Senior Care at Horse Shows
Q. My healthy senior gelding still goes to horse shows to give young riders good first experiences on a trustworthy mount. Are there any special considerations I need to make when hauling, housing, and showing him that are different than ones I make with younger horses? 

Shelley, via e-mail

A. I think it is wonderful for these senior horses to still have a job—it’s good for their mental and physical health. With this being said, don’t forget they are still senior, which means their immune systems are not functioning quite like they used to. So it’s critical to make sure your senior horse is up-to-date on all core and, perhaps, some of the risk-based vaccinations to help protect him when he’s out mingling with other horses. Practice good biosecurity, especially with these seniors, again because their immune system is likely not as robust as it used to be, and warding off infections that wouldn’t have posed problems when they were younger is now more challenging. So use your own water buckets, don’t let your horse nose other horses, and keep a close eye on him during the shows. Look for nasal discharge or coughing, and even consider taking his body temperature. 

When housing your horse at the show, again, if possible, minimize contact with other horses and make sure he has clean, fresh water at all times and a clean stall environment. Also make sure he’s on a good nutritional program, including quality forage, which is all-important in maintaining and supporting the immune system. These senior horses often get attached to their buddies. If this is the case, consider stalling him next to a familiar horse at the show, as this will help minimize stress and, in turn, help out the immune system.

When trailering your horse, also consider the same biosecurity measures, provide clean water and forage, and consider the buddy system in trying to minimize stress. Trailering can be stressful to horses and reduce their immune response even further for up to 21 days after transport. So when returning home, again monitor his health status closely and provide a healthy and low-stress environment in which to recover from the show and trailering.