Buying an older horse can be a safer decision.
When many people think about buying their first horse, they imagine themselves careening around on a wild black stallion, impressing their friends and loved ones with their horse's looks and fiery nature.
However, for most new buyers, going this route can be downright dangerous. Instead, focusing on older horses or even a senior horse is a far safer--and wiser--decision.
What Does "Old" Mean For a Horse, Anyway?
It was not too long ago when a 15-year-old horse was considered past working age. Today, with advancements in veterinary care, nutrition and supplements, teenage horses are in the prime of their lives.
In fact, at the London Olympics, there were several older horses competing at the highest levels. In the eventing competition, 23 percent of the horses entered were over 15 years of age. Moreover, the incredible Lenamore of New Zealand took home a bronze medal at the age of 20.
"Senior" clearly does not mean what it used to. With improvements in care, horses now live well into their twenties and even their thirties. Many of them work well into their advanced age, and even when they slow down, still often enjoy light riding and trails.
Benefits of a Senior Horse
While you may be tempted by the flashy young colt, if you are a beginner to intermediate rider, an older equine friend may be a better choice:
They know the ropes:
Unlike a young horse that is still learning, an experienced older horse knows the ins and outs and doesn't require additional training. By purchasing a seasoned horse rather than a green one, you can jump right into your favorite sports and even competitions.
They are masters:
Likewise, an older horse knows his job. If you are looking to a show, a senior hunter will be an asset in the ring. He is used to crowds, knows what's expected and can even make up for your mistakes.
On a younger horse, you have to worry about how he'll react to so many horses, how he'll handle the noise and the environment.
They do not need constant work:
While a young horse can get a bit stir crazy if he misses a day or two of exercise, an older horse can be ridden and be perfectly well behaved even after several days of vacation. While you should still use a senior horse regularly, missing a few days here and there due to work or other issues is no big deal.
They are much cheaper:
Horses over 15 typically cost far less than younger mounts. You can get an excellent schoolmaster for a fraction of what you could spend on a young horse with less training.
What to Consider When Shopping for Older Horses
When buying an older horse, keep the following factors in mind:
Look for a horse that matches your goals:
If you are looking for an older horse, look for one who is currently working or showing in your chosen class.
It can be harder to train a senior horse to do a new discipline, so focus on mounts who match your needs right now. If you want to do dressage, a seasoned dressage horse can help you learn the ropes.
Get a pre-purchase exam:
Pre-purchase exams are just as essential for older horses as younger ones. It can reveal signs of lameness or even the beginning symptoms of arthritis.
At the same time, be realistic. It is common for older horses to have some flaws. Before ruling the horse out, talk to the vet and your instructor about your goals.
While the horse may not be suitable for advanced eventing anymore, he may be perfectly capable of mid-level hunter courses and would make an excellent match.
Don't be caught unaware:
Do not expect an old horse to be sluggish and sedate. You may be surprised at how much spunk older horses can have. They also may have learned some habits along the way, such as puffing out their stomachs when you tighten the girth, and those habits are likely there to stay.
When you are looking for a new horse, don't overlook horses in their teens or twenties. These older mounts can make excellent partners, helping you learn and advance safely and more affordably.