Sunday, February 11, 2018

The Aging of Alfie

If you follow my blog you'll be familiar with Alfie, my black show horse, who has a bi-polar tendency - he's either fabulous or awful; you want to love him or hate him (more Alfie here).  I have owned him since he was four and he's now turning 17.  He's starting to show his age (don't we all at some point) but it's like when you realized that your mother was old or that your own hair was starting to gray. It's there but you don't want to see it.  I realized it this weekend when I took him to a small local show just to school him a bit since we have not been able to ride much this winter.  Thank goodness the good Alfie showed up but he struggled doing his job and it made me sad to realize that our years of showing together have a finite end and it's coming sooner than I think.

 Alfie in November 2017

Most people don't realize what it takes to keep a horse in work once they start aging. Like people, every horse is different, some are sounder than others, some require more maintenance than others.  But horses are athletes and the ones that have had to jump, race, do dressage, age just like the runners, the tennis players, the football players - those joints deteriorate, they have arthritis and they need help to keep them going.  A good vet is key to keeping your aging horse happy and healthy.  Some are better than others coming up with a "program" to keep them doing their job as they age.  

Many problems with horses arise from the hock joint.  A horse's hock is like a human's knee.  Not addressing hock issues can lead to bigger issues like back problems and no one wants those. Others get injuries to tendons, ligaments, or they have bad feet.  When Sega finally retired she was just sore all over - it was just time.

Alfie has a bad right hock.  It's been that way for the past few years and I watch it closely and look for the signs - usually a big left ankle (he loads off that hock onto his left side).  When he starts not turning well to the right, it means he's struggling.  When I can't get him to rock back on his hind end when I ask him to jump, it means there's a problem and when he can't easily get down the lines (meaning he does not have the stride to get down two sets of jumps) there's a problem.  You need to learn how to recognize the signs in your own horse.

It can get expensive to maintain an older horse and many people don't want to own the older one for that reason.  But my philosophy is that these guys have given you the best years of their lives and we owe it to them to help them age gracefully.  Alfie gets a drug every day, like a high dose aspirin so it's not hard on his stomach.  He also gets Conquer (a gel I put in his food). I buy it at Smartpak and it's an easy and relatively inexpensive way to "lubricate" or "juice" his joints on a daily basis.  He gets a shot every week, inter-muscle, that also lubricates his joints all over.  These are via prescription and are widely used in the horse world for older horses and horses in hard work.  I also started him on Equi-thrive this year, to help him "recover" from work.  This can also be purchased via Smartpak.  And once a year he gets a work-up from the vet - the vet checks him everywhere, we x-ray his hocks to look for changes since the last check-up and he gets his hocks "injected" which is a common practice in the horse show world.  He is due for his check-up in a few weeks.

I also ice his hocks after a hard work-out and I use Back-on-Track wraps for his legs at horse shows and after a hard work-out.  I also use their hock boots and have a sheet that I use on Alfie at horse shows. Some poultice their horse's legs but this does not seem to help Alfie.  Again, every horse is different and you need to determine what works for your horse.  I pack Alfie's feet when the ground gets hard (I wish I could pack my own feet) with Magic Cushion.  All of these products can be found at Smartpak.

You may be thinking by now is this woman nuts or what?  But I liken Alfie to my own situation in many ways. I've been an athlete my entire life. I run, ride, play tennis, ski, swim, do my barn chores. I too have issues now that I am aging. While my knees don't give me trouble, after being a competitive runner for more years than I care to offer, my feet are problematic.  Special orthotics allow me to run and ride. I take Motrin many days and have a prescription for the days I need more.  I have arthritis in my upper back (thanks to a fall off Alfie a years ago) and I see a special doctor four to six times a year to keep my back aligned and in order.  Without her I could not ride or run.  Someday, I too will have to retire just like Alfie.

I love my boy and it pains me to think that he'll be in retirement with Sega in the not-so-distant future.  He's earned his retirement, but am keeping my fingers crossed that we have a few more tri-colors and year-end awards in our future. We all need more care as we get older don't we?  I intend to keep playing as long as possible, just like my black boy!


  1. He still looks beautiful, and he's lucky he has an owner who is so attentive to his needs as he ages.

  2. Thank you Dom. He is a looker and I love him dearly but getting old is just, well, it's a downer.

  3. Beautiful guy... I was wondering: have you considered equine acupuncture? In some cases it can help..

  4. Ann Marie, we have done that to him over the years and miso therapy but his issues are arthritis, aging joints. They just get too old at some point to do their job like the rest of us.

  5. I have dogs and my neighbor's horses were brought over to graze when her grass started getting low... I loved those guys like they were my own.. It was difficult to see them age..Yes, and to tell the truth, I am experiencing some of those problems myself.. we all get older.. but it's easier to accept it with us and more difficult to see them age..

  6. Thank you for caring for these beautiful animals. I learn so much from your blog and thoroughly enjoy it.


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