As I've discussed on several occasions in the past, some older horses really, really don't like the whole concept of retirement: "Wait, you seriously want me to sit in this giant grassy field all day and do nothing?! Okay then … watch this," they say as they either gallop around their pasture, slipping, sliding, and doing everything they can to give you a heart attack; go on a lethargy-filled hunger strike until you put them back in their old routine; or show you just how observant they've been over the years, whipping gates open and dumping water troughs (for cleaning, of course…) faster than you even realize what happened. Yes, these animals make up a special group of horses that literally can't not work, and who will be doing some kind of work until their days come to an end. Taz, our Appaloosa who died last year at 27, was like that, and 18-year-old Dorado is the same way,
But for every one of these equine overachievers, there's an older horse that absolutely relishes retirement: "Wait, you seriously want me to sit in this giant grassy field all day and do nothing?! I must be in heaven!" they say as they perfect the graze, roll, nap, repeat cycle. Yes, they cherish every glorious day they get to just be a horse. My family's 27-year-old Appaloosa mare Jessie fits like a glove in this category.
Jessie enjoys every moment of her retirement!
Photo: Deborah Larson
Jessie has spent more of her life retired than working under saddle due to a fairly nasty case of kissing spines that did not respond well to the treatments we tried. So, instead of subjecting her to trying more treatments that might or might not have worked (and me to collecting more frequent flyer miles and crash landings than I really needed…) we opted to let her be a companion for Taz and a babysitter for new horses coming into our herd. She currently lives in a pasture in Illinois with my family's two other horses—17-year-old Sadie and 14-year-old Lance—and a third mare called Sasha, where she lounges in run-ins and enjoys as much grass as she can stuff in her mouth (while somehow—I haven't figured it out yet myself…—maintaining her girlie figure at a near-perfect weight).
But just because Jessie is a healthy "outdoor" horse who hasn't worked in over a decade doesn't mean she isn't monitored closely and regularly to ensure no health problems are starting to rear their ugly heads. Like all our horses, Jessie gets regular vaccinations, dewormings, and hoof care, and we watch her closely after each of those events. Because of this, we know that Jessie's neck always gets stiff after her spring and fall shots; this was the first spring, however, that a swelling at one of the injection sites accompanied her stiff neck. So, we'll be ready this fall to keep even closer tabs on her should another adverse event occur.
We also keep a close eye on anything abnormal that could indicate an aging-associated problem could be developing. We're well-versed in dealing with pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction (PPID, or equine Cushing's disease) horses after caring for our affected Miniature Horse Brandy for several years, and we're always watching for Jessie's coat not to shed properly or for her amply muscled back and hind quarters to start waning. Fortunately, she's not showing any signs of PPID yet.
And, since she's an Appaloosa who's approaching the big 3-0, we're always on the lookout for signs of uveitis, or moon blindness. During a Labor Day visit to my parents, we all noticed that the area immediately surrounding Jessie's left eye was slightly puffier than normal. It wasn't draining, it didn't seem painful, and her eye was still bright. My parents and I decided that we'd monitor it closely for a short time span and then take one of two options: If the swelling goes down, we'll chock it up to a bug bite—a real possibility in a pasture-kept horse, even when they're fly-sprayed regularly and wear a fly mask; If the eye's condition worsens or doesn't change in a day or so, we'll have her veterinarian come check her out. I'll keep you posted on how it turns out!
And, of course, as all retired older horses should, Jessie enjoys lots of treats and pampering each day! Yep, I'm pretty sure she's got a life that most horses—aside from our equine overachievers, of course!—would kill for!
Do you monitor your older horses regularly for health problems? What specific issues are you looking for?