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best riding schedule for a "mature" hunter?

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  • best riding schedule for a "mature" hunter?

    Any vets, hunter/jumper trainers, or others knowledgable about best practice, I'd like to know what you think might be the best management/riding schedule for a 14-year-old sound, made and experienced show hunter. I've owned this horse for most all of his career, since he was 4; except for a few temporary injuries, he's always been sound. We show in the 3-foot adults, but I don't show extremely often. I generally jump him twice a week in lessons only (mostly low jumps), unless we're showing, in which case there would be a third day of jumping. Often one or even both of these lessons will be mostly flatwork, too. I flat about 2-3 other days of the week. After my horse began showing VERY subtle signs of wear & tear in his hocks a couple of years ago (never lame or anything, and still normal x-rays), I stepped up the preventative maintenance: have gotten his hocks injected annually (stifles also at first, but now my vet thinks that's unnecessary at present), he gets Legend and Adequan monthly, and Equithrive (oral joint supplement) daily. At my vet's suggestion, I recently began giving him a little bute, only on the days he jumps or works extra-hard, just to help prevent inflammation and therefore help the yearly joint injections last even longer and be more effective. He seems to be doing very well on this regimen. My question is, for an older but not ancient horse like this, is it generally better for the horse to give him more days off during the week, between lessons/jumping sessions (i.e., 2 days in a row, at least, and maybe one other day off during the week), or is it actually better to keep him moving most days, with light hacking, basic flat work to keep him supple, etc.?? Or do you think it depends on the horse? I love my horse and want to do everything I can to keep him healthy, sound, and happily doing his job for as long as I can! I do try to vary his work, but he's not a big fan of trail riding. I hack him out in a big pasture or walk down the lane at the farm in the summer when he seems like he can deal with it without getting unstrung. He's usually pretty quiet when ridden in his comfort zone, and good at shows.

    Thanks in advance for any responses!

  • #2
    Not a vet or trainer...and they really can't tell you much specifically as they are all different and each situation (rider ability, footing etc.) is different.

    I showed my mare at AA rated 3' thru her 16th year then got 3 more good years out of her at 2'6" including a year end reserve champ at state level at the age of 20. So feel qualified to comment.

    IME more, lighter riding is best. Out of the ring as much as possible. Is there any need for jumping 2 times a week? With mine, I usually rode something else at least part of the time for lessons, she really was not going to learn anything. After riding Hunters for 15 years, I realized I really didn't need to jump twice a week either. Unless we were prepping for a show, I backed way off to maybe 3 times a month.

    One of your biggest problems with older horses is they get sick and tired of all the same old same old flatwork-and as they age, some of it gets a little harder for them. They aren't as flexible as when they were younger-who is?

    Be aware of that. Save them for when it counts. I found one key was how long it took for the horse to recover from a show. Used to be a day or two...then it was three days...then it was more like a week of being a little dull and tired before that spark came back in her eyes.

    They will tell you...but you need to be ready to listen. Use them wisely.
    When opportunity knocks it's wearing overalls and looks like work.

    The horse world. Two people. Three opinions.


    • #3
      I agree with the amount of jumping. When I had an older horse who knew his job I'd jump him once a week if that much. Certainly not more on a week where he's already showing! When I felt the need to ride and jump more for my own benefit I would lesson on a different horse and for a while I leased a second horse just for that reason.

      As far as the flatting, some need more than others. I've had some who stayed fit on turnout and didn't need to be hacked that much to stay fit. I've had others who stood completely still and ate all day long and needed to be hacked every day to stay in shape. With him, I made sure to hack him for two days before my lesson. With others, I make sure to give them the day off before my lesson. So it varies by horse.


