Keeping the golden oldies supple and active
One thing we all will struggle with one day, is retiring our horse from ridden work. Whether you’ve been competing in any sport, riding at home or hacking, it’s a sad day but always comes with the horses welfare at heart.
Luckily in horse years, 20 is the new 16, horses are living and staying in work longer than ever due to the advances in veterinary care, increased knowledge in therapy and rehabilitation, developments in supplements, arena surfaces, tack and shoeing. So, to make the most of your beloved mount, what can you do to maximise health, suppleness and activity? Thankfully, there is so much you can do, almost anything you would consider doing as part of your health routine, could also be beneficial to your horse. Throughout your horse’s years, from young, to veteran, making sure that exercise is gradual, regular, fair on their body and always with the question “are they as fit and supple as they can be” in your mind. It still surprises and frustrates me that some owners feel that after a month off, it’s OK to jump on and go for a good gallop up a hill, or go in a school and ask them to do a work out. Would you do that to yourself?
Making sure a horse is equally supple and balanced means they will be working their body as evenly as possible, therefore loading weight as equally as possible and not overbearing on one limb. Overloading limbs and muscle imbalances will cause problems and will likely lead to soundness issues over time. Regularly stopping and looking at your horse will tell you so much. If unsure, ask your animal therapist to show you how to read the signs. Just getting them to stand up square and by looking that their shoulders and back end will tell you what is going on underneath you, some things are so subtle you may not feel them but they are actually have a significant effect on the horses body. Changing the tiniest preference can make a huge different not only in their comfort and ability but also an evenly balanced horse is a much easier to ride!
Just like we lubricate a car engine with oil, or take cod liver oil ourselves, joint relief supplements that are scientifically proven to have positive benefits can really reduce the immense pressure horses joints face. Remember, horses aren’t actually designed that well for being ridden, so if we can help them out, why wouldn’t you. I know the supplement market is a minefield but speak to stockists and fellow owners and trainers for advice and experience. You don’t have to spend a fortune but equally, if you buy cheap, you won’t be giving them the correct amount.
When riding, the warm-up and cool down is just as important as the main exercise. Again, it doesn’t matter if your planning a happy hack, a dressage session or a jumping session, give the horse time to warm up, get their muscles firing and joints flexing and extending. Would you jump out of bed and immediately start running or jumping, I know I wouldn’t, or couldn’t! A solid warm up and cool down will prevent pulls and tears which can be so detrimental in later years. The older the horse, the longer the warmup and cool down may take in order for them to feel as athletic as he once did. This is normal but not to be over looked or hurried, cutting corners on an older horse is more likely to cause a strain on his body than if he were younger and remember, the older they get, the longer things take to heal and as such the longer you are potentially out of the saddle.
Working your horse on surfaces that cushion and absorb their weight and movement is key to prolonging soundness and avoid jarring. Some older horses who once enjoyed road work and being ridden on grass may start to indicate things aren’t quite what they used to be. Stride length may alter, they may be less willing to go forward and they may appear to be less energetic. All this could be due to joint pain and concussion and potentially some foot bruising. In contrast, putting them on a good equestrian surface, you suddenly feel their natural movement return. This isn’t to say, stop hacking out, but just be aware of what may be going on under you.
If I relate horse care back to people. It’s no different to the OAP’s in my village, they all stay fit, eat well, don’t appear to smoke or drink too much (if they do they hide it well ) and they are all going strong in their 70’s! I should really take note, put the glass of gin down, throw away the curry house takeaway menu and get my sweat bands on for a walk with the ladies of Beckford!