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Q. Baring accidents or congenital difficulties, how long do horses live if they're healthy & well-cared for? Can you continue to ride a horse when he/she becomes quite elderly?

A. Most horses, if reasonably healthy and taken proper care of throughout their entire lives (not just the last few years), should be able to live well into their twenties ... less often into their thirties. But longevity is affected by matters of heredity as well. Just as some people's bodies seem to give out at earlier ages than others, so do some horses. As a general rule, ponies have a proportionately longer lifespan than do horses.

As far as ridability is concerned, that's determined by how gracefully a particular horse's body ages, and that's determined in large part by how the horse has been cared for, used/ridden, and his physical conformation. Albert had been retired for years before his death. His conformation and style of movement led to a number of arthritic conditions, and he suffered a hip injury from which he never recovered. Chester, one of my old school horses, was teaching a one-hour, walk-trot riding lesson six days a week until the day he died at the approximate age of 32. He barely had a sore day in all his years of service. Of course, even a horse like Chester who never showed any lameness even in his advanced age required much consideration in the work he was asked to do. The older he got, the smaller his riders got and the slower his work became. I stopped using him on the lunge line when I knew the constant circling would be hard on his aging joints. I do believe the light work helped keep his body as supple and comfortable as possible.

Many folks make the mistake of assuming a horse into his teens and beyond has passed his useful life. Not so. In fact, the elders are often the steadiest and most reliable mounts. It is, however, important to moderate the workload and take all necessary measures to insure the continuing health and comfort of the aged equine.

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