      • Original Poster

        I forgot to mention that my horse is turned out daily (all day in the winter (except when being ridden), usually switch to night turnout in the summer) with a pony friend.

        findeight, thanks for your response, which makes a lot of sense to me. Unfortunately, as a "mature" rider, myself, (as in, way older adults, haha), I find i do need to jump a little bit once or twice a week or I really do have trouble with the jumping part, and since I'm too tall for ponies, there are next to no other horses for me to practice jumping on at my barn. As I said, the jumps can be quite low and not many, though it's also true that both my horse and I are less good when the jumps are very, very low. Often instead of jumping, we just work over caveletti on the ground. As I said, I would ride my horse out of the ring more than I do if he were more relaxed about it, have been working on this for 10 years with him
        I'm also fortunate, I guess, that this particular horse has a high tolerance for repetition and work in general. I've had others who didn't have this quality, so I know the difference. But it's also true that neither my horse nor I is as flexible as we once were, so I try to do a lot of stretching and suppling things with him when I do ride. I have sometimes noticed that if I give him 2-3 days off, with just turnout, he's actually more stiff the next time I ride him.


        • Original Poster

          Yes, I do wish I had a second "practice" horse, and would if I could afford it. I can't do that anymore, though, so I have to make it work the best I can.


          • #6
            I have a 16 year old that I still do Adult Eq & A/A hunters with and he is still going strong. I think it very much depends on the horse that you have, how much they did when they were younger, how fit they are, how attentive previous owners were with care, etc. I try to keep my boy in the best shape possible, and he does get bored easily but I still try to challenge him with new exercises. Right now, he's on vacation before show season (breaks are extremely important to me) he needs the time to just be a pony and relax too. He has ten days off and then we'll get back to training before our starter show of the season. He loves, loves jumping so I can't imagine taking that away. He has never jumped or been in better shape than he is now. He gets TriSport joint supplement every day, right now he's on the lowest dose and is great!

            When in training, I stick to a pretty strict schedule:
            day 1: light flat work, about 20 minutes
            day 2: longer flat, light fences (6-8 jumps) half hour
            day 3: outside hill work, trail ride with a bud, something not ring related
            day 4: off
            day 5: light flat, longer fences (couple courses, technical work) half hour, gymnastics every other week
            day 6: off or lesson
            day 7: if he has a lesson, he gets a light flat to stretch his legs and maybe a little spin around our bridle path, if he has off he'll get a solid flat and pole work

            it may seem a little confusing, but it stays straight in my head
            Last edited by bear necessities; Mar. 5, 2012, 12:41 PM. Reason: a redface popped up in the middle for not putting a space in lol!


            • #7
              Last few years before she retired at age almost 22 almost never rode her in the ring at all. Hacked out, luckily had access to a few wooded trails and some big, hilly fields between hay cuttings. If I did ride in the ring, I did not ride the fenceline. Jumping we did the eq and jumper type courses (low) or just worked a fence or two into flatwork. Almost never more then one line at a time with a few singles and certainly never outside/diagonal/outside.

              I also never asked for more then about 6 strides of collection and avoided alot of sitting work. Not alot of smaller circles It was harder for her to do those excercises and she did not need to redo what she perfected 10 years earlier and had done 10000 times. Didn't break my heart to skip the no iron and sitting stuff either.

              This is where each horse is different. No way to put a numerical value on it-like I said, they will tell you based on their needs.

              Oh, and before anybody mentions it, there was a horse doing GPs at age 21-and it took an entourage of equine health care pros to help him stay fit for it...and it took him a week to recover. He was a long time GP horse not lightly shown in recent years, both he and the rider were Olympians and niether needed any lessons weekly or otherwise. Not really an example of what you should expect with your horse and well beyond the means of the average owner.
              When opportunity knocks it's wearing overalls and looks like work.

              The horse world. Two people. Three opinions.


              • #8
                I've had my guy since he was 11 and he is now 17. We did a year or two at 3'6", a few years at 3', and in theory he's backing down to the 2'6" this year (although right now he is helping my sister qualify for her 3' equitation finals, as her horse is coming off of rehab.) He probably doesn't need to back off to 2'6", as he's sound and comfortable, but I'd like to keep him that way.

