Why choose to buy an older horse?
There are endless reasons as to why owners choose to buy an older horse. You may need a horse to ride casually, enter in local equestrian circuits or a horse for your family. Older or senior horses are great choices for a more slowed down lifestyle. They come with wisdom, discipline, and most have a skill or two they’ve learnt during their working life.
So how do you know where to look?
There are some organizations that deal with an adoption of retired horses. Some are adoption agencies for retired race horses or horses that have had to be surrendered due to being ill-treated or simply that the owner does not have the capacity to care for a horse any longer.
Settling them in
Before you take your new horse home try and find out as much from their previous owner that you can. Their sleeping habits, feed, and play preferences, and even their training or competing plan. Don’t forget their health and medical history. By arming yourself with as much information as possible, you can minimise change as much as possible in the first few weeks. Once things settle down, you can then adapt their routine to fit more in at home. Take your time, ring people that you know who have taken on an older horse and ask for advice on settling them into your stable. There are some support groups online so let your fingers do the walking for information. Slow and steady is the key to minimising stress and anxiety.
So can you teach an old horse new tricks?
Don’t be put off adopting an older horse due to any pre-set discipline or even behavioural traits. Everyone deserves a second chance and a new start in life. How many times have you thought to yourself that you wouldn’t mind a do-over in life? Older horses get that. They get a new family, hopefully, some new stable friends, and for some a new career. You get patience (hopefully), maturity (usually), and loyalty (always!) by taking on an older horse.
Where on earth do you start?
So you’ve brought your new “older” horse home, and you want to train them in a new discipline. Like anything, do your homework. Using their previous training and exercise plan as mentioned above can give you an insight into their routine. You can use this to your advantage by easing a new horse into a familiar training routine. Patience is the key with training a new horse, regardless of age. Be clear in your communication and praise them regularly to encourage positive behaviour. Horses are extremely intelligent and inquisitive animals so for most they will thoroughly enjoy learning something new. Balance out working and play time to let them work off some energy and steam. All work and no play make for a dull life indeed.
Now to avoid the elephant in the room. Medical problems. Taking on an older horse is going to mean you have to be a little more diligent when it comes to dental, full health checks and farrier work. Having a full medical report from the previous owner will narrow down the guesswork in your horse’s health history. Older horses require biannual equine dental checks, annual full health checks by the veterinarian and regular checks by a farrier.
Maintaining a well-balanced diet and providing high-quality feed and water will ensure that you need fewer visits from the vet. Remember to keep in mind the age of your horse when developing their training plan to avoid overworking them, or running into a previous injury. There are an amazing number of websites that address older horse issues or concerns.
Just like us, horses can have a few bad habits, or “character traits” if we are putting a positive spin on it! Harmless habits are the little quirks that have become a lifelong habit. These can be preferences to eating hay off the floor as opposed to a hay net or doing a full turn on the spot before entering the stable. I’m sure there are many of you who could rattle off a handful of harmless habits that your horse, young or old, has. My piece of advice when it comes to harmless habits is not to sweat the small stuff. Be patient with your older horse. Some tasks may take a few extra minutes to do that “special thing” like getting your horse into a trailer.
Don’t fix it if it ain’t broke. If you do attempt to fix something remember that it will take time, cajoling, and patience to re- teach something that has now become fixed.
Don’t be scared about buying an older horse. Do your homework and take your time. Their loyalty will be reward enough. Check your local trading posts or contact ex-discipline organisations for adoptions. Your local animal welfare center should also have a contact or two.
Article brought to you by Abler Equine Pharmaceuticals – offering affordable equine medication since 2008