By their very nature – trustworthy, patient, calm and safe – most Pony Club ponies and horses are mature; late teens to early 20s (there are even some still working the Club at the age of 30!).
A Pony Club mount is very special. He’s probably had multiple owners and has “nannied” numerous children through their early riding experience with fortitude and forbearance. For this he needs to be older and wiser, whether he’s a shaggy Shetland used and abused by the little ones, or a larger legendary trooper who’s experienced at all sorts of competition and games which he pulls off with aplomb.
He’ll do his best to keep his precious young cargo in the saddle and not put a foot wrong. No matter the provocation he’ll not kick, bite or bolt. He’s a faithful family retainer. A situation certainly not suitable for a green young pony.
As many have noted, such a mount is worth his weight in gold, and any parent would be delighted to own such a faithful friend.
Such special ponies – generally falling into the medical realm of being “geriatric” – need and deserve special care.
GROWING OLD GRACEFULLY
If you are lucky enough to own one of these perfect ponies, or have a yard where you need one or more of these equine gems to cater for Pony Club or young riders, there are some things to watch out for to make sure they grow old gracefully.
Experts agree that ponies age more tolerantly than horses. Still, at around 19 they will start showing signs of aging, like stiff joints (the most common sign), more grey hairs, loss of muscle freshness and hollows above the eyes. Older horses are also more susceptible to disease and hormonal conditions like Cushings, laminitis and obstruction of the airways.
Here are some points to ponder if you want to keep your older pony happy and healthy:
- Keep checking his teeth! (Read our blog about “Teething Troubles”). Older ponies and horses are prone to dental problems like tooth loss, gaps, gum disease, hooks, wave mouth and shear mouth. Any or all of these can compromise his health and cause him pain. Dental conditions are not always obvious, so have his teeth checked regularly by an equine dental technician
- After many years of being a supreme athlete, it’s likely your aging mount suffers from muscle and joint stiffness. Osteoarthritis is common, affecting the joints and even leading to lameness. If this is a diagnosed problem use prescribed medical and physical therapy and consider giving him a joint supplement. Such supplements can also work as a preventative, and if you have an elderly pony could keep him athletic for several more years, staving off degenerative joint disease.
- Keep his feet in mind! Hoof problems are common in older horses and ponies, especially laminitis. Take good care of his hoofs, and once again consider hoof supplements if there are ongoing problems like splitting, losing shoes and lameness
- The prevalence of Cushing’s Disease, an hormonal disorder, increases with age in horses and ponies. Age (in any equine aged over 15) can bring on the condition, which relates to a degeneration in the pituitary gland leading to a lessening in the production of the dopamine chemical, meaning an increase in the production of hormones.
What this causes in the affected horse or pony is a range of gradually developing symptoms that are often overlooked, and put down to old age. You might notice that your pony does not properly shed his winter coat, and is subject to bouts of laminitis. He may be lethargic, sweat a great deal, and put on weight. He’ll also pick up infections easily (like conjunctivitis or mud fever) and be very thirsty. If you suspect Cushings, call in the vet who will treat your pony and manage the condition.
- Just like aging humans, a mature horse or pony may have a tired heart! About a third of veteran ponies have heart murmurs, which should not be a problem if regularly checked by a vet. You can be comforted by the knowledge that heart failure in horses is rare
- Loss of vision in ponies is difficult to detect, and usually happens gradually. Most tend to adjust to age-related visual problems, but beware, there are safety issues if your perfect pony loses his ability to see clearly.
Overall, as long as you keep your aging pony healthy , happy, vaccinated, and wormed, with regular examinations by the vet, he will continue to be a joy for your children and carry them faithfully into the future.