Old horses. Old horses. When are horses really “OLD,” though?

I’ll start this out with a very appropriate intro:

  • Back in the day, when my Papaw was a young man, when he called a horse “aged” at 18, it was fair. Yes, it was true that a horse, at that time, pushing twenty, having been worked intensively, without easy access to dental care, educated farrier care and modified nutrition, could have been considered beyond his prime (though not always, even then).

Things change. Not always for the better, but in this case, yes, it happens to be for the best. In 2019, there is little reason to consider most horses of twenty to be a old and beyond use and function in the riding world. While there are exceptions and certain breeds do AGE better than others, there aren’t many times a 20 year old horse in good health is a retirement ready horse.

Actually, these horses are the overlooked gems of the equine industry, I believe. Heaven knows, with as many as I have handled, saved, rehabbed and placed, I can attest to that. And just imagine, I am speaking about the 25 year old horse that has not been cared for well.

Horse and Rider recently put out an article saying: “30 is the new 20,” and it really is. I hear more and more about owners with horses nearing 40 than many would believe possible. While I am glad for the advances that allow horses to thrive to this age, I find we don’t yet have a full shift in view that says and understands and acts like:

“20 year old horses still have years of ability and function ahead.”

With the changes in understanding  and care on equine teeth and feeding, a horse of twenty can expect 10 to 20 (yes, even 20) years of life ahead, and a lot of that time can have useful riding miles within it. The truth is, with great care, a 20 year old horse is basically only middle aged. A sizable portion of horses in the USA right now are over 15 years old, and shifting the mindset of horse owners that says 20 doesn’t mean retirement age will help keep these horses safe and useful!

It is hard to explain how hurtful to horses labels like “old” and “senior” can be when people use the terms for 13 to 16 year old horses. These horses do not deserve such labels when they are really in a the prime of their lives. Neither do those a bit older.

When you overlook great horses due to the age being 20 +, please stop and consider the story of Bob and Magic, the oldest Arabian horse at the time the story broke, of 45 years that was still being trail ridden and super fit at that age! Or think of Claire with her Arabian,Mercury, who was 27 upon completing the 100 Mile Tevis Cup in 16th place. Most horses who begin this race cannot finish it.

It isn’t that these horses are exceptions, folks. It is that these horses have exceptional people who knew horses over 20 are not “old” horses just due to a number and gave good care and maintained fitness. So once again, as with most equine problems, we see the issue being with the mindset of people.

While Heart of Phoenix and many rescues, deal with a large number of very young, untrained horses, we do have horses in their upper teens through twenties come through often enough to know how important a shift in public view is on this issue.

All of the horses in the slideshow below are HOP horses over 20 that were adopted as active riding horses.

Continued reading on fitness, feeding and competition for horses 20 and up here