Senior Horse Care Tips: Keep The Aging Polo Pony Playing

SHRIMP_RAINI don’t think anyone really knows how old my favoritest horse, Shrimp, is … I think she is in her 20′s but I don’t know how far north of 20. Even at her age, with battle scars and an ugly capped hock, she has serious speed and agility. I can’t imagine what she was like when she was younger.
Unfortunately though, at her age, every time you go out, you have have to acknowledge that today could be THE day – their last day. You worry about asking too much or pushing too hard.

I was worried Wednesday was that day.

When we got back to the barn, after practice last Wednesday, Shrimp was lame. She presented with heat and swelling, in her left front ankle, especially along the outside.

In a lecture to Team USPA last year, Dr. Shelley Onderdonk, wife of former 10-goaler Adam Snow, vet and Team USPA mentor, gave a great protocol for lameness. I remember it as “the three day rule.”

Dr. Shelley’s Three Day Rule

If your horse is lame, give it rest, ice, anti-inflammatory meds and topical treatments as indicated. If after three days, it isn’t better, or at least noticeably improving, it is probably time to call the vet.

Fearing a suspensory, we did all those things for Shrimp – ice, poultice, Bute and time off in a great big pasture. On Friday, she was still lame, hot and swollen, so I called Dr. Onderdonk to arrange for a lameness evaluation.

Saturday – same. Sunday – still the same. This morning, Monday, I show up, with Shrimp, for her appointment, remove the standing wrap and voila! She trots out sound. It is just like taking your car to the mechanic! But I am not complaining.

When Dr. Onderdonk looked her over, she said it was her tendon shealth that was still a little swollen and tender, not her suspensory. She prescribed another 5 – 7 days rest before starting her back in work slowly.

Tips For Keeping Older Horses (Shrimp) Playing

In discussing the care of a senior horse with some meaningful arthritic changes, with Dr. Onderdonk, I learned some tips I thought I would pass on. Dr. Onderdonk recommended five things, for Shrimp, once she starts playing again:

Senior Horse Care Tip #1 – Her heel bulbs are uneven in that foot, which could be putting extra torque on that ankle. She suggested we get the farrier to try to resolve that, as well as square her toe, as much as possible (which we do try to do already).

Senior Horse Care Tip #2 – She recommended we add more Omega-3 to her diet, in the form of fish oil. All my older horses get SmartFlex Senior. She said I can’t give them too much fat or oil.

Senior Horse Care Tip #3 – She asked about Adequan. My older horses already get Polyglycan.

Senior Horse Care Tip #4 – Wet heat before they play. This is not something we are doing currently.

All my horses get their legs iced when they finish work or playing. After a chukker they then get Biegel Oil and standing wraps. Dr. Shelley recommended wet heat before the chukker. If you are old and creaky like I am, think how good heat feels. She said it is the same for your older horses.

Her recommendation: Fill a bucket with water as hot as you can stand to put your hand in. Dunk a polo wrap in it and wrap the affected joint. Take it off and put regular polo wraps and SMB boots on. We haven’t quite figured out how to do this field-side! Maybe an electric kettle? (Any ideas? Leave them in the comments!)

Senior Horse Care Tip #5 – “Paint affected joints” with DMSO-cortizone mix once a week or so. Not doing this currently either. She cautioned not to do this if the horse has an infection. But so long as no infection is present, the DMSO will deliver the cortisone directly to the joint. (We mixed some up in a spray bottle today. That way, it is handy and easy to apply. Don’t forget to wear gloves!)

You know what they say about an ounce of prevention being worth a pound of cure?

I have several “older horses”, ranging in age from 12 to 20+. They all have varying degrees of arthritis, consistent with their age and use. I want to keep all of them playing as long as possible, as comfortably as possible.

So today was a good day. Not only will Shrimp be on the mend soon, but I also learned some things to keep my other older horses up as well.

So that is what I learned about polo today. Please feel free to share your thoughts, comments and experience below. What do you do for your older horses? More? Less? Different? Feel free to share!