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Retraining an older horse new discipline

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  • Retraining an older horse new discipline

    I recently took a free Arabian horse as a dressage project and he came with his 24 yo dam. She is in very good health, and is a fabulous mover! She was trained saddle seat however and I do not ride that, and would like to retrain her dressage. Is is worth it, or even safe for her to start retraining her a new discipline this late in life? Has anyone ever done it? Sorry if I sound naive but I have never owned a horse that was older than 12yo.

  • #2
    Totally worth it! If she is sound (and she likely is, given how good she looks), then dressage would be great for her. Fit her up slowly and carefully with lots of walk work (see the book Equine Fitness--it has sections on older horses/out of work horses).

    Personally, I think too many really lovely, sound horses are written off when they hit their late teens and twenties. Exercise and human interaction is great for horses of all ages, and an Arab at 24 could have another 10+ years. Heard of the great Elmer Bandit?
    2007 Welsh Cob C X TB GG Eragon
    Our training journal.
    1989-2008 French TB Shamus Fancy
    I owned him for fifteen years, but he was his own horse.


    • #3
      Dittos to what STSF said. I have students with older Arabs who are doing fine with their new dressage careers.


      • #4
        It's not impossible, but it is extremely difficult.
        If she was a good CEP [country english pleasure], everything you are trying to do will be completely foreign to her.
        if she rode in other divisions- not specializing in CEP it will be much easier for her to adjust.
        I have a 12 times national CEP mare, and although I could have retrained, she gets more enjoyment out of being handled/groomed and trail ridden regulary.
        Just see where she is mentally as well as physically-she may very well still love to work, but maybe just not in the showring.


        • #5
          A friend of mine took her old hunter mare eventing (started when the horse was 20). Her inner racehorse came back out when she was on cross.

          My now deceased TB mare started eventing at 13-not sure what her background was before that but it sure wasn't dressage related. She needed some work but she was so lovely it was worth it. Too bad her daughter is a dumbass.

          The mare I bought in June 2010 went from a life of being a very occasional trail horse (and a mother at the age of 4) from ages 4-10 to now doing some low level eventing. Brought the poor thing home and less than 3 weeks later she's placing 5th at her first schooling event with a friend of mine. Talk about speed up the process! She's not very talented but is totally willing and can get around the baby levels which is just fine with me.

          I guess what I'm trying to say is it's totally possible, but you'll probably need some patience.
          "Those who know the least often know it the loudest."


          • #6
            Several years ago, I've trained a former Saddle seat half arab for lower level dressage. She was 21 when she came to me, but took to her second carriere like there was nothing to it! Once her mind calmed down, she learned so quickly, that we won both classes at our first show (First Level) within three months. Perhaps this mare was an exeption, but I'd give it a try with your horse.


            • #7
              I don't have any experience with saddle seat, but a Hanoverian I used to ride for a friend was 24 or 25ish and I rode him dressage. He used to be an eq horse and jumper for my friend, and before that he did grand prixs in Germany. I rode him dressage a little bit, and our first show we got a first in T4. He loved it and whenever we finished a lesson, he was still raring to go So I'm sure it's definitely worth a try
              Follow my instagram @snafflesandwellies for all things horses + fashion!


              • #8
                Most Arabians live into their 30's. I knew one who was doing great at age 29.
                The complexities of dressage is a challenge for them. And they seem to love it. My big grey Arab did not have any training when I got him. I started him slowly and we did cavalettis and low jumps. He liked it. I started some basic Dressage work and he loved that too. Most Arabs are very intelligent and the challenge of learning the Dressage movements asks them to use their minds. They love that.
                I do not see why you can't start this mare slowly with basic Dressage movements. Just see where is goes. I am not sure what the years of man to years of Horse is. I think it is 3 or 4 years to one. So at 5 years old she would be 15 horse years. At 20 she would be 60 years old in horse years.
                Which is not too bad. As long as she gets good care.
                Try her out slow at first and see how she goes.
                She might surprise you.


                • #9
                  I so go for it because she may really enjoy the work, excel at learning a new skill and will be healthier for it over all. But.... some things that shouldn't surprise you.

                  All of these warnings will pertain not to the fact that she was training saddleseat but HOW she was trained.
                  1. her mouth may be hard as a rock. Some saddleseat horses have hard mouths from years of poor hands hanging on the double bridle or the awful technique of bumping the bits hard to get the head up.
                  2. she may have some atrophy in her lower back and hind end if she was ridden fast and hard for the big trot without collecting and developing the hind end.
                  3. She may revert to saddleseat posture the first time she hits the show ring. My retired saddleseat mare taught lessons to kids for several summers only in a hunt saddle and snaffle. She got to really enjoy the hunt seat frame in her older years. Then we tried to show her hunt seat. Guess what happened after she made half a pass in her first hunt class! Hello, park trot!!

                  As long as you treat these as just old habits from another life and help her through it, you should be able to train an old nag new tricks. Keep us posted!
                  ...don't sh** where you eat...