How Old Is Too Old To Ride A Horse?

Jessica McDaniel
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How Old Is Too Old To Ride A Horse: Age a Horse Can Be Ridden

It is said that a horse should be at least 4-years old before it can be used for riding.

As a general rule, horses have to be of a certain body size and weight, and should also be from non-threatening parents before they are entered into the horse riding lessons. Horses that are too small or too young may potentially not have the appropriate body structure for riding, and have more of a tendency to buck or shy.

Young horses need time to build up muscle mass, give them time to develop safe and healthy joints and bones.

Moreover, young inexperienced horse needs time to develop physical skills such as moving and stopping over a certain distance. Without this agility and form a horse is too clumsy to handle the stress of moving around on the bit.

How Long Can You Ride A Horse

Horses can be ridden well past the age of 18. But this practice is more about the skill level than the age of the horse. Some horses are still very spry and agile whilst others have slowed down enough that it’s time to retire them. You should take into consideration the health, breed, and training of the horse.

The key to finding the right horse for you is evaluating their level of training, skill, and temperament. When looking for a horse, ask questions like, did they grow up under saddle, do they have the temperament and disposition that suits you, and do they have the training that will build your confidence in your skills.

Don’t be afraid to trust your own judgment. If you are riding a green horse, you can be assured that their energy and speed has not been trained out of them yet.

Horses are easily spooked by new things. Learning to control a new horse, in a calm way that’s suitable to them, takes time. You may even have to re-train them to learn to relax and tolerate new things, as horses are usually very natural creatures.

Look for a green horse that is very curious about their surroundings and easily distracted. This allows you to encourage them to try new things.

How Old Is Too Old To Ride A Horse

There's no definitive answer as to how old a kid is too old to ride a horse. It's a personal decision. Some may feel comfortable riding at 10 years old, while others would be uncomfortable with it until they are teens, 20 years old or never. And a concern can be either based on physical size and/or maturity of the rider.

There are many different reasons why an individual might feel too old to ride a horse. The physical feeling of riding a horse can sometimes a problem for kids. Getting the saddle balanced properly can be a challenge because your center of gravity will change as you continue to grow. Your balance will shift too, as a matter of balance, so that you are less likely to fall off, but you need to feel the horse from the inside out.

At a young age, a child who is too old for riding might not be able to sit long enough to develop a proper contact and balance. Older kids and teens may fall out of love with horses as their interests and activities change.

In my case, I kept riding until I was 35 years old and it wasn't because I was physically too old, it was simply because I wanted to ride. If you are physically capable of riding, then you're too old to ride, you're only too old if you are tired of riding.

How Old Is Too Old To Ride A Horse: When To Retire

Do you know how old a horse is when you're supposed to retire it? Well, I'll tell you the answer to this is, well, there is no specific answer to this. But generally, the older a horse gets, the more difficult it is for him to do his duties.

Nosebags can be weighty and while you don't have to replace them often, your horse's years will tell when the time to change them is at hand. A 12-year-old horse might still do his share of work while a 20-year-old needs a lighter load and more frequent rests.

As a general rule of thumb, figure on putting a retired horse up when he's between 20 and 22 years of age, probably somewhere in the middle. Your horse will probably tell you when it's time for him to retire. If his manners start to decline and he's fractious, it's probably best to give him a rest.

That said, it's perfectly fine for you to work your horse until he's stable-bound. Some horses, in fact, keep going until they drop dead from sheer old age; at age 33, Secretariat is just one example of those horses. Still, before that happens, take time to consider your horse's performance and health to determine his withdrawal from active duty.

Helpful Practices

Assuming proper management, mares, stallions, and geldings can be ridden until approximately age 26. Younger horses can be kept into their late teens if they are handled carefully and if they are monitored for soundness.

The responsibility of the rider to protect the horse must be understood. All horses need time to learn their job. They need time to develop their leg and ear muscles…time to learn the meaning of the word "whoa" and to understand that the rider is in charge.

Continue to care for your horse as you have always done. This way your horse will remain hardened to the various repetitive movements associated with riding and activity.

As you have been doing all these years, it is important to on a regular basis to keep you horse’s hooves healthy. Have a qualified hoof care professional check his feet a minimum of once a year to evaluate the hoof care above and below the hoof wall and provide proper trimming to promote hoof health. Shoes should be removed no later than April or May to forgive the recession of the coronary band and reduce extreme stresses on the hoof wall during this period of intense growth.

With good management, your horse will continue to grow, develop musculature, and strengthen bones and joints.

Vet Checks

When my daughter started riding, she was only four years old. I took her to the vet for a pre-ride exam, and her doctor wasn’t surprised that I felt guilty about letting her ride a horse at such a young age.

He told me that this is no different than enrolling your child in any other sport in terms of physical limits.

The vet explained to me that riding horses was not something you could just do without consulting a doctor. He gave my daughter two thumbs up to ride from a medical standpoint. We also talked about what kinds of riding she was going to do and for how long.

Some doctor visits were in the works over the next few years to make sure my daughter was riding safely.

I did not stop riding at age eight, like most equestrians do. It wasn’t until after my final vet check at age twenty-one that I decided to give up riding shows. Because of these extra visits, my doctor knew me very well and I really appreciated all of his help, because it helped me stay safe. I never was a daredevil or pushed my limits way beyond the norm.

Supplements/Feed

Unless you are in the high country, supplementing isn’t necessary. The difference in mineral content between regions isn’t even that significant, and no horses in the north east or mid west are resorting to supplementing.

You are not giving your horse a bad life by denying him his supplements. If you don’t want to feed them to your horse, feed them to your goats or chickens!

If you are going to put supplement in their hay, go at it lightly. We usually see best results by putting out a dish of supplement once or twice a month, to get the horses to try it, but don’t go overboard. You don’t need to be able to smell minerals on their breath … and you probably wouldn’t want to.

The USDA recommends that the daily requirement of electrolytes for horses is 1 gram per 100 pounds of body weight. That’s about 6-7 tablespoons each day, which is the amount of electrolytes in 16 oz of hydrogen peroxide. Hay is rich in electrolytes, so if you’re feeding hay, you are good to go.

Turnout

If you really feel that your child needs to ride to enjoy the relationship, then you must consider what I call “turnout”, which is the method of continuing your riding experience when they are no longer able to sit sidesaddle in the saddle.

A warm-blood sidesaddle is a troublesome teenager in many ways. They sag back, they grow wide, and the season is short. If you have never owned a sidesaddle, you are probably unaware that your child will not be able to ride a sidesaddle past the age of 10 or 12.

And quite frankly, they probably would not want to. I’ve watched many six-year-olds ride a sidesaddle in clinic, but when I ask them what they want to ride, the answer is always a saddle.

Ground work is an important part of fitting your child, and I always keep in mind the importance of ground work when my students change from “riding every day” to “riding just once a week”.

Your child’s relationship with his horse does not have to end simply because he can no longer comfortably sit in the saddle. Ground work allows a much easier and better way to enjoy this relationship.

Conclusion

Virtually everyone will agree that the moment a person knows they aren’t feeling well around horses, they will avoid getting on one until they are well again. This is the best way to ensure that you don’t make others, or yourself, sick. Horses are the bit players in this drama, but it’s important to remember that they may not always be as healthy, comfortable, and content as we would like them to be. Common sense and practical knowledge is the best recipe for ensuring that everyone, human and horse alike, has fun on the trails.