Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Praise for the Older Horse

Why do so many horse lovers shy away from buying an older horse? This is a photo of Mary, a non-descript bay mare we owned for years. We all rode her: me, my sister, our nieces, visiting friends and relatives, even my husband. My sister and I knew that Mary would babysit our mother,too, so we'd toss a western saddle onto Old Mary's back and our mom would climb aboard and ride Mary in our arena and on the trails. Mary was at least 15 when we bought her, and at least 20-s0mething when things in our family changed and Mary needed to go to a new home. She became a well-loved babysitter in a neighbor's family.

There are lots of older horses out there, just like Mary. Though they may sprout gray hair on their faces, and their teeth may grow long and yellowed, they are valued, reliable horses for beginning and novice riders. In fact, many an older horse-- providing it's still sound and spry-- makes an excellent mount for more experienced riders. The older horse is often blessed with a decade or more of training, making them a suitable team mate for a skilled rider.

Two of the best horses I ever competed were well into their 20's while I was winning hunter championships and hunt seat medal classes on them. They knew their job and they seemed to live for the atmosphere of the showgrounds.

I guess I'm bringing up the topic of older horses because it seems that more and more often I'm crossing paths with horse lovers who are in the market for their first horse-- or they're saving for their dream horse-- and it's usually a horse that's really, really young and really, really green. I'm talking even yearlings. Not that there's anything wrong with buying a baby and starting it yourself, but... It's undeniably a long, unsure process and you might not end up with the horse you thought you were going to have.

I just wish more riders would consider an older horse. These old souls have much to offer. And though they may sometimes be a little creaky in the joints, or exhibit other signs of age-related wear and tear, their character, charm and training often make up for the extra TLC they need.

If you have any comments about older horses, you can share them by clicking on "comments" below.


Anonymous said...

ok,ok,but what if you have a limited amount of money for your horse and can't affored extra TLC?

Anonymous said...

Most of my jobs have been working with 24 years and older horses, and I believe that they have just as much love and energy than those young 'uns. I am sad with how we sometimes look to an old, grey-haired, swayed-back backyard pal as too old, or unfashionable, but I can honestly tell you, this world wouldn't be half as good without them and their sparkling personalities.

Anonymous said...

I did have an older horse for three years, from 2003 to 2006. His name was Teddy and he was possibly the best horse I could have ended up with.

In 2002, I was eleven years old and a beginner, even though I had been riding for six years. I was stuck at one level, and the horse I was leasing at the time, Leo, wasn't helping. He was fat, lazy and moved only when he felt like it.
Then I met Teddy in April, 2003. He was a rescue case - he was terrified of people, abused, and skinny. I don't know what it was, but when I first saw him, I just felt like there was a connection. I started working with Teddy on the side - I fed him personally, mixed his beet pulp, groomed him, bathed him, pulled his mane. I was the first on his back. I have to say I was TERRIFIED of him... until he started moving. He had a grace, and I just knew he would take care of me. I started leasing him five months later and my riding improved almost immediately. We only went to two shows that season and I still ended up with a year-end award, and I still have no idea how.
Through 2004, we made a name for ourselves. In early 2004, we had more than 30 entries in our division.... and by the end of 2004, at the year-end show, there was only three. My coach joked that we "scared off all the entries."
In 2005, we evented at the Green as Grass level, and I found a new love for dressage. However, his soundness wasn't what it was and I rode him less. By September, we had decided to retire him. In February, 2006, he was retired from riding forever. In August, 2006, we moved Teddy to a retirement home. I was heartbroken. I still am. The look in his eyes as I left... I just felt so horrible. It was kind of a look that said, "You had me... and now you're leaving me?"
I'm visiting Teddy in April when I get my license, a week before he turns 21.
I can honestly say that Teddy was the best thing that happened to me. Even when my riding went downhill after owning Seeker (that's a story for another day!), Teddy was the horse I could rely on, and to give him up that day simply broke my heart.

Old horses are definitely a charm. :) My parents promised me that when they buy their retirement home (as soon as I'm in college which's pretty soon) with a lot of land, Teddy is coming home.

Now, after raving about my wonderful wonderful horse... I have to do APUSH. Toodles!

(Here's a picture -

Jessica N. said...

