Saturday, May. 25, 2024

Don’t Discount The Older Horse



Why is everyone so quick to discount the slightly older horse? Nearly every “in search of” ad I’ve seen on Facebook or elsewhere sets ages 6-12, give or take a year or two on either end, as a parameter. I totally understand some of the hesitation about taking on an older mount: shorter career duration, joint maintenance, wear and tear, or potential soundness issues. These concerns are valid, especially for a professional looking for a competition partner or someone looking for a fresh young prospect. But for a rider like me, whom I would venture to say accurately represents a large portion of the amateur equestrian demographic, a horse in his mid- to late-teens is an ideal candidate.

Riders like me often work full-time jobs or have families at home. We also have a very healthy sense of fear when riding. So when life gets in the way for a few days or a week at a time, there’s no better scenario when returning to the barn than having a sane horse.

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Laura Adriaanse relishes having a 17-year-old horse, Dixie. Photo Courtesy Of Laura Adriaanse

Recently, for example, I wrapped up my first semester of graduate school while also working full time, and I moved into a new apartment sans-professional movers (don’t ask why I scheduled my move for the final week of the semester. I would chalk it up to some sort of mixture of poor planning and potential underlying masochism). Did I mention it was well over 90 degrees and humid here in lovely Philadelphia? See my above comments regarding latent inherent masochism.

Amidst all this commotion, my sweet horse Dixie fell to the back burner for several days. When I finally did make it out to the barn after the move, I decided I needed a nice hack out of the ring; the last thing I needed was more pressure on myself to put in a productive training session. So, we tacked up and headed out to the front field.

Dixie had had four days off at this point. For a fit competition horse, that is quite a bit of time, but I was more than comfortable to ride on the buckle without stirrups, even outside the confines of the arena. Though I admittedly can chalk some of her quietness up to her general good nature, I think the other factor is that she’s 17 years old. She’s been around the block, and frankly, she’s not as spry as any given sub-10-year-old horse. And for me, a busy but dedicated amateur with no desire to wrangle a fresh young horse and even less desire to hit the ground, that’s absolutely perfect.


An older horse, generally speaking, has some mileage. He has few to no green nerves for the rider to school through, far less freshness during a cold snap or after a few days off, and a more mellow attitude when faced with new environments or situations. And aside from this coveted demeanor, the older horse often has some more schooling under his belt, making him perfectly suitable for the typical amateur. A quiet, safe, well-schooled horse? Who cares if he’s 18—sign me up!

Laura Adriaanse appreciated how level-headed Dixie was during Lexington Spring Dressage (Virginia). High Time Photography Photo

Yes, there’s the maintenance factor. Chances are, an older horse in any kind of serious work will need some maintenance, whether it’s joint injections, Adequan, supplements, bodywork, corrective shoeing or the like (Dixie receives all of the above). But personally, I’m of the opinion that peace of mind and safety are invaluable and should be prioritized ahead of fanciness, athleticism or competitiveness. If you’re scared and unsafe, you’re not having fun, and isn’t fun the reason we amateurs partake in this sport in the first place?

I got Dixie when she was 15. Sully, the horse I began my real dressage career with, was 16, and Spanky, the horse I showed for a few months to finish my scores for my bronze medal, was 19. All three of these horses had more knowledge and experience than I did and were well-suited to safely teach me and help me reach my goals. But I’d guess that a considerable percentage of horse hunters would bypass Dixie, Sully, Spanky and horses of similar profiles on paper, and they’d all miss out on some really stellar opportunities with some top-notch partners.

Don’t get me wrong—there are certainly some young horses with phenomenal brains and the dispositions of much older souls. But, if given the chance to learn from a slightly older horse who has been around the block and has gotten the young horse silliness out of his system, I urge you to take it. I did, and in return, I got a horse who can school canter half-pass on a Monday, sit for four days, then hack on the buckle in an open field on a Saturday. I’m so grateful for my good-natured older girl, and I’m so glad that I didn’t count her out for her age.

Laura Adriaanse is an amateur equestrian and USDF bronze medalist based in Philadelphia. She started out in the hunters, rode for the University Of Mary Washington (Virginia) IHSA team, then switched to dressage after college. She is the proud owner of Dixie Rose, a Hanoverian mare, with whom she hopes to make it to the FEI levels.




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