Breaking the Stigma of Purchasing Older Horses

Photo © Lauren Mauldin

BY JAMIE SKUBAL

As I scroll through Facebook groups I see more and more ISO ads for horses stating they want polished show horses with lots of positive traits—also under 15 years old. More times than not ads read something like this:

“Casually iso quiet and safe hunter. Needs to be quiet with no naughty behavior. More whoa then go type. Must be sound with no health issues. Needs to be ready to step into the show ring at least in the baby greens. Needs to have flying changes. 15.2-16.2 (no larger). Under the age of 12.”

Now maybe it’s me, but why are we so against seasoned horses? These are the horses that are in the prime of their lives with years of experience under their belt, yet we pass them up more and more because of a number.

Let’s break that number down. Most horses are started roughly around ages four to six. It takes at least five years for most horses to be trained to the highest levels. So by then we’re at least ages 9-11 in terms of age. Plus, that often doesn’t count experience traveling to and competing at many of the higher level shows.

The four-star three-day event at Burghley in England in 2010 is a perfect example of why we shouldn’t have a stigma against older horses. Its undulating cross-country course and glamorous country-house setting combine to make it one of the most prestigious and yet difficult tests of a horse’s ability in the world. The event attracts top riders and the greatest horses. When they finished the dressage, Great Britain’s Ruth Edge was in the lead on Two Thyme. Right behind her was the event’s eventual winner, New Zealand’s Caroline Powell on Lenamore.

What I’d like to point out is that both Two Thyme and Lenamore are 17 years old. Yet they are far from retirement age, and are happy to be leaping and bounding their way through the world’s trickiest obstacles.

Photo © Lauren Mauldin

I hope that shoppers can stop falling for the stigma of buying older horses. Do older horses typically need maintenance later in life? Yes, but plenty of young ones do too. You should consider maintenance factors and budget when buying any horse. A little preventative maintenance can go a long way.

My own personal experience has shown that you can have a jumper in their 20’s still galloping 3’+ courses, and 16-year-old horses peaking with a little extra care and love. I’ve witnessed 25-year-old horses running and showing with tons of go left in them.

When I read so many of these ads for quiet safe seasoned horses it breaks my heart we won’t look at the older horses. Green on green makes black and blue is a popular saying for the reason. I learned the hard way, and hope older amateurs and young students will consider the “been there done that steady eddy.”

More often than not, these wise owls of the barn are the most amateur friendly horses. The keep their less seasoned or nervous riders safe and almost seem like they can do the job all by themselves. Older horses can be trained professionals whose job is to teach and guide their riders around the ring. The experience they carry under their belt can only help a rider grow.

Photo © Lauren Mauldin

Feeling safe on a trusted horse allows riders to focus on themselves instead of worrying if a young horse is going to make it around the jumps. I find so often that these horses have a soft eye and a gentle heart, and would love to continue teaching and showing riders why they are so great.

The next time you hear someone, especially a beginner type rider, try to discount an older horse from their search, maybe remind them of these great qualities older horses can have. Our sport is a marathon, not a sprint, and longevity doesn’t stop when a horse turns 15.

Jamie is a horse enthusiast who does administrative activities, in that order. Jamie is passionate about sharing the horse industry with the world. You can follow her adventures on instagram and her personal blog.