Let's face it: Horses, as a species, are about as accident- prone as they come. It's no secret that we could lock them in a padded stall, alone, and they'd find a way to hurt themselves (and as my veterinarian once said, "You can't wrap them in bubble wrap either…they'd just eat it and colic!"). So it's fairly obvious that most owners and riders, regardless of how old their horse is, worry about injuries. But riding and competing an older horse, I sometimes feel as if I'm riding on borrowed time that could be over at any moment.
Dorado is out of work with a mystery lameness! He's been enjoying our grazing sessions in the lush grass, however, as his paddock has little grass!
Photo: Erica Larson
In older horses, with an injury diagnosis often comes some serious consideration about that horse's future. While a year's recovery from injury is a significant speed bump in a younger horse's competitive career, such a recovery carries many questions with it for a senior horse owner or rider—one of the most important being is it worth bringing an aging horse back to work after a serious or slow-healing injury.
This has been on my mind a lot lately, as 18-year-old Dorado has turned up with a rather frustrating lameness (just a few days before his first competition of the season, as luck would have it). We're not sure what caused it and we're not sure exactly where in his body it's originating from yet, but I'm hoping to get some concrete answers when his veterinarian comes to look him over. The good news is that he's remained in great spirits and can't understand why he's not going out to ride with his friends.
The last time Dorado sustained an injury, he was 16 and in great physical and mental shape. It took several months of stall rest, limited turnout, and very controlled exercise before he was able to return to work. By that time he was 17, inching up the age ladder but still solid and excited to go to work. I knew I wanted to bring him back to work, and with our veterinarian's okay, he returned to a normal schedule.
At 18, however, the waters are getting a little murky for me. If Dorado has sustained some type of slow-healing or serious injury, will it be the end of his competitive career? Or does he have a few more years left in him? These thoughts have been swimming around my brain for days now. I'm both excited and nervous for our impending veterinary visit, because I want desperately to know what's going on with him, but am admittedly petrified of the news that could come out of it.
I'd love nothing more than to have Dorado sound and back to competing, be it tomorrow or after an injury has rehabbed. But I understand this might not be the case. So I'm seeking encouragement from this awesome community: Have you ever brought an older horse back to work from an injury? Please share your success stories!