One of my best friends has a 20 year old Thoroughbred mare who is very calm and has helped me get more confidence on horses, even if it's just on the trail. But she also still loves to run fast if you ask her to.
Although it is nearly impossible for me to get a horse, I did find a beautiful mare around 20 years old that I would have loved to have. Unfortunately, we have no place to keep a horse and my parents are too excited about the idea. Maybe someday...

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

I completely agree! My first full size horse was 11 when my dad bought him. I was also 11! Now, we are 22 and I have SO many wonderful stories of our adventures. We have never shown, just rode on trail rides and in parades, but let me tell you...we have done some pretty cool cowboy stuff together! Thunder is still as good as new and will go anywhere I ask. Although I don't have time to ride him but about once a month, he is such a joy. When I ride Thunder, we connect as one and no one else will ever feel that way on him. He is still just as pretty now as he was then. He is a paint with beautiful blue eyes. My husband and I also have an older mutt horse that we got from his grandfather for free. This guy's personality is amazing. For almost 30 years, he acts like a 4 year old and has a wonderful sense of humor! Deek shows no signs of aging and I have a feeling we will have him for a good long time. Deek and Thunder are such a pleasure to have and ride. I would not trade my old guys for anything (that is what I call them!) I think that their life experiences make them more valuable than anything. Both of my guys look and feel young and I love them so much! See this great picture of them together:

Amy :)

Jessica said...

I completely agree with you about the older horses. My very horse became mine when she was 12, and I continued to ride her well into her twenties before she had to be put down due to serious colic-type case. There is something to be said for the older-wiser horses, and this mare tought me an incredible amount along with being one of my best friends growing up.
Now, I have two young horses (I'm a sucker for punishment haha), and as you said they are very green. Basic training has always been a love of mine, so I really really enjoy them. However, there are MANY days when I just wish for one more chance to ride my older mare.

Jessica said...
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Cindy Hale said...

Thanks for the comments. I got some interesting emails as well about some special equine senior citizens. The photos are nice, too!

I do agree that if you're on a tight horse budget, an older horse that requires like joint supplements and maybe some special shoeing may strain the piggy bank. But usually an older horse initially costs less in the beginning due to the animal's age. I'm certainly not implying that everyone should rush out to buy an older horse, just that they should consider one.

Anonymous said...

Our Buckskin Gelding is 30 years young and the best one of all of our horses. He is even in the Sheriff's Mounted Patrol as a volunteer! Older horses are great!

Anonymous said...

Wow, After reading this post and all these comments, I have been remimbering all the great horses I've ridden. And all of them were over 7!! I love my horses, my good ol' horses!

Anonymous said...

Maybe my idea of "older horse" is older than some others. :-) To me, the older horse is around 19 and older. I think these horses are wonderful, but I can see why a lot of people are afraid to invest in one. The biggest concern, I would think, is what to do with your senior horse when he isn't sound to ride any longer. Where most people don't keep horses at home anymore, paying a board bill on a pet can be a budget breaker.

carrie said...

I have had horses since I was 10 years old and had horses from all age ranges.
But I have had 3 three horses live into their late 20's and one is still with me.
Domino was 21 one when he went to the big pasture in the sky. Fatso was 27 (and I owned him all 27 years!)and Ardie is now 26.
I bought these horses as youngsters, training them and showing them successfully. But I have to agree that as they aged they became more reliable for anyone of any age to ride.
Domino and Ardie in their younger days I would never have put anyone who was not experienced on them!
Fatso even as a young horse, was reliable from beginner to advanced though he wasn't as good of a competitor as the others.
Domino at 21 took me to the Ohio State fair 4-H competition over fences where we placed in both the championship classes over fences.
Ardie was my "Eventer" and jumper. We placed may times and at age 24 took a few reserved championships at local horse shows;and he was still getting blues over fences!
At age 26 Ardie is now retired from jumping and is just a walk/trot competitor for the younger kids.
I guess what I am trying to say is just because a horse has a few miles and years on them don't count them out they are still great horses to have and own no matter what kind of care is needed!!!

Anonymous said...

My baby is 20 years old, and we have 26 year old mare that still takes off in the pasture. I completely agree with you =)

Thanks for being an inspiration as a writer and horse owner/enthusiast for me =)