Longevity is the aim most horse owners. Whether we’re competing at the upper levels or enjoying our horses on the trails, we all want them to live long, healthy, comfortable lives. Achieving this goal takes dedication and a knowledgeable team. Learn more:
Most of the top show jumping horses compete into their teens, but only a few continue jumping at the FEI level past 16 or so. Cedric (Chambertin x Carolus), the mighty little grey Holsteiner who partnered with Laura Kraut for 11 years, was winning up through his retirement at age 18 in 2016.
At only 15.2hh, Cedric stood out not only for his small size, but also for his incredible heart, taking Laura to the podium over and over again, including helping the US team win gold in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Winning over $2 million with Laura, Cedric amassed 81 clear and 45 double-clear rounds, several Longines Global Champions Tour wins, and the list goes on.
What’s the secret to keeping a horse sound and jumping FEI level at an age where most horses are stepping down? As with nearly everything in horses, the answer is that it depends. Some animals are naturally tougher than others, some need more maintenance and care. However, one thing that horses like Cedric or Judgement, Beezie Madden’s phenomenal partner who retired to stud at the age of 18, have in common is the attention to detail paid by their riders, grooms, vets, and farriers. Catwalk IV, the feisty Holsteiner still going strong with rider Robert Whitaker even though the gelding is approaching his 19th year, is another example of how top-notch care keeps the teenaged jumper in the ring. Willem Greve’s stallion Carambole, now 18, has come back from two serious injuries, and still is making 5* courses look like poles on the ground.
One of the common denominators of those older show jumpers is that they enjoy their job. That means they come to the ring energetic, excited, and confident. Watching videos of Cedric, Judgement, Karen Polle’s Wings, or Richard Spooner’s legendary older jumpers like Cristallo, Robinson (who competed until he was 21!), and Chivas Z, one can almost feel their eagerness to attack those huge courses. Making sure they have the best feeding program for their particular needs, the most appropriate trim and shoeing, proper post-ride leg care, paying attention to the footing they train and compete on are all part of longevity.
Those taking care of the animal, on the ground or in the saddle, pay attention to behavior and physical signs of discomfort and use their personal knowledge of each individual to decide how to react. Is the horse cranky when normally he is good-natured? Did he take a lame step in the corner? Does he feel lackluster under saddle? What is that odd swelling on his tendon? In competition, was it just a bad day at the office or is the horse not feeling up to the job for some deeper reason? We don’t speak the same language as our horses, but we can use our own understanding and the expertise of others to make sure we are giving them their best chance to stay sound and happy.
Very few of the top grand prix horses jump much at home; they don’t need the experience and training that younger horses do. However, they do need to be extremely fit, to ensure that the miles on their legs and bodies don’t take a higher toll as they age. Older horses need to build up their endurance, not practice gymnastics, so their management should be tailored to that end. For some horses this means long hacks up and down hills or on roads, for others it is consistent upper level dressage work; for most it is a combination best suited to each individual.
Every aging competition horse has issues: arthritis, an old SI or suspensory injury, a tendency to swelling in the legs after jumping on hard ground, back soreness after a big jump school. The final important key to keeping these issues from sidelining the horse is a good team of vets, farriers, and caretakers who can treat and maintain each horse. The number and effectiveness of therapies such as IRAP, stem-cell, joint injections, and so on has increased exponentially in the last few decades, along with myriad other tools to help these horses feel comfortable and happy to do their work.
The best thing about all of these therapies and aids is that they are available to everyone. You don’t have to be a World Cup show jumper to put together a care and competition program that will help your teenaged partner come out ready to put in a full day at the office, wherever and whatever that might be. And, you don’t have to be Laura or Beezie to develop an understanding of your horse that will help you feel when he’s not at his best. Putting together a good team to give your horse a long career is essential to success, and anyone can do it! If you want to learn more about these therapies, contact your vet to discuss Zoetis’s full range of regenerative medicine devices.