9 signs to look out for: When is your horse getting old?

Do you know when your horse is old? Or getting older? It is often said that a horse can live until it is somewhere between 20 and 35 years old. This depends of course on the breed. On how hard the horse has been used throughout his life and how robust he is genetically. Finding out when your horse is actually ‘old’ can be difficult. And it may be even more difficult to find out when it is time to slow down training. In short, the best advice is to pay attention to your horse and accept the fact that it can be ‘old’ when it is 15 as well as when it is 25. Here are some of the signs you should look out for.

You may also like to read: Loading Horses: Just as Hard as a Dressage Lesson

How to figure out if your horse is getting old

Important to keep in mind is this: Even though your horse starts to show some signs of getting older, he’s riding career is not necessarily over. Some horses can perform at a high level until they are 18-19, while others are worn down as 12-year-olds. It is ultimately up to you to realize how your horse is doing, and this can be difficult.

9 signs that your horse is getting old
• Gray hair around the eyes, ears, on the muzzle and forehead, mane and tail.
• Hollow back and more clearly marked.
• Loss of muscle and fat, hard to build up – especially in thoroughbreds and
• Age-related illnesses such as arthritis, osteoarthritis, spavin, cushing, laminitis,
respiratory problems, liver and kidney problems, cataracts, sarcoids and
melanomas (cancer).
• A more rough or curly coat that may also be a sign of cushing, liver or kidney
• More often water runs from the eyes, which can also be a symptom of something
serious such as a tumor.
• Dental and chewing problems, which are i.e. shown by the horse leaving some of
his feed.
• Increased need of rest. I.e. the horse lies down or stands up resting more often
than earlier in his life.
• Poor performance. When it is harder for the horse to fulfill what is normally
expected of it, you know it is time to slow down.
Grey hair may be a sign of your horse getting older – but not always. Photo: Archieve.

What to do about training? 

Exactly as it applies to humans, exercising keeps the horse healthy. Of course, a 25-year-old horse should not be trained in the same way as one of 15, just like an 80-year-old man rarely go for a marathon. But moderate exercise will keep your old horse strong and healthy. To make your elderly four legged friend last as long as possible, you are wise to slow down training. 

Exercise regularly 

The older horse should not just exercise every weekend. Instead, it should be lightly trained several times a week. Frequent, short ridingpasses where the work is not overdone is best. 

Make training easier 

Expect less of your horse. Lower the height of the fences or cut down on the dressage exercises. That way you reduce the risk of your horse being injured or losing motivation. 

Variation is the key 

Varied training will keep your four legged friend happy and motivated despite his age. In addition, variation strengthens – just as it does for horses of all ages. Do not hesitate to go for a ride in the woods many times a week. Nature simply does not demand the same level of muscle, balance and endurance as if you go for a ride in the arena. 

Thorough warm up and cool down 

Before and after training it is important to give the old friend plenty of time to warm up and cool down, since the body is working more slowly. 

Be careful with the saddle 

Because of the fact that the horse’s upper line changes when it gets old, you must be careful with the saddle. Probably, you should prepare for a professional saddle check during the latter years of your horse’s life. 

Age compares to human years 

As mentioned, you cannot use the horse’s age solely to determine its physical condition. In spite of that, it can be interesting to compare the age of a horse to that of a human – just to have something to relate to. Just remember not to focus solely on the number, but try to understand it in the context of how you experience your horse yourself. 

Most recognized is a method of calculating the horse’s year of life into ‘human year’ made by the British veterinarian Dr. Jornigan. This veterinarian does not believe that one ‘horse year’ corresponds to a certain number of human years. Instead, it should be assumed that the horse’s first year of life corresponds to 12 human years and that its second year of life corresponds to another 9 human years. Then the next 3 years of life are equal to 4 human years each. And when the it is 5 years old, every subsequent year is counted for 2.5 human years. 

Follow this scheme and you will find your horse´s “human age” 

Horse age  Human age 
1 year12 
2 years21 
3 years25 
4 years 29 
5 years33 
6 years35,5 
7 years38 
8 years40,5 
9 years43 
10 years45,5 
11 years48 
12 years50,5 
13 years53 
14 years55,5 
15 years58 
16 years60,5 
17 years63 
18 years65,5 
19 years68 
20 years70,5 
21 years73 
22 years75,5 
23 years78 
24 years80,5 
25 years83 
26 years85,5 
27 years88 
28 years90,5 
29 years93 
30 years95,5 


BlueCross / Kentucky Equine Research / S.E. Blackwell: ’The Senior Horse – More Than Just Basic Care’. 

This article was originally published in September 2020 and has since been revised and edited.

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