When to Retire the Older Horse


-By Charles Wilhelm-

At this time, like the medical care for humans that extends our lives and allows us to remain active as we get older, the same is true for horses. If you keep a horse in good physical shape by riding two or three times a week, provide good nutrition and be consistent with worming to keep the digestive system in good shape, an older horse should continue to have a comfortable and active life. Correct shoeing and chiropractic care as needed are important. And, for an older horse, dental care is really important. To have adequate nutrition, a horse needs to be able to grind up his food for absorption.

I don’t retire a horse until a veterinarian tells me there is something physically wrong with the horse. The first horse I ever rode was a very active 33-year-old Army horse who ran away with me. That was over 60 years ago when we did not have the level of medical, chiropractic and dental care that we have today. I have a friend who rode a 34-year-old fire service horse for 6 days on a wagon train ride in the Blue Mountains of Oregon. He did just fine on the hills, over dead falls and down the mountain sides.

One of the most important ways in which we can extend the life and health of our horses is proper exercise and riding. The first picture is of my horse Tennison. At 23 he looked like a 7-year-old. He had a nice topline and he had only dropped slightly in the back, which is normal, and he still had lovely muscle tone in his shoulders and hind quarters. I had his hocks injected then for the first time and he felt even better and more active.

The second picture is of El Duca, a 24-year-old Paso Fino. He was ridden three to four times a week. He did arena work and went up the steep trail to the rim of the canyon above my ranch. With proper care and proper riding his muscle tone and top line remained good. He remained active and healthy and was ridden for nine more years.

With proper care we can keep our horses sound for a long time. At 67 when people asked me why I didn’t retire my response was, “Why, so that I can get fat and lazy?” When we don’t stay active, we gain weight. [I] was still riding six to eight horses each day and my days were ten to twelve hours long. I take care of myself and stay fit and healthy and we can do the same for our horses.

It bothers me when someone says they have to retire their horse. As a horse gets older you can’t use him as strenuously. You can’t go on 100-mile rides but you can certainly go on a nice trail ride and work your horse enough to break a sweat. An older horse, in good health, can go on a 25-mile ride without a problem if you have maintained his conditioning. If you let him go until he is out of shape and falling apart and then you go on a 25-mile ride, you are going to damage him. With proper care and exercise our horses can have long, healthy and enjoyable lives. It is a great way to build your horse’s trust and improve your relationship.

Charles Wilhelm

Charles’ warm and relaxed demeanor has made him a favorite at regional and national clinics and demonstrations. Charles offers extensive hands-on learning programs for every level of horsemanship.  He may be reached through his web site: http://www.charleswilhelm.com/