The final years

By Lizzie Hopkinson

 

Keeping your older horse happy and well into his last years, is a brilliant gift you can give him. It is not always possible to do so, life can be too difficult, and it can simply not be practical. But if you have the time and resources to do so, this will help you to take the best care possible of your older horse.

It is well documented that one of the most important things for the elderly, both human and equine, is movement. One of the biggest problems with the elderly occurs when they put on bed rest and stop moving. Equally putting an old horse on box rest can causes stiffness and decrease in flexibility. Keeping your old horse out in the field where he can walk about will have a good effect on his general health.

Anything that helps keep your horse moving, will help him in his later years. Such as encouraging him to stretch using carrot stretches, or baited stretches. Equally massage will encourage the muscles to work better, and is an enjoyable way to spend time with horse when riding him may no longer be an option.

Make sure that you check with your vet about what to feed your older horse. Older horses have different dietary requirements, be wary of over-marketed wonder feeds – remember there is no cure for old age, all you can do is help your old horse to be as comfortable as possible in his final years.

Regular visits from a physio, an equine dentist, a farrier will help to keep him in comfort. Speak to your trusted professionals for advice on how to make your older horse comfortable, as he his needs will differ from your younger horses.

This is your chance to reward him for the years of pleasure you have had.

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Photo by Kartini Maxson on Unsplash

My brilliant old pony…

By Lizzie Hopkinson

One of the best ponies that I ever had was already a teenager when he came to us. We had found him in Wales, he was skinny, lame, fairly blind and I fell in love him with. My mother had him vetted. The vet told her he wouldn’t last very long, and not to touch him. So, we carried on looking, but, he was the only pony that had made me feel confident. Eventually my mother, ignoring the vet’s advice bought him for a reduced price. Every other person who had been to view him had been told not to buy him by the vet. She got him very cheap, and then spent the money she had budgeted for a pony on getting him fit and healthy.

She transformed him from a skinny wreck to a gleaming perfect looking pony. He was, she says, the best pony she ever bought. I competed him all through pony club, inter-schools, he taught my many cousins to ride and was endlessly patient. He was the best of ponies, the sort of pony that would go incredibly slowly in every pace for nervous riders, then gradually as their confidence increased so would his speed. He took many riders from terrified to brave with the same technique.

In his old age my mother used to lend him to children who had lost their confidence. He would be despatched off at the correct weight with a list of what he needed to be fed. The weight would stay on him till the child got their confidence. At this point he would then turn into a galloping machine and run off all the weight. This was when he would then come back home, and my mother would patiently fatten him up again before sending him off to the next scared child.

Gradually it took longer and longer to get the weight back on him, and finally we could no longer keep any weight on him. By this time, he was in his late 20s. I wished I could have rung the vet who had told my mother not to buy him some 15 years earlier and shown him that you can have many fantastic years with an old horse as long as you care for them.

He was the perfect example of what you can achieve with a good team of professionals. At that time, people in general didn’t collect a team of professionals to care for their horses. Most people had the vet and the farrier, but that was it, especially as far as ponies went. But my mother collected a dentist, a back-person, an acupuncturist, a saddler, a farrier and a vet. And that team of professionals kept that old pony, that had been written off by the vet, going for another 15 years.

I’m not advocating ignoring your vet, but it was a perfect example of what you can achieve with a fantastic team of professionals behind you.

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Endorphin release dependent on intensity of training

 

A recent study has revealed that the release of endorphins (pleasure chemicals) from the brain due to exercise is dependent on the intensity of the exercise (https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/08/170824101759.htm).  High-intensity interval training, like the popular ‘7 minute exercise’ routine and similar, released endorphins, whereas a one-hour steadier aerobic workout did not.  However, the one-hour aerobic exercise did induce pleasurable feelings, which correlates with endorphin release.

I wonder how this translates across to our horses?  It’s impossible, of course, to directly translate research in the human field into the animal field.  Something I and many others encourage though is ‘giving your horse a job’, in other words, exercising him regularly at a high enough intensity to keep his brain active.  I wonder if some of the reason that this is so effective in reducing behavioural problems is actually that it gives the horse pleasurable sensations?  It’s also, of course, effective in reducing or resolving physical problems, in the same way that exercise is beneficial to humans through maintaining or improving musculoskeletal strength.

 

One of the next ’10 of the best’ series is about care of the older horse (keep an eye out here , or sign up at The Horse Physio to receive notification when new products are released), and in that I again encourage exercise.  Exercise for an older horse is often going to be different to exercise for a younger, fitter horse.  Imagine how different a ‘high intensity’ exercise program for a 70yr old woman compared to a 20yr old man would be.  The benefits of exercise are equally important though, and again I wonder whether there is an element of ‘pleasurable experience’ and endorphin release.  I know I shouldn’t anthropomorphise, but I certainly feel that some horses who are retired seem ‘fed up’ (others, however, appear to relish in the life of doing very little!).

 

Something else to consider is the fitness of you as the rider.  This is an area that I personally struggle with.  Treating horses is very physical, but not really cardiovascular exercise, and because of the long physical hours I work I struggle to exercise outside of work time.  I continue to try and address this (and am always appreciative of suggestions that others have found to work for them!), but as a physio, rider and instructor I know and understand the benefits and importance of rider fitness.  Look out for our free ‘rider pilates’ series coming soon – sign up at www.thehorsephysio.co.uk so that we can let you know when it’s available!

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