What Age a Horse Should Stop Being Ridden: Complete Guide

What age should a horse stop being ridden?

When A Horse Is No Longer Fit For Riding

Unfortunately, there will come a time when your horse becomes a senior, and they’ll no longer be healthy enough to ride. Just like humans, horses begin to slowly show signs of their age. This requires modifications to their diets, care, and their daily activities. It’s important to know when to begin looking for these signs of age as riding a horse too late into life can create serious health problems for them.

At what age should a horse stop being ridden? There is no set age for retiring your horse. Some horses have physical conditions or diseases that require an early retirement. Other horses can be ridden late into their life without issues. As a general rule, most horses should stop being ridden between 20 to 25 years old. 

Any horse, no matter their age, still requires a decent amount of exercise. Although your horse may begin to show signs of age that indicate a need to slowly introduce retirement, it is still important to maintain their strength and flexibility into their senior years.

In this article, I am going to share some of the common signs that you may need to consider riding your horse less, as well as ideas for exercising your senior horse and keeping them in great condition for as long as possible.

When Should a Horse Stop Being Ridden?

As a horse begins to age, their requirements change. The strenuous rides and exercise routine that were once easy to accomplish become more of a challenge. Each horse is unique in the rate at which they age. However, it’s common to stop regularly riding your horse when they are between 20 to 25 years old. 

At this point in most horses’ lives, they begin to struggle with joint pain, degenerative conditions that are no longer managed by medications, and simply tiring more easily. Carefully watching your horse as they near their senior years will provide you with insight into the level of activity they are capable of. Additionally, a veterinarian will be able to advise you on their physical condition which will help guide your riding decisions. 

It’s important to take proper care of your horse as they age to ensure their comfort. Riding a horse too late into life can exacerbate any existing health conditions and potentially shorten their lifespan.

Signs You Should Stop Riding Your Horse Regularly

Any equestrian or horse lover will tell you that they understand the signs their horses are sending them. Observing these signs carefully is crucial as your horse nears their senior years. There are several signs you may notice when it’s time to stop riding your horse regularly.

Your Horse Has Trouble Keeping Up With Other Horses

If you take your horse on long trail rides or even just a casual ride with other horses, you may notice your horse has a hard time keeping up with the other horses. This is one of the biggest signs that is it likely time to decrease their riding and transition into more relaxed forms of exercise.

However, if your horse is still in the prime of life and experiencing difficulty keeping up with others, it is time to consult a veterinarian. In a younger horse, this could be a warning sign of an underlying health condition. 

Horses That Require Medication for Chronic or Degenerative Conditions

Many horses struggle with chronic or degenerative conditions affecting their bones, muscles, ligaments, or joints. In their earlier years, these conditions can be effectively managed with medication or alternative treatments. 

However, as your horse ages, the condition may reach a point where medication has proven ineffective. If this is the case, it is important to stop riding your horse to prevent further injury or damage.

Horses Struggling to Maintain Weight

One of the easiest ways to gauge the health condition of your horse is to observe their physical appearance. Like humans, horses begin to show external signs of aging. If your horse is beginning to lose their shiny, supple coat, they are might be getting too old to be ridden. 

Many times, a senior horse will begin to lose excess weight when they are being ridden. They will begin to have a scrawny, tired appearance. If you increase their feed or transition them to a senior diet without weight gain, you most likely need to decrease their daily activity requirements.

For more reasons why your horse might not be able to maintain it’s weight, you can read my guide on the subject here: Helping Horses That Won’t Gain Weight.

Presence of Diseases or Disorders

Horses with diseases or chronic disorders usually age more quickly than an otherwise healthy horse would. If your horse has been diagnosed with organ failure or something like Cushing’s disease, you need to be aware of the signs of aging much earlier in their life. 

When your horse has a chronic disease or disorder, you may need to stop riding them regularly at an early age. By doing so, you allow their body to remain as healthy as possible. However, it is important to still provide them with exercise opportunities when it is advised.

Horses That Appear Frustrated After Activity

As an equestrian and long time horse lover, I have become well-acquainted with the various temperaments of horses. Horses provide us with ques that are helpful for assessing their mental and physical wellness. One of the easiest ways to gauge if your horse is too old to be ridden is their physical response. 

Does your horse seem excited and happy to see you when you arrive at the barn to ride them? Chances are, they enjoy the activity and look forward to your time together, On the other hand, if your horse seems frustrated or grumpy before, during, or after the ride, you may need to consider less active alternatives for their daily exercise. Many times, frustration and grumpiness is a sign of pain or discomfort in your horse. (However, it can also be a sign that more training is needed.)  

Ways to Keep a Senior Horse Healthy

Horse aging

Even the oldest horses benefit from some form of exercise. Regular physical activity for senior horses is the best way to ensure and improve their overall health. Exercise strengthens their muscles, prevents excessive weight gain, and maintains flexibility. These are all key factors in preventing injury in an aging horse.

It is important to slowly ease your horse into retirement. Suddenly stopping any and all physical activity can create both physical and behavioral issues. Here are a few creative ways to provide your older horses with exercise.

Keep Older Horses Healthy With Short, Frequent Rides & Lighter Loads

Unless your horse is incredibly frail or suffers from a serious disease, they likely will continue to benefit from short rides. In their younger years, they may have appreciated one long, strenuous ride. However, horses will typically benefit from a short ride every few days.

As your horse continues to age, it may be helpful to lighten the load they are carrying. These situations provide an excellent opportunity for a young rider who is just starting on their equestrian journey. If at any point your horse begins to display signs of discomfort, it is best to discontinue riding and pursue other forms of activity instead. 

Keep Your Senior Horse Fit With Stretching Exercises

Stretching is important for all horses. However, it is especially crucial for horses in their senior years. A decrease in activity can leave your horse stiff and uncomfortable. Working through a series of stretching exercises is a great way to improve blood flow in a low impact setting.

Additionally, it is very important to thoroughly stretch your senior horse before riding them. This will decrease the potential for injury and provide a more enjoyable experience for both of you.

Help Your Senior Horse Stay In Shape With Walking

Never underestimate the power of walking your horse. Walking increases blood flow, improves flexibility, encourages mobility, and even provides light strength training for your horse. Horses of any age can benefit from routine walking, even once riding is no longer a safe exercise option. 

Continue to Provide Activities Your Horse Enjoys

The most important thing to consider when exercising your senior horse is to continue providing them with activities they enjoy. Although their physical abilities may have begun to decline, they can still participate in the things they once enjoyed. Find creative ways to continue your daily routine while providing stimulating opportunities for exercise.

My Thoughts On Horses Aging

While it is sad to watch your horse begin to age, it is important to pay attention to the physical and emotional cues horses demonstrate as they age. By reducing your regular riding at an appropriate age, you allow your horse the opportunity to remain healthy and happy for many more years. Practicing creativity in their daily exercise routine is an excellent way to grow as a horse owner and equestrian.

Related Questions

How can I tell if my horse is excited to see me?

Luckily, horses provide us with many obvious signs of affection. By observing your horse and watching their patterns, you will begin to see how they show affection in a unique way. Some of the most common ways horses show affection is by approaching you without prompting, following your instructions, and having the ability to relax when you are around. You can read more about this in my article covering Ways Horses Show Affection

How often should I ride my horse?

If your horse is young and in good condition, it is recommended that you ride them at least three times each week for a minimum of 20 minutes. Horses that are in training for competitions are sometimes ridden up to 6 days a week. Your individual riding goals, as well as your horses’ physical condition, will provide you greater insight into a riding schedule that is appropriate for them. You can learn more about this subject in my article here: How Often to Ride Your Horse.

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