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An Active Future For Older Horses

Trading an old car in for a newer model is something all drivers do at least once in their driving careers. It is a fairly emotion-free activity involving little or no thought for the car that has been discarded - unless the owner in question is prone to anthropomorphism!

The situation is very different for a horse. When older horses are replaced by younger animals, they are often retired while they are still fit and healthy. With retirement forced upon them, their condition deteriorates, they become depressed and they lose their zest for life - especially if they are turned out all year round with no rugs or protection.

And as some humans do not take to retirement, so it is with some horses that miss the physical and psychological stimuli of being active and working.

However, hope and help is at hand thanks to the Veteran Horse Society (VHS), founded just 18 months or so ago and which will be bringing the story of its success to the Midlands Equine Fair to be held at the Three Counties Showground, Malvern, on 8 and 9 March.

The old saying "success breeds success" is no more evident than within the VHS. It began life as simply a welfare organisation, but now boasts specialist departments in showing, re-homing and rehabilitation. The organisation housed 50 horses last year, and has topped the figure of 1,000 members. A highlight of last year was the success of the VHS Supreme Final at Olympia in December, where the very best in the world of veteran equine was rewarded.

Julianne Aston of the VHS firmly believes that there is so much more to gain from an older horse, and that they can be re-integrated back into normal life. She said: "Regular exercise to whatever level the horse is capable of keeps it fit and healthy and ensures that joints remain supple and that its musculature can support its weight. Many horses can develop arthritis in the front fetlock joints at an older age - and this can be brought on or inflamed by allowing the horse to work on the forehand, putting extra weight on the shoulders and forelegs. By schooling and increasing the fitness of an older horse, we can ensure that it carries itself correctly and so minimises the risk of injury or deterioration."

One success story is that of Alibi, an underweight 16hh thoroughbred who arrived at the VHS Centre with a dirty and scruffy coat, mud fever to his knees and hocks and an extremely nervous disposition.

He was given immediate veterinary treatment including antibiotics, anti-inflammatories and painkillers and was box rested. Because he was very nervous he was boxed beside one of the VHS Centre's permanent residents, Sylvia, who was a calming influence. There followed a slow and progressive re-training programme, starting with short walks around the centre and building up to short hacks and longer walks. As Julianne commented: "He became fitter and more toned, and a stunning black gelding just seemed to emerge overnight!"

Alibi has been successfully re-homed with Linda Goodman, who added: "Now that his winter coat has gone everyone can see what a handsome gentlemen he really is. But more than that, he's honest, intelligent and has the most gentle nature. A total sweetheart!"

The Veteran Horse Society will be attending the Midlands Equine Fair at the Three Counties Showground, Malvern on 8 and 9 March, and experts will be on hand to help you get the most out of your older horse, or discuss with you ways in which you might want to re-home a veteran yourself.

Tickets for the Midlands Equine Fair are available in advance from Contour Exhibitions & Events by calling 08700 115007 and advance booking discounts are available. Further information and leaflets are available by calling 01884 841644, or by logging on at


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