                My horse does better when kept in work, but the type of work has changed from when he was 13- he knows his job, he does his job, he doesn't need to be drilled in his job. He does some kind of activity six days a week with turnout 8-10 hours per day, and is turned out Monday when the barn is closed. Even on his down days, he hacks around the farm or walks cross country. When the footing is good I stay out of the ring as much as possible. Keeping his hind end fit with moderate hill work saves us from stifle and hock problems, and turnout is key for keeping him loose. He is maintained with an oral HA supplement and polyglycan, and has his hocks done every year (which is as often as he needs them.)

                He does jump once or twice a week- once a week with my sister (twice if showing) and then sometimes also with me if he is not showing, but his practice jumps at home are mostly not at height. I tend to pop him around a couple of crossrails or, in a lesson, bounce around a course or two at 2'6" and then go home. He doesn't need to be schooled, but I do think that having him jump regularly maintains his fitness. He's one that loves to jump and hates to flat, so a program of primarily flatwork makes him grumpy. After a more strenuous jump school he gets a gram of bute unless he's being turned out immediately after. It really depends on the individual, but this has worked for him so far. When it stops working so well I'll evaluate how I can help him better.
                "I'm not always sarcastic. Sometimes I'm asleep." - Harry Dresden

                Amy's Stuff - Rustic chic and country linens and decor
                Support my mom! She's gotta finance her retirement horse somehow.


                • #9
                  I believe light work is better than letting them down, when they're "mature". Since my horse has a lot of turn-out, I've decreased the amount of weekly rides to four, normally. (When he was re-habbing and getting back to 3' horse, we were jumping twice a week, gradually increasing the number of jumps and height.) Now, he jumps zero to once to twice a week depending on everyone's schedule. I haven't shown since August due to financial constraints.

                  We ride outside unless he's jumping (either with me or pro), or bad weather. We have a track with lovely footing. We also have a wonderful field and places to go between the paddocks.

                  He's been on Platinum Performance, E3Live for Horses, Adequan every two weeks and Infrared therapy until recently. He would also get Legend before showing.

                  (He'll be 18 this year.)


                  • #10
                    Agree with above posters- I know atleast with my older guy, consistent work is key. For a little background: He's a 20 yr old ottb that my sister got when he was six (so he's been in the family for a while!). He evented very successfully up through the 1 star level with my sis, and then has been playing around in the AA adult and a/o jumpers with me for the past 4 years. I've dropped him down to the 3'6" stuff for the last year for the most part but he is still going strong. I'm not showing right now due to budget, but if I could, he'd be totally game- this horse is a rock star. The key with him when keeping him show fit is to get him out as much as possible, even if a day or two a week is just a long walk up and down gentle hills. The general rule is that the more work he gets, the sounder he is. He also doesn't jump a ton between shows... once a week tops, and not high. He goes out everyday (except for horrible weather) for atleast 8 hours, usually much more. Legend and Adequan are great, it seems like you have a good program with your guy. You may need to up the frequency of injections if he starts to have a hard time behind, typically hock and stifle injections are recommended for every six months (really depends on individual horse though obviously). Kudos to you for doing your best to keep him comfortable now and for the future :-)
                    On another note, 14 is not THAT old! Especially in the h/j world, there is a huge prejudice against older horses that I think is rediculous. There is no reason why a well maintained horse can't be competing in his late teens and 20s- my guy is a testament to that! I think the attitude that a lot of trainers have against the more "mature" horses is bs...
                    High Quality Tack Resale


                    • #11
                      My oldest guy is in his mid twenties now. He is worked less frequently than would be ideal - not because he is is at all stiff or unsound but because he is still a pistol to ride, but he's as sound as could be. He has the conformation to be easy on himself and weather permitting, he is out about 12 hours a day on a pasture with gently rolling hills. He keeps himself relatively fit and I have no doubt he could easily go back to doing the 3' stuff with no trouble at all. (Until fairly recently, he was the "go to" horse to borrow for medal finals, actually, which he loved.)

                      My other horse is only 12 but I find that he does best with more consistent work; he is much better on a program of light hacks interspersed with harder work than he is with days off. He is not a huge fan of trail rides but I do try to get him out of the ring when we aren't doing a focused schooling or a lesson; I like my horses to be able to deal with normal terrain and not always work on a perfectly groomed arena surface. I also believe that keeping a horse fit and in good condition helps protect them from injury.
                      We move pretty fast for some rabid garden snails.


