"Sixty is the new forty!" It's the battle cry of us baby boomers who just can't believe we're getting old. I suggest we cut that in half and make it a battle cry for our horses: "Thirty is the new twenty!" More horses can be comfortable and serviceable into their thirties. Alexander the Great’s war horse, Bucephalus, did it twenty three centuries ago, ranch horses do it today, and you’ve probably heard of other examples.
So why do some horses break down so much earlier? I think you know what I’m going to say. There are no simple answers. With that in mind, let’s consider some factors.
1. Too little exercise. You know you feel better when you are active. Your body is stronger and healthier. The same is true of horses. Horses that are worked every day as a rule have fewer health problems and a better shot at living into their thirties.
2. Too much exercise. Performance horses that are pushed too hard too young break down too soon. Enough said.
3. Wrong kind of feed. Grass hay should be the backbone of every horse’s diet. Minimize the alfalfa, the grain, and the sweet feed. Supplement the grass with an all-in-one packaged feed designed to go with grass.
4. Lack of socialization. The emotional strain on a herd animal that is not allowed to be with others of his kind has a cumulative effect. When horses are isolated and overprotected, it wears on their bodies much the way a high-stress job wears on yours.
5. Fate. Things happen. Healthy, well-managed horses get hurt or contract disease in spite of our best efforts. But why tempt fate?
If you’ve read my books and blogs, you know where I stand on the training and care of horses: make it as natural for the horse as possible. We cannot make life perfect for our horses any more than we can make it perfect for ourselves. But it’s important that we try.