Training and conditioning older, geriatric horses is very different than working with younger horses and especially middle-aged horses. Those guys, in the midst of their working lives are by far the easiest.
One thing I truly believe in is that working older horses in a manner that is approprite to their overall soundness is the best option for them, it simply keeps them younger, longer. Now, it is very important to work with your vet too when you're working with an older horse (and any horse, really) because most older horses have some issues going on, but veterinary medicine has advanced so far, it's just amazing what we can do for older horses to keep them in great shape well into their older ages.
As you plan your work, you'll have to make some decisions on what is right for not only the horse but what you endeavor to do with him as well as what you can do within your budget. Here are some tips for working with the older horse:
1) Older horses lose condition quicker with age and it takes longer, much longer, to return them to a good working condition so a solid and sustainable conditioning program is a must. Work up to condition slowly, don't rush, but once you've started the program keep it up!
2) Older horses - just like people (darn it!) - need more work to stay in condition than their younger counterparts. A well conditioned middle-aged horse will usually keep his condition on three or so days a week riding if turned out for some additional exercise. I find that the older horse needs four or more days a week of moderate work in addition to their daily turn-out.
3) To achieve and maintain that certain level of condition, I like to work the older horses two days back-to-back then every other day for a few days, then two days back-to-back again (this can work well if you have a busy schedule yourself. Work your horse every other day during the week, then both days on the weekend).
4) Remember that the older horse needs his rest but may come out a bit stiff or stocked-up after that day off. Don't let that deter you, just warm the older horse up slowly - I like to do lots (lots!) of walking and suppling before I start to work them. I also like to give them a breather after doing any loping and walk them again for five minutes or so between harder work.
5) I like to do "carrot stretches" (look it up) with my older horses before and after they work. I've worked this into Wes's daily routine and it really loosens up his neck and back before a ride - and he loves the added carrots!
6) When I'm working the older horse, I encourage them to get their neck down while we're taking our walking breaks. This helps them stretch out and can also help keep their back stronger.
7) I personally really like keeping my older horses on Adequan. Most get a monthy dose and sometimes more if they're doing a long haul or a hard show. I only give bute if they've done some exceptionally strenuous work or at my vet's instruction.
8) Regular shoeing is of the utmost importance as well. These older horses just need all the help we can give them so work with both your farrier and vet to make sure you keep them at their best from bottom to top.
9) Some of my older horses also get accupuncture as well as chiropractic care to ensure they're as flexible and comfortable as possible.
I hope these thoughts help because these older horses are real treasures and there's no reason you shouldn't enjoy yours well into the golden years! Talk to you next week, JD.