Driving the senior horse is not what it used to be. Twenty years ago, a senior horse was any horse that was over fifteen. Now the senior horse is considered senior when he is over twenty. This has all come about because of the advancements in veterinarian medicine, as well as the way we now feed and care for our horses.
When your horse becomes a senior it does not mean you have to put them out to pasture to just hang around for the rest of their lives. How would you like it if when you turned sixty years old, you were told that you are too old to do what you love to do? Sure, they will take a little extra care and attention to keep them going strong. The way I figure it, we owe it to them when they have served us well.
When I look at the horses in my barn, they have all served me well and they are all able to still do what they love to do. My horses range in age from one year old, and then it jumps to fourteen through twenty-two years for the other five horses.
When they get into their upper teens and twenties, you will need to adjust what you do, as well as how you do things with them. Take for instance my twenty-two year old miniature horse. He competed in his last Arena Driving Trial and driving show last year. He now has some arthritis in his hocks, so he is on “equioxx”, as well as a supplement that is working really well for him. We still go out driving and he is a great horse for new driving students. This being said, I don’t expect him to work five days a week like he used too.
Now, this little guy has been shown since he was five in both Combined Driving Events and show ring driving. He has been my front guy in pairs, unicorn and four-in-hand, so he has done a lot. He is a horse that has been there and done that, which makes him a great beginners horse. Besides, for being a part of my horse family since he was four months old, I would never sell him or stop having fun with him just because of his age.
One of the best things about driving the senior horse is that no matter what you do, they will always have your back. This is indispensable when you are at a new Combined Driving Event venue and there are lots of strange obstacles that the novice horse would jump at, but not the senior citizen.
Our senior citizens really don’t know that they are as old as they are. That is a thinking process we put on them, because that is how we think. They will still run and buck and frolic around when let them out into a large open space. Sure, maybe not quite as long or as high as they used to, but they still have fun out there.
Many of our senior horses are being used as student lesson horses. It is a job that they excel at, as they are so settled that they actually show a new student what to do.
One of my other senior horses, Scampi, an eighteen year old Hackney pony, is a perfect beginners driving horse. When I am working with a green driver and Scampi does not understand what the driver is doing, she will walk over to me and stop. She has this expression on her face as if to say “what is this person trying to tell me, I know I am not supposed to run into that fence”.
“There is no price you can put on this type of senior horse.”
Many novice drivers that want to get into carriage driving are able to get a better feel for how to drive from a forgiving senior citizen. At a time when the number of drivers is decreasing across the United States, it is better for novices to learn on these senior horses. That way, they are not scared by a young fractious horse and decide at that point that they would rather not drive.
I generally start out new drivers on my miniature horse Snoopy (31″) and then progress to Scampi (12 hands) and then to my Morgan Nicky (14.1 hands). By starting this way, I find that the student stays calmer, and a calm student is a learning student. Can you imagine starting a new driver behind a 16.1 hand, 1300 pound horse? This large horse might be the calmest horse around, but his shear size itself would be scary!
These senior citizens are used in many areas because of their age and the calmness that comes with it. The average age of the horses for the Budweiser hitches is fifteen. Most upper level dressage horses are in their teens. When it takes so many years of training to get ones horse to this level, why would you not want to take advantage their knowledge and experience in their senior years.
The other area that the senior horses excel at is taking care of the horse crazy kids that are now in their senior years. I know that dealing with an excitable young horse is not at the top of the list of things that a senior person wants to do as they get back into horses after many year of being away. Lets face it, as one gets older, they have creaks and stiffness that they did not have in their younger days. I know many seniors that want to get into horses for riding or driving just for the fun of it and to remember their childhood when they rode every day of the week. Driving the senior horse would be a great way for them to safely get back into horses.
So, as you can see, driving the senior horse who has so much more going for them then most people give them credit for. Don’t replace you seniors, for age is just a number and not a true picture of what the horse can really do! Enjoy them, hold them sacred and appreciate all of the years that they have given you!