Centuries ago, Sir Isaac Newton said that a body in motion tends to stay in motion, while a body at rest tends to stay at rest (yes, I just channeled my inner "Big Bang Theory" science geek for that one!). And in a lot of ways, many veterinarians are preaching something very similar to owners of relatively sound senior horses: One of the best ways to help maintain such a horse is to keep him in regular exercise. Think about it: If you keep his aging joints moving, they're likely to keep moving. If you let his joints "rest" for too long, there's a good chance they'll get creakier.

After every jumping session, I ice Dorado's front legs for 30 minutes, apply a topical anti-inflammatory, and wrap his legs in standing wraps.

Photo: Erica Larson

But depending on the intensity of the exercise your senior horse is doing, you might have to take some precautions before and/or after you ride. It's something I have to do daily with 18-year-old Dorado, and it's something we had to do regularly with our old Appaloosa gelding Taz.

More than specialized post-exercise care, Taz needed a pretty serious warm-up before he was ready to start working. He had some balance problems, and we found that an extended warm-up helped him find his footing. Additionally, a longer warm-up helped us get a feel of the horse we had each day. Some days he was stiffer than others, so we'd keep the exercise on the easy end of the scale. Other days he was bouncing around and ready to go, so we'd let him trot and canter a little more. By the time he had his last real year of riding, Taz was very good at letting us know what he was up for on a given day, and we were very good at determining how much work he could handle.

Likewise, Dorado is getting longer walking warm-ups than he did in the past. But since he's still in a training and exercise program and he has some chronic ailments we're managing, our veterinarian has given me some tips on post-exercise care to help keep his osteoarthritis-affected front fetlocks and other joints in good working order:

  • After each ride—regardless of the intensity—I give his legs a good once-over, looking for any heat, swelling, or lumps and bumps that weren't there when we set out for our ride.
  • Should I detect any seemingly minor abnormalities, I'll treat them until the next day, at which point I'll recheck them. If I detect a more serious abnormality, or a minor problem doesn't respond to treatment as I'd hoped, I'll contact my veterinarian.
  • After every jumping session, in addition to the good once-over, I'll ice Dorado's front legs for 30 minutes. Then, after drying his legs off, I apply a topical anti-inflammatory and wrap his legs in standing wraps.

All that said, some senior horses are willing and able to head out like they always have, enjoy a ride, and be turned back out to their field just as they would have been in their younger years. It just depends on the horse, what kinds of injuries he's faced over the years, and the intensity of his current exercise regimen.

Does your senior horse need any special pre- or post-exercise care? Please share you experiences!