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What Does it Actually Take to Keep an Older Horse Competing? Ali Armstrong Shares 4 Tips.

Last updated on April 2, 2024

What Does it Actually Take to Keep an Older Horse Competing? Ali Armstrong Shares 4 Tips.

There is no denying that caring for an older horse differs from caring for a younger one. They may need a specialized diet, extra comfort measures, less time in the arena, and maybe even a little more attention from the vet or farrier. But just because your horse is getting up there in age doesn’t necessarily mean their competition days are over! Ali Armstrong is still competing in barrels at a Professional Rodeo and 1D level on her 17-year-old gelding, Panama, with no signs of slowing down. We love to see an older horse still active and competing, living their best lives, so we sat down to pick Ali’s brain a little bit about how she keeps Panama moving and competing at such a high level. 

Of course, it’s important to distinguish that all horses are individuals, and not every older horse can, or should, be as physically active as Panama. Diet, history, genetics, and injuries all play a role in the fitness level of an older horse. But the point of this blog is to encourage riders to keep their horses active as long as physically possible, with pointers on how to do so. As always, please consult with your veterinarian if you have questions concerning your horse’s activity level or capabilities.

How Ali Keeps Her Older Horse Competing at Top Level

Put the Horse First

Ali’s number one rule for keeping her older horse moving is to put him first (a rule she applies to all her horses, not just Panama). If he’s not moving or feeling 100% and they have a barrel race coming up, she will not compete. Ali knows pushing Panama past his physical limits is a surefire way for injury to occur. If they haven’t ridden in a few weeks, Ali will hold off on entering races because she knows that he is not in his best physical condition. “I don’t let my ‘want to’s’ come above him, or any of them really,” Ali says. She attributes this mindset as being one of the main driving factors behind his longevity in the arena and his high level of overall health. 

If the weather is miserably cold, and the ground is frozen solid, she will hold off on exercising until it warms up a bit. “I know I don’t want to be out in that,” laughs Ali. But in reality, it’s just not safe. Extremely cold air is hard on a horse’s lungs while they exercise, and hard ground can hurt their joints and cause falls. No prize money, buckle, saddle, or title is worth it to Ali if it’s not in the best interest of Panama.

Establish a Good Relationship with Your Vet & Farrier

Ali uses Josh Blyden, DVM at Interstate Equine Hospital, and has established an amazing partnership with him. He understands that Ali knows her horse very well, and listens to her worries and concerns without dismissing or belittling them. Ali knows that Dr. Blyden has all her horses’ best interests at heart and has helped keep Panama active and fit as he ages.

Amazingly, Panama has a very short list of notable injuries. In 2020, he had a partial tear in his deep flexor, but besides a few abscesses, that is the extent of his injuries! Ali didn’t start injecting him until he was about 12, and now only does his stifle and hock joints about every six months just for upkeep. 

Ali worked with her farrier to find the perfect shoeing strategy for Panama as he aged. They went through several options and configurations to fix his angles and, then, ultimately, went a very simple route to find the perfect shoe. Now Ali says Panama feels better than he has in a very long while when she’s riding him, and that’s thanks in big part to her team!

Feed High Quality Supplements Like Animal Element

Panama has been on Animal Element since the very beginning of his career. Ali credits these all-natural, high-quality ingredients for keeping him healthy and in peak physical condition. Panama is on Foundation Daily Detox and NuTrack Digestive Support daily, and is given In The Zone calming paste when needed–like before a long haul, or if he’s feeling jittery before a run. During his recovery from the deep flexor tear, Ali added Cissus Quadrangularis to his supplement regimen, and he healed in record time. 

The ingredients used in Animal Element supplements are specially chosen and formulated to help boost every horse’s overall health from top to bottom. Using FDD and Nutrack together improves gut health,  reduces inflammation,  coat condition, hoof health, proper body weight, and mental clarity. This can be especially beneficial for older horses who often struggle with things like joint and gut health, and keeping on weight. Detoxing the body of heavy metals and other toxins, and getting the digestive system working exactly as it should creates the foundation of overall health that allows a horse to continue to compete in their later years. Because the body is so healthy, recovering from injuries happens faster and inflammation is kept at bay. 

Keep Things Simple

“I think sometimes as horse people, we get it in our head that we need to do all these extras. When in reality, ya know, all you gotta do is listen to your horse. He needed something as simple as a regular old shoe,” Ali muses, thinking about how she tried half a dozen different shoes on Panama until putting him back in a regular ol’ horseshoe. That’s why she loves Animal Element supplements. You can get a gut health supplement, a joint supplement, and a hoof and coat supplement all in one with Foundation Daily Detox! She uses just a few tried and true AE supplements instead of spending hundreds of dollars on dozens of supplements.

The marketing of supplements for senior horses may make you think that if you don’t feed your older horse THIS supplement and THAT supplement, and this one too, then you are shortening your horse’s longevity in and out of the arena. And while it’s true that older horses might need a little extra attention paid to their nutritional needs, it’s all things that you can get almost exclusively from using Foundation Daily Detox and NuTrack together! Sometimes, keeping your feed program, training routine, and veterinarian care as simple as possible is the best thing you can do for your elderly horses. 

Animal Element is Here for Your Older Horse

As your horse crosses over into “older” or “senior” horse territory, you might be wondering how much longer they have left to compete happily. You can try all the new supplements, fancy training techniques, and expensive injections but in reality, your horse will tell you when they are ready to retire. You just have to be able and willing to notice. In the meantime, if you follow some of Ali’s guidelines: keeping your horse’s well-being ahead of your ambitions, establishing a good relationship with your vet and farrier, feeding high quality supplements, and keeping their care as simple as possible, your older horse should be running those races (with gusto) long into their senior years.

You can order all of our products straight off the website, or through your local authorized dealer. If your area doesn’t have a local dealer, and you are interested in becoming one, please call or text Mark Kaylor at (509) 301-1798.