Beautiful Old Horses

shayne2In our modern culture of dressage the standard of horse is skyrocketing, with each generation of sport horse blowing the previous out of the water. There is also a focus on the prodigy, with young Grand Prix horses being brought out possessing amazing natural capabilities. With all of this focus on youth, power and ability we tend to lose site on what I believe is the highest achievement a trainer can strive toward: the presence of many beautiful old horses in their barn.

I do not believe in the factions to which many people subscribe, namely “classical” versus “modern” or “competitive” dressage. I have seen plenty of “classical” trainers who were brutal and lamed their horses. I have also seen “competitive” dressage barns in which the horses were happy athletes. There is dressage that is correct and which functions to make horse stronger and more beautiful, which will cause them to age elegantly and happily in their work and then there is dressage that will not. But, as they say, the proof is in the pudding.

The older horse is that proof. Of course there are soundness issues and inherent problems that exist with any individual horse. Each body is a unique structure and should be treated as such. But the overlying trend will still show the integrity of a training program. Do the horses stay and age within the program or are they used up, broken and then replaced?

If new clients came into a barn and based their decisions upon not only the appearance of the horses, but their ages and soundness levels, then the dressage landscape would change significantly. People tend to appraise horses, judging them on their appearance and potential. Therefore not many are excited about announcing that Buttons is twenty and still showing or Revere is twenty five and still is ridden successfully in a full program. This is a mistake. Trainers should be incredibly excited to announce that these horses belong to their program. They are a testament to correct training and the true value of dressage. Likewise incoming clients should be thrilled to hear that their trainer has the skill set to muscle and maintain horses into their golden years.

We can lose site of the fact that dressage is not just a sport, unlike some other sports. Dressage changes the way a horse moves gymnastically for the better. Once enough balance and strength is in place, we display this bodily state of being with movements to prove that it is so. Therefore a dressage horse never retires. As he or she ages we might not ask them to display more advanced movements as often for the sake of their joints, but the better balance and improved strength never wane. A true dressage horse should never ‘retire’ from the sport, because ours is more than a sport. It is a way of bettering our horses physical and mental health with that stimulation.

So look around you. If there are some elderly mares and geldings with gray around the eyes, being enjoyed and ridden successfully then you are in a place that practices true dressage.  Below is a video of Isabelle Werth enjoying her nineteen year old Satchmo.

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18 responses to “Beautiful Old Horses

  1. “If new clients came into a barn and based their decisions upon not only the appearance of the horses, but their ages and soundness levels, then the dressage landscape would change significantly. ”
    Well said and applies to the entire horse industry! How do you suggest educating clients to appreciate this?

  2. I love this post. Couldn’t agree more. I see so many trainers with horses that last a few years then its out the back door. Its a shame to waste such beautiful and talented horses because of aggressive tactics and impatience.

  3. We just lost our cherished Grand Prix Arabian gelding, EA Cygnus in colic surgery due to an intestinal cancer but he was still at his peak at 23 years old. He did his last & his 75th Grand Prix test the end of Sept 2013. A carefully maintained dressage horse is more valuable as they age.

  4. I was thrilled to read this post! The schoolmaster who started me in dressage was 27 years old when I started lessons on him. His face was greyed, but his body was clear proof of considerate care and riding. My first horse lived to be 30 years old and was robust and sound to his last day, despite having some major conformation flaws. My current horse is 18 years old, and I don’t even begin to think he is soon to be a pasture ornament. Cheers to the senior equine athlete!!!

  5. Wonderful. I totally agree, and my dressage partner will be 27 in April. We will be showing 3rd level this year, and he is so spunky he had to show me with his patented spin, squeak and hop from the barncat last week. (killer barncats). No visible grey, everyone thinks he’s in his teens. I credit steady daily excercise for the past twenty-something years. He is a retired FEI horse, and the best equine purchase I’ve ever made. No lameness, no anything. Just extra long warmups now, and I spend a ton on supplements and Adequan. My best buddy.

    • Hi Jennifer,
      I would love to know your Adequan regime for your older horse.. I am using with my 21 year old dressage mare and am not sure what to do after the loading dose of 7, finished about a month ago… Can I friend and message you on FB?

  6. I love the teenager! We have an 18 year old eventer that has stepped down to teach my daughter and myself dressage and teach my daughter little jumps. He is so wonderful. I am hoping he stays happy and healthy for a long time…..

  7. For some twenty years I was away from the competition horse world, I run a Horse Sanctuary now. It was during the Olympics that I managed to get a glimpse of the “new” dressage, It was a complete disappointment, the horses look as if walking on hot coals, tails swishing, sad eyes…needless to see the horrid RullKur, Why oh Why has such a beautiful sport gone down the drain…

  8. We just had to put down my 27 year old GP schoolmaster this past November. While he had chronic heaves, he was so well managed that he still was rideable. Even though he was graying in the face, his body looked like a well-muscled youngster. We always said that he could still perform a GP test – if you spread it over 3 days! He was a special “old soul”, and loved by all who knew him. I got to ride piaffe, passage and changes on him – such a thrill – and always felt safe.. I seem to have a collection of “lawn ornaments”, 20, 21, and 22 right now, in stages of full, partial or retired work. I had a SWB who made it to 34, so I guess we’re doing something right. These wonderful beings deserve special care in their twilight lives for all that they give us.

  9. I love this video! It is great to see such an accomplished rider just having fun with an old partner. She rides just as beautifully bareback as with a saddle.
    On the topic of old horses, I guess I’m spoiled, our young horses are 14 and 16, the old horses are 24 and 31 all are still sound and rideable.

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  13. I loved this article old horses are great! My old horse was still competing at lower level events and packing kids around at fox hunts at age 27, after a life of racing and eventing and I feel like his strong base in dressage kept him strong and young.
    My current horse is 18y/o TB who has sat around in a pasture most of his life so we’re just starting our dressage journey together, but I hope to use the same dressage base to keep him young and fit hopefully into his late 20’s too.

  14. this doesn’t really fit in with the higher dressage, but my horse that I’ve been riding for the last 2 years is 22 this year, he’s a thoroughbred that raced for several years and then was turned into an eventer. I don’t think he knows any of the higher movements but he’s still going strong and LOVES his cross-country and jumping. he’s showing his age more in his stiffness particularly after jumping, but would probably bite someone’s head off if he was retired!
    the riding school I’m at had a pony that was put down recently that was 45 years old! and he had only been retired for about 1 1/2 – 2 years.

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