I’ve lost count of how many articles I’ve written or edited about senior horses in which the sources or researchers stress to owners that, if they want their elder equids to stay loose, comfortable, and working happily, they need to keep them moving. But it never actually sunk in until last week, maybe because 19-year-old Dorado has stayed in pretty consistent work and never really felt stiff or sluggish (unless he did something incredibly stupid to injure himself, of course).

Following his laminitic episode in June, we had to keep Dorado quiet (read: in a stall where he’d stay still opposed to in a field where he’d run around like a wild man) to minimize the damage to his hooves’ internal structures. He eventually graduated to limited and then nightly turnout, but under the supervision of a babysitter who refuses to partake in his shenanigans.

Dorado is slowly getting back to work, which we’re hoping will help loosen his stiff body up.

Photo: Erica Larson

Last week, the veterinarian came for Dorado’s 90-day checkup and couldn’t have been more pleased with how he’s doing. Laminitis is horrific thing to have happen, but we basically got the best possible outcome. During the check, Dorado walked and jogged sound on the straight, but was a much stiffer than usual on the circle—a sight that broke my heart a little! He was moving so well before his founder! But before I could panic too much, the vet said—and I concurred—that it’s likely due to standing around for three months, so as a result, we’re bringing him back into work slowly—very slowly.

We’re starting with two weeks of walking under tack, with a few short trots mixed in each day (the trots totaling not more than a couple minutes throughout the ride). No tight circles, she said, until he loosens up a bit more. She’ll come back to see him two weeks from his last checkup to see how he’s doing in work, and whether or not it’s time to add some more trotting to the routine.

After the first couple rides he already feels like his loosening up a bit at the trot, although this could very easily be me wanting him to move better. So we’ll see what the vet thinks when she comes back.

We also discussed his joint maintenance protocol during the 90-day check. Previously (though nowhere near when he foundered) my veterinarian had been injecting a couple joints—the ones with the most wear and tear from his racing days—to help keep them loose and limber. Sticking corticosteroids into a horse with a history of laminitis on a fairly regular basis, however, didn’t seem like a good idea to either of us. So we’re trying a different route—an injectable hyaluronate product—to see if that keeps Dorado moving smoothly. We’ll evaluate at the next checkup and either continue the course or try something else.

So bottom line, adapted from Sir Isaac Newton’s laws of motion: A body at rest tends to stay at rest, while a body in motion tends to stay in motion. I learned first-hand the importance keeping old horses moving. I have every intention—provided his body can stand up to it—of keeping Dorado moving from here out, even if it’s just a walk around the farm, because I’d like to keep him in motion for as long as I can.

How often do you exercise—even just walking—your older horses?