When is a horse old? We have to stop calling “20 year old horses” seniors. They are not old horses.

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

11 thoughts on “When is a horse old? We have to stop calling “20 year old horses” seniors. They are not old horses.

  1. I have a Canadian mare and Percheron/Thoroughbred gelding who are both 20 and in relatively good health. So glad to read your thoughts on this topic!

  2. I also find it sad that, with an animal that potentially has 25 or more years of working life, people see the need to get them under saddle and working by 2 … which leads to too many unsound horses by around 8 years of age.

  3. Great article, I have a 29 year old OTTTB who still does trails like a champ. A 20 year old QH with Navicular who still does trails (Navicular is manageable) and a 17-ish rescue. All geldings….none lacking any spring in their step, either, lol❤️

    1. Just wondering how you manage your horse Navicular as I have a mare that is on 6 and has it. She is fine for awhile when we bring her into to work then starts to go lame

      1. Julie – allowing the back of the foot to become functional again is usually all it takes to not just manage ‘navicular,’ but more often than not, resolve it entirely.
        Address diet (typically this involves reducing starch/ESC intake, plus doing some careful mineral balancing), *aggressively* treat for thrush, and use boots with pads as needed to help encourage a heel-first landing, and see what happens 😉

  4. My fruend has a Norwegian Fjord that is at least 36 maybe older. He looks amazing and spray as can be. He was a driving horse who lost his team mate a couple years back also in his 30s.

  5. My husband and I wanted to learn how to ride as adults. We had zero horse experience and a wise mentor suggested finding a horse 20+ that already had training. I purchased 2 horses 25 and 29 years old (for the same price as 1 younger horse) and it has been such a pleasure to learn with them. Older is better in so many ways!

  6. Excellent article! 5 years ago, I took a chance and spent $1000 on a 20 year old gelding for my 7 year old niece. He helped her win many ribbons, prizes, and buckles in Western Pleasure, Omoksees, Horseback Archery, and Rodeo Queening. Now, at 25, she is ready for something a little younger, and I will get to use this wonderful guy for light trail rides and local shows. He is still feeling great and looking good. Had I known what he would turn out to be, I would have spent 5x that much!

  7. Arabian owners know that our Arabians are very much still quite capable of hard work well into their late 20s, but the story of Bob and Magic is not quite accurate. The horse which Bob is shown riding is Magic’s son, not Magic.

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