It's not uncommon in performance horse barns to see veterinarians, massage therapists, chiropractors, and other equine professionals in and out on a regular basis. After all, if we're asking a horse to perform athletic feats, the least we can do is ensure his body is in peak physical condition.

But perhaps less common is calling one of those complementary therapists out to see the semi-retired senior horse who packs the grandkids around or the fully retired show horse who's enjoying his days in a grassy pasture. They might not be jumping the moon or sliding to a stop during a reining pattern, but these senior citizens might still benefit from some complementary therapies.

From acupuncture to massage, there are lots of complementary options senior horses might benefit from.

Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt

During 19-year-old Dorado's last massage, I asked his masseuse about her thoughts on such therapies for old horses. She enthusiastically relayed that older horses—working or not—often benefit greatly from body work and other types of complementary treatments.

"Almost every old horse I see has old issues—wear and tear from what they've been doing their whole lives," she said. "Whether they are off-the-track or they never raced, have been doing dressage since they were babies, have done in-hand classes, or sat in a field for 20 years, they get sore and tight.

"Imagine you're arthritic, sore, and tight, and you're not moving so great and your joints are kind of creaky," she explained. "That movement restriction is going to result in tension."

She said that something as seemingly innocuous as carefully navigating a slippery pasture or wearing a heavy blanket through the winter (especially an ill-fitting one) can cause tension in an older horse's body.

From her experiences, she said, something as simple as a massage can relieve that tension.

"It still makes them a lot more comfortable," she explained. "There's going to be a lot more fluidity in their movement."

Of course, massage isn't the only therapeutic option out there. Many horse owners swear by modalities such as chiropractic, acupuncture, and even homeopathy and herbal treatments to help their horses feel and move better. I don't have any personal experience with those options, but, hey…if an owner believes it works, why not?

Do your senior horses receive any complementary treatments?