Some horses don’t have a regular “job” and are fully retired. However, they still need regular exercise, especially if they don’t have a large pasture where they can move around and self-exercise.
“Many horses are kept in a stable and their owners work during the day. The horse may get turned out but doesn’t necessarily get much exercise. Owners need to determine how to manage some regular exercise—some kind of schedule that works for them and is beneficial for the horse,” said Tia Nelson, DVM, a veterinarian who also owns horses near Helena, Montana.
“Even putting the horse on a hot walker can work," she said. "The horse might get bored, but if you don’t have the time to ride or lead the horse, this is better than no exercise. If you can put the horse on a hot walker near your house where you can keep an eye on him while you are inside working on your computer or doing work at home, this is an option.”
You might know a young person who loves horses and might enjoy spending a little time most days riding or leading your older horse. You might need to check into liability laws, but with a dependable older horse this could be a nice arrangement for both the horse and the horse-happy young person.
“My old horses are on pasture, and they actually keep themselves more fit than you’d think they would," said Nelson. "If horses have a buddy to interact with, they generally move around quite a bit."
You might not want to put an old horse with a group of boisterous younger ones that like to roughhouse a lot or might bully the senior horse. However, an older horse can have a very satisfying life being a babysitter and role model to a group of weanlings or yearlings that respect his dominance.
Horses always do better with a buddy of some kind. Companionship is important for their mental well-being. If an older horse has to be by himself, give him some toys to play with and keep him from being so bored. Horses need something to do. Just like people, they need a reason to live.
“My 34-year-old mare hangs out with a 28-year-old rescued gelding that is a bit crippled but still does very well if he has 1 gram of bute every day," said Nelson. "When the mare was cast and couldn’t get up, she was in a corral next to the shed she’d gotten cast in. We managed to get her out of the shed and into that corral and brought her food and water. We’d given her steroids, and I had done everything I could think of to help her, and she still wouldn’t get up.
"Her old friend was standing down in the pasture, and it was starting to get dark," recalled Nelson. "My husband suggested bringing the old gelding up to the corral. So, I walked down to the pasture and got him. The mare brightened right up when he approached, and within about 15 minutes she got up.”