Spring Horse Training Tips: Conditioning Senior Horses

Posted by Gabby Gufler, Wed, Jun 3, 2015

Spring is in the air, and with that comes the challenges of getting our horses back into shape. For senior horse owners this can seem a daunting task. Are there precautions we should be taking when conditioning older horses? The answer is yes; however, with appropriate care and conditioning there is no reason why a senior horse can’t be used for pleasure riding or perhaps even more.

When does a horse become “senior”?

 There is no “magic” age at which a horse becomes a senior, as the phrase “you are only as old as you feel” also applies to horses. Some horses slow down in their late teens while others can remain quite active into their twenties. Genetics, diet, previous injuries and exercise history can all play a role in determining how long a horse is fit for work.

Points to keep in mind:

  1. Preserve Soundness. It is a good idea to ask your veterinarian to examine your older horse before putting them to work. Your veterinarian will be able to identify problems and make recommendations concerning pain relief and exercise programs.
  2. Schedule Regular Checkups. Scheduling regular checkups with your veterinarian is advisable for horses in their twenties to help keep an eye on joints, ligaments, tendons, body condition or health concerns that may require you to adjust your conditioning program.


Start out slow and always err on the side of caution. As a guide, do not increase the weekly training distance by more than 5%. Ten- to 15-minute sessions three times a week on a lunge line or under a saddle might be a good starting point for your senior horse. The length of these workouts can be increased over the next month. After the first month, consider increasing the intensity of the workouts by adding some slow cantering. Including a little hill training will also help their muscles strengthen.

TIP: Senior horses can be better prepared for increased work in the spring if they get plenty of safe turnout in the winter so that their joints are kept active. Remember, each horse is different, and you (possibly with the help of your veterinarian) are going to be the best judge of what your horse can and cannot handle.

As the weather gets nicer for riding, many equestrians face the challenge of reconditioning horses who might have lost a step over the winter. See more at: http://cs.thehorse.com/blogs/old-horses-better-with-age/archive/2013/05/01/spring-training-for-seniors.aspx#sthash.jprVcxsi.dpuf

Routine Care, Diet and Body Condition

  • Record your horse’s normal TPR measurements (temperature, pulse and respiration) as well as their weight (using a weight tape) and assign them a body condition score. Write everything down and take pictures of your horse from different angles to help you establish a baseline to which to refer when assessing your horse’s condition in the future. If you compare the starting and current numbers as well as their appearance regularly (on the first of every month or so), you will be able to detect subtle differences. Consult your veterinarian about these shifts, as they may be able to help you adjust your horse’s workout routine.
  • Aging horses (like humans) tend to lose muscle mass as they age. Did you know that as a horse’s body ages it becomes more resistant to insulin, a hormone that is responsible for controlling blood sugar (glucose) levels by signaling fat, muscle, and liver cells to take up blood glucose and store it as glycogen? This reduced sensitivity to insulin diminishes the body’s ability to metabolize glucose (similar to Type 2 diabetes in humans).
  • Help maintain your horse’s weight and give them the energy they need while conditioning by feeding them a supplement specifically designed for senior horses. Manna Pro® Senior Weight Accelerator™ is an excellent no-sugar-added option for giving them the calories and energy they need. Plus, it contains probiotics, Omega-3 fatty acids, essential vitamins and antioxidants for immune support.
  • Be especially cautious during the summer months. Older horses are often less able to lose body heat while exercising, partly due to the decline in cardiovascular performance and reduction in sweat gland function. It is recommended to limit exercise on very hot days or to shorten or reduce the intensity of the workout for older horses. But don’t worry! Their ability to just stand around sweating in hot weather is similar to that of younger horses—just be sure to provide your senior horse with electrolytes and plenty of fresh, clean water on those hot days.
  • How well an older horse moves and performs depends on the health of their joints. Research has shown that older horses tend to have arthritic joints, and their cortisol levels don’t rise as much after exercise as those of younger horses. This means that for older equines, it takes longer to recover after a workout. It is important to keep your senior horse on a joint supplement such as Manna Pro® Rapid Flex™ to help keep them comfortable and their joints healthy.
  • Be sure to reward your horse after their daily workout for a job well done! Manna Pro Senior Snax® horse treats are specifically formulated for older horses and provide them with a natural source of glucosamine to support healthy joints, biotin for strong hooves, and Omega-3 fatty acids for a shiny coat.

Although we should lower our expectations regarding athletic performance as our horses age, with appropriate care and conditioning older horses can live long, happy lives!

Gabby Gufler

Gabby Gufler graduated from Truman State University in 2013 with a BS in Animal Science & Nutrition and a minor in Equine Science. Gabby currently works on Manna Pro’s marketing team, and enjoys competing regularly with her six horses.