Caring For The Older Competition Horse

Head Equine Nurse Kate Lambert still successfully competes her 24 year old pony Vadar in 80-90cm hunter trials and arena eventing. Read her key points for competing an older horse.

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Head Equine Veterinary Nurse Kate Lambert owns a 24 year old pony called Vadar aka Return of the Jedi. Kate has owned Vadar since he was 4 years old and he still competes successfully in 80-90cm hunter trials and arena eventing.

Caring For An Older Competition Horse

Kate shares some key points for caring for a competing older horse.

  • Vadar is shod every 6 weeks all year round even when he is not in work. It is important to keep his feet balanced and in good condition.
  • Regular 6 monthly dental checks are performed as he has worn teeth and a few diastemas (gaps in-between teeth), which can be painful if food material becomes packed in them.
  • Vadar lives out 24/7 with shelter all year round. This prevents him getting stiff and helps with his condition. Although Vadar is a good doer he struggles eating a lot of hay through the winter. So grass and a soft sloppy feed such as soaked sugar beet or alfa beet is fed through the winter to help maintain his condition and his energy requirements.
  • Vadar is clipped when competing through the summer as he has a thick coat. But during the winter when he isn’t in work we grow his coat to help his condition and also require fewer rugs.
  • Vadar only competes through the summer and isn’t ridden during the winter months due to daylight hours. So once I start bringing Vadar back into work it is a slow process (4 weeks of walk and small amount of trot) however it is easily achieved although it will take longer than a young fit horse.
  • All ridden work is done out hacking in straight lines to prevent extra strain on joints and once fit I do a couple of schooling sessions the week before a competition.
  • I only do 3-5 shows a year and I choose these shows depending on ground conditions and surfaces available. If the ground is hard I don’t compete Vadar – there is always another day!
  • The week before a competition I increase the protein in Vadar’s diet to help support the extra stresses placed on his joints and muscles . This can be something as simple as adding linseed meal and oil to his feed.
  • Vadar normally isn’t fed through the summer; he copes well on grass alone, but prior to a show he will have a light chaff or sugar beet.
  • It is important not to overfeed older horses as extra weight will not help aged joints.

Older horses can have a competitive career, they just take a bit longer to get fit and small adjustments to management can make all the difference.

Remember its quality not quantity so pick your shows well. An active horse is a happy horse don’t let age stop this!

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