Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Thirty is the New Twenty

"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.


MustangGirl said...

Hi Rick!

I couldn't agree more - horses need to be as natural as possible. My three horses get to roam on 25 acres of lightly wooded, varied terrain. They are fed grass hay twice a day. The older two get fed Senior feed as well. The younger guy is half Mustang and an easy keeper for sure. Since we only have a small field of pasture, they are brought out about 3 times a week to graze for an hour or two - have to balance the need of the field with their love of grass. My oldest mare is a 28 year old Standardbred off the track - and she is in amazingly good condition. Unfortunately with kids now grown and out of the house, they don't get ridden as much as they used to, but they keep themselves fit by wandering on the acreage. I've even learned to predict the weather by observing where they are and what they're doing. On the rare occasions that I find them in the run-in shed, I know they are saying "Noah - get the ark!"

Rick said...

I am so jealous. Not just envious. Downright jealous!!! You have what sounds like an ideal setup. I'm sure it took plenty of effort and planning. And yes, horses can tell us plenty about the world around us. Observing them is not only illuminating for us, but just downright fun. My studio faces out on my horse area so as I write or work on my shows I have my horses in front of me at all times. What I've learned from just watching!

Shiner said...

Considering that I will be 60 on my next birthday and my favorite gelding will be 28, I found this blog to be very timely! I couldn't agree more with the "Live natural" premise, either. I am convinced that is why my horses (as well as my dogs, goats, and cats) nearly all have lived and remained active and healthy far beyond the average lifespans for their species. I truly feel sorry for horses that are restricted to stalls, dogs that are restricted to houses and crates, and cats that are confined in small apartments. Just the inevitable boredom and lack of exercise they must endure in such unnatural living arrangements is undoubtedly negatively contributing to their mental and physical well-being.

Barbara said...

This year I lost an old girl who was pushing forty. It was sort of funny to get a letter from the AQHA declaring her dead at 26because of her advanced age while I was halter breaking her Appaloosa foal delivered that spring. It is because of her natural lifestyle that she lived to that age. Shelter always available but never stalled, eighty acres to roam and lots of companions and companions her own age with shared infirmities in a smaller area when she got to an advanced age. Some of the new senior feeds are wonderful but my older horses thrive on good alfalfa hay or soaked alfalfa cubes in addition to the special feed and hay or grass.

NZrider said...

Hi Rick

I absolutely loved this blog! I have 7 horses at present, the oldest turning 32 this year and the head of the herd (the only mare). She keeps the geldings all in line and looks after the rising 29 year old. Both "oldies" are still ridden, but not as much as I would like. Shall we say they are semi retired! When my daughter comes home we often take the pair of them down to the beach for a swim and a play in the water. There is nothing quite so exhilerating as riding bareback along the surf.
Being in New Zealand means my horses live outside all year round and our winters can be rather cruel. With good covers and plenty of warming hay they tend to keep their condition until the spring growth hits us in September.
It will be a sad day when these two noble equines leave me for greener pastures but I fully intend to enjoy them both as long as they are around.
ps. neither of them actually knows they are classed as old!

Rick said...

Thanks so much for weighing in. Seems we are all on the same page and note that none of us is babying his/her horse! My wife gets sick of my saying this, but a bit of stress in life makes any organism stronger. NZrider, you summed up in a few words my philosphy of horsekeeping: "good covers and plenty of warming hay" - providing what we have taken away through domestication and then getting out of the way. Good on ya!