Many people, even professional horse trainers, believe that once a horse passes a certain age, it can no longer be trained. This is really not the case. Horses of all ages can be trained, but it’s important to understand the horse’s history and background in order to know the right approach. It can be challenging to work with a horse who is mature yet lacks experience, but this can also be very rewarding.
In this article, we discuss what you need to know to successfully train an older horse. Read on to learn more.
What You'll Learn Today
- 1 Are Older Horses Able To Learn?
- 2 Is It Worth It to Train An Older Horse?
- 3 Make Sure You Are Capable Of The Training!
- 4 Where Do You Begin?
- 5 Proceed With Caution
- 6 Frequently Asked Questions
Are Older Horses Able To Learn?
Many times, an older horse is more settled, more sensible and has a longer attention span than the younger horse.
This can mean that the older horse is also more capable of learning than a young horse who may be flighty, anxious and unsure of itself.
Once you’ve bonded or joined up with an older horse, you may find that training is quicker and easier than with a younger horse.
Mature horses typically have a settled personality. This means that you can get to know the horse more quickly, and you can be certain of the personality that’s being presented.
This horse isn’t going through the adolescent changes you’ll find in a two, three or four-year-old.
Conversely, if an older horse seems to be chronically flighty, reactive and “hot”, you can count on him to continue being that way. You’ll know the challenges you’re facing right up front.
Is It Worth It to Train An Older Horse?
These days, horses can live a lot longer than in the past. With good vet care and proper nutrition, a mature horse can stay in great shape well into his 20s. For this reason, it’s well worth it to take the time to train a mature horse.
This is especially true if you have the opportunity to get a horse who is of good bloodlines or is otherwise unusual or desirable.
Untrained, mature horses are often available cheap or free. If you want to take on a mature project horse, you can end up with a much better horse than you might otherwise be able to afford.
Of course it’s important to thoroughly evaluate any horse that you’re considering adding to your family. Have your vet come out and give the horse a thorough examination, keeping in mind your intended purpose for the horse.
If you intend to show, rodeo, trail ride or participate in any specific discipline, you must be sure that the horse will be physically capable to handle the challenges.
Make Sure You Are Capable Of The Training!
You must also understand what sort of challenges you are facing. Consider these questions:
- Are you taking on a horse who was started when he was young and then put out to pasture for one reason or another?
- Was the horse poorly handled or abused and then given up on?
- Is this horse familiar with people, or is it a wild horse?
- Has this horse ever been handled at all?
All of these are very different circumstances, and will produce a different sort of horse. Here are just a few examples.
1. Harshly Training
If the horse is one that is had some training, but of the wrong kind, you may be facing some serious challenges. Horses who have been harshly disciplined are often timid and afraid of trying.
When this is the case, you’ll need to take a lot of time to simply get to know the horse, handle him kindly and gently and strive for real partnership before you ever begin training to ride.
2. Inconsistent Training
A horse who has been handled inconsistently is another kind of challenge. If he has received different responses for the same behavior, he will constantly be testing you to see where his limits are.
This sort of horse requires very consistent training. If more than one person will be working with the horse, you must all be very certain to be on the same page.
Horses who have experienced severe abuse, beatings, torture and the like are very hard to train. They may think of their lives as a constant struggle to survive, and may constantly fight against you.
This kind of horse can be dangerous to deal with, so unless you are a professional, you should not take this sort of horse on unless you have access to the services of a professional trainer.
Conversely, some very badly abused horses shut down and refuse to respond. With this type of horse, you can eventually get through by simply maintaining a calm, quiet, safe demeanor around the horse.
Go about your barn chores, feeding, grooming and simply spending quiet time around the horse until he grows to trust you, then consult with a professional.
Horses who have been badly abused will need a great deal of careful, consistent and knowledgeable handling in order to recover. This can take a very long time and a great deal of patience, and sometimes it isn’t possible.
4. Wild Horse
If you’re dealing with a wild horse (e.g. one who has been adopted from the Bureau of Land Management) you face an altogether different challenge. These horses are not used to being around people at all, and can be difficult to contain.
You’ll need to pay close attention to BLM specifications for housing. Your fences must be a minimum of 6 feet tall and made of specific, prescribed, horse safe materials.
You may spend a great deal of time simply getting your horse accustomed to your presence. Once you have acclimated a mature, wild horse to human beings, you’re very likely to be extremely pleased with the progress you can make.
5. Backyard Pet
A horse who has just been a pasture ornament and has never been handled, but is familiar with people, is quite a bit easier to train.
You won’t have the challenges of containing a wild animal, and it will not be as difficult to gain his or her trust.
Of course, an older horse who has been handled will be the easiest to start training, but even if you have to start from ground zero, you can make pretty good progress with any older horse.
Just be patient, consistent and reasonable.
Where Do You Begin?
Once your horse is comfortable and familiar with you, you’ll want to start with halter training. Just work on:
- Easy catching
- Safe tying
When you have reached a point where you can go for walks around your property and spend time together comfortably, you can start working on other groundwork such as lunging.
From here, you can move toward tacking up and continuing groundwork.
Proceed With Caution
Sometimes, you’ll make progress so quickly that you may let down your guard. Even if your mature horse picks up training very quickly, remember that he still inexperienced.
An older, inexperienced horse, no matter how friendly, cooperative and seemingly safe may still tend to spook or become frightened or confused easily.
Don’t force your horse into challenging, unfamiliar situations before he is ready. Take your time and go through training step-by-step.
Make sure your horse trusts you and can communicate well with you so that the two of you can face challenges successfully together.
Restarting The Older Horse
Frequently Asked Questions
Generally speaking, a horse who is over the age of 16 could be considered old; however, the life experiences and care (or lack thereof) the horse has had will greatly affect any horse’s functional age. A well-cared for horse can remain usable and active into his late 20s. A horse that has been neglected or abused may be old in his early teens.
Older horses may be more likely to experience weight loss, colic, lameness, heaves and other respiratory problems. The kind of care the horse has had (and continues to have) will play a big part in determining the animal’s ongoing level of health as it ages.
This depends a great deal on the horse’s condition and the kind of riding you plan to do. If your horse is hale and hearty and has a clean bill of health from the vet, you can surely continue pleasure riding. You may want to avoid vigorous competition. If your horse is pasture sound, generally healthy, quiet and gentle, you can probably lead the grandkids around on him and enlist his help in teaching them to ride. Consult your vet to be sure.
The number of times a week you should ride is affected by the kind of riding you do. Generally speaking, gentle riding two or three times a week is appropriate for an older horse. This helps prevent the stiffening of joints, tendons and ligaments, along with muscle atrophy. If you just hop on your older horse to ride from his turnout area to the barn, you can naturally do that every day. Remember to take longer outings at least twice weekly.
Half an hour of moderate riding or other light exercise, four times a week, should be enough to maintain muscle strength and prevent loss of muscle tone and flexibility.
Looking for more horse training tips? Here’s how to train your foal.