I never think of Nakai as “old”. He’s Nik-Nack, Kai, Lil’ Spotty, and my horse. Like all my animals, I tend to think of them as ageless. I know they’re older, that they require more careful care, but I don’t refer to them as old. . . It makes me feel like I’m just asking for Death to visit. So, when somebody said the other night, “I can’t believe he’s 26 this year”, it made me pause.
Nakai’s very lucky when compared to most senior horses. He is occasionally stiffer on his right side and his right eye is blind from ERU, but he is otherwise in fantastic shape for 26. He works like a champ (it helps that we spend each ride with a long warm up/cool down and constant suppling). We’re currently doing a steady workload of anywhere from 10-15 miles weekly. I ride 3-4x a week, alternating between schooling and trails. Up until recently, he hasn’t given me any indication that this is too much work for him.
I’m monitoring his weight, and it seems like he’s hit a plateau. He doesn’t look bad, but I can see rib and he has hollow spots behind his withers. It feels like he’s just not thriving. The vet’s coming out Thursday to check teeth and check for cushings.
I am lucky that my barn owner is very knowledgeable in equine nutrition – he’s already on an appropriate, rounded diet, and she is extremely attentive to every horse’s needs. I’m able to discuss concerns and bounce ideas off her. She took me through his current diet and said the only area we could improve upon is adding more fat to his diet. The easiest way to do this is picking up a few gallons of canola oil to add to his feed. I also want to discuss whether powder weight supplements are even worth it since they are fed in such small amounts. Research hasn’t given me any solid conclusions one way or another.
We’re also going to lock him up one night with hay to see how much he is actually consuming at night. He has access 24/7 to a round bale in the pasture, and at night he is out there with a buddy. Availability isn’t an issue, but if his teeth are bad he may be having trouble eating .
My gut feeling is that his teeth need to be done and I need to cut back his work load. While the temperature has been relatively mild, it’s resulted in a lot of rain. My home trail loops are between 5-8 miles, and the footing has been mud for weeks. Our average five mile ride in the mud is a great for conditioning but seems to be too much right now. He’s not bouncing back like he used to.
I’m leaning towards giving Nakai the rest of February off. If I ride, they’ll be short schools, focusing on softening exercises and hand walking the trails. I worry about keeping his brain busy, though. Nakai is a horse who needs a job, and I have to figure out how to balance a reduced work load while keeping him engaged. His desire to go is going to be the biggest issue – he loves working and has always been a horse that wants to go beyond his capabilities.
This also means I have to evaluate long term goals for Nakai. I wanted to attend Muckleratz this year, but I’m tossing that idea. I want to keep him going for as long as I can, and adding a physically demanding ride doesn’t make sense. Kai’s my first senior horse; I’m going to need my BO’s and vet’s guidance in navigating feed management and what to expect from here on out. I also have to come to terms that my super horse is aging.