian or a geriatric equine specialist. Blood tests, neurological examination, strength, and range of motion tests. Ask your veterinarian to recommend specific activities for you and your horse.
3. Feed the proper diet for your horse's needs.
"Choose softer grasses such as orchard grass, brome, or timothy," says DVM Sarah Ralston, an associate professor in the Department of Animal Science at Rutgers University advises. "Avoid alfalfa, clover, or other legume hays because they are very high in calcium, which is really hard on the old kidneys." (source)
Your veterinarian will let you know if your horse needs a special diet. If her teeth are worn or she has digestive problems, it is not unusual. If you have an older horse as well as younger horses, you should feed and water your older horse separately, so she is not intimidated by the others to eat or drink - and so there's food left for your old girl, who may be more reticent around the younger horses
4. Do stretching exercises with your horse.
Motivate your horse with his favorite raw treats and healthy cookies.
Gently, manually stretch your horse's legs, hips, and neck daily. This will get blood flowing to his joints and help his mobility. You know how good it feels to stretch your own joints before a walk or run. Guess who loves that too! Try these exercises or check out this short video to get you started.
You can also teach yoga exercises to your horse.
5. Ride or walk your horse.
After your stretch do some aerobic exercise; it's important for humans and horses, especially as we age. Exercise keeps our bodies and brains from atrophy. If you were accustomed to running your horse, trot if he's up to it, or just walk. Don't take a rugged path; take a smooth one. Stop and sniff. Have a talk; then exercise again. You don't have to wear your horse out, but make whatever you do a challenge if he's in a good way. His energy will change periodically..
6. Horse toys
Horse toys are great stall and ring de-stressers and they also provide exercise. Your horse can control how much energy he wants to expend. Find some of the best horse toys here. If you play along with your horse, it's much more fun. Here is "Hot Rod" playing with his Jolly Ball.
7. Teach your horse tricks
8. Build an obstacle course for your horse
Source: North Horse
I like this idea better than teaching tricks to a horse. Course navigating is a very good mental as well as physical exercise, even if it's not super active. Whether your horse is a retired jumper or not, an obstacle course is challenging and fun. If he can't jump, he can step over, he can walk around, or he can enter and hold up a leg.... It's all up to your imagination and the trust you two have in each other. This book will give you freshman to graduate ideas for obstacle course options.
It's a privilege to own an older horse. Take good care of him.