                      • #12
                        My experience has been that consistent work / movement is best for the older horse. They don't have to work hard every day, but getting them out 5-6 days a week to keep them loose and limber is best. I don't think I would do 2-3 hard jump schools a week, but maybe a lesson and one or two days where we pop over a handful of low jumps, shouldn't be too detrimental. I think, as others have mentioned, it is really about knowing your horse and making sure he seems happy and comfortable with what he is being asked to do.

                        FWIW, I have known quite a few older horses that are gimpy if they are in infrequent work, but get them in a consistent work program and they are happy and sound. Some of them are in their 20s and jump several times a week in lesson programs. Go figure!


                        • Original Poster

                          Thanks to everyone who responded. I tend to agree with all of you who say more frequent, less stressful work is better for the more mature horse, and I'm glad to see there's a range of practices that seem to work for different horses. My horse does love jumping, even though he's also pretty willing to work on flatwork. I think I will try to keep to my 5-6 day per week riding schedule, with mostly light but focused work interspersed with my lessons and, especially as the weather warms, as much work outside of the ring as I can manage with my horse who thinks it's often way more exciting than it should be to walk through the woods. I can ride him around the farm and do hills that way, though. The funny thing is, having posted this question today, I went to ride my guy this afternoon, thinking a light, easy flat ride of about a half hour. Hahahaha. It's chilly today and my horse was feeling VERY fresh, spooking and scooting at any and every excuse. Feeling very good, and I wound up cantering a bit more than I'd planned. Today he felt like a 4-year-old.

                          This horse could have been campaigned at 3'6" or higher as a younger horse, because he certainly has/had the ability. I chose a different route, have shown him relatively lightly (though successfully) all his life. I kind of think that for a horse with his ability, schooling over 2'3"" or 2'6", with the occasional 2'9" and then just a bit of 3', once or twice a week is not stressing him too much. But I will definitely let him tell me, and he does do that. If anything hurts, he doesn't suffer in silence, this one. But so far he seems to be loving his job as much as ever. I hope he'll keep doing that into his 20s; that would be the best gift ever.


                          • #14
                            There is nothing as good as a good "old" horse. We are practicing retirement for my son's 21 year old jumper. Who just this past Septemeber got ribbons at Marshall and Sterling Finals in the 3'9" jumpers. He is the most special and has won everywhere at every height from literally the Grand Prix to cross rails.
                            As he has gotten older he needed to be kept even
                            fitter than he was when we was young. He couldn't walk enough and sometimes we even walked him twice a day. Granted jumpers need to be fitter than hunters, but all older horses need work more than young horses. Just like us they do stay more limber that way. I agree as much light flatwork as you can and yeah for the days that they feel like 4 year olds. Those are the days you will cherish and remember the most. Enjoy your teen years together. Having had a GREAT old horse I can tell you it is truly a GIFT!


                            • #15
                              The horse I'm currently leasing is 25; however he moves and acts like at least 10 years younger. He was a very successful big eq horse, (went the the Maclay, USET, etc. finals), back in his younger years. I've found that for him, the more he gets out and moving, the better he feels. He gets jumped twice a week max and most of that is 2'6, with an occasional 2'9/3ft jump.

                              When I first started leasing him, he was fat, out of shape, and feeling his age. He's now fit, healthy, and moving like a new horse! When I show him, I limit him to one 2'9/3ft medal per show and keep everything else really low. He can easy go higher and isn't impressed by the tiny stuff, but I'd prefer that he stay sound. As far as maintenance, all he gets now is hock injections every so often and some senior supplements.

                              So your horse isn't old at all! Keeping him fit will be key as he ages. Since it sounds like he knows his job, you don't need to jump him into the ground, which it sounds like you already know! I also agree with other posters about riding out of the ring when available and keeping the flatwork interesting.
                              Last edited by indygirl2560; Mar. 6, 2012, 10:20 AM.