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Aging Stallion Questions

Hello Franklin,

I found your website today, and I am just amazed how helpful it is! I searched the archives, and could not find my problem. Maybe you can help me. I have a 30 year old Morgan stallion. I have owned him all his life. He has been shown (national champion) up untill the age of 19 when I retired him to a life of leisure. Occasional trail riding, 2-3 lessons a week, maybe a buggy ride down the oil-well drive. Not to much work. He has been a wonderful horse to work around for anyone. He has never been agressive at all. He has covered 200 plus mares, and been a gentleman each and every time. I was giving riding lessons on him 3 weeks ago. (He doesn't look a day over 15).

I sold my farm and moved my 4 horses to a boarding stable. I thought it would be so much easier to let someone else do all the work, I just get the fun parts, grooming, riding etc. What a mistake. Boarding stables are scandalous! They were not feeding my horses or cleaning stalls daily as they advertised! Moved them 3 times in one year. No problems with any of the horses at all. Untill now. The last barn they were at, the owners husband is an ex-trainer whom at one time had a stellar reputation. He is now a drunk who is completely washed up. I was under the impression that he had nothing to do with the farm, but they kept that hidden from me. Long story short, I paid the wife, the husband wanted the money (for booze) and if you didn't give it to him (pay your board twice), he took it out on your horses.

I bought another farm, and had to leave my horses in their care for about 3 days untill I could move them home. When I went to pick the horses up, they had obviously been abused. Cuts and swollen legs, open wounds on their heads. It was horrible. The 2 mares and the gelding are all healed up and fine now. It has been 3 weeks, and my stallion is a mess. (I think the drunk let my stallion breed the mares- my vet said we will know in 2 weeks. He hasn't bred a mare in 8 years). The stallion has object fixation on a small slit in his stall wall that he was once able to see/smell the mares through. (I have covered it up, and smeared smelly mentholyptus all over it.) He has lost probly 75 lbs (totalling over 100 now, since the drunk did not feed them). He is not aggressive, but he pays no attention to me or anyone else. He is totally consumed with that back wall. I try to go in and talk to him, I take him outside and lunge him---- nothing.... nervous wreck. I let him in the pasture and he runs the fence line yelling for ???? I tried to put him out w/his buddy the gelding and he went after him viciously. I have a tractor path between my pastures, so I put the stallion in one, and the gelding in the other. The stallion pinned his ears back at the gelding everytime he was in the same "space".

I don't know what to do.

I love this horse with all my heart. I have had him since I was 14 and he was 6 months old. We have travelled all over the USA and Canada to horse shows. We have been trail riding at state parks. He is my best friend. I feel that he has lost his mind. I don't want to put him down, but I can't let him live like this either. He is eating his grain, but one bite at a time between pacing the back wall. He eats very little of his hay. He is in a 14x14 stall. My horses have free choice hay at all times, and about 4 hours of pasture daily. The other 3 look wonderful, but my old guy is quickly going down hill.

Please help. Sheri

Hi Sheri,

What an aweful and sad story you have related to me. You must feel devastated for your long time 'friend' and equine companion. It only takes one or two bad incidents to set the life of a horse into a downward spiral. Unfortunately, as this horse is a true senior citizen and even though I know of horses who have lived somewhat longer than 30 years, natural aging is not just in the body, but in the mind as well. If we subject a senior citizen (a human) to undo stress and difficult situations that are confusing and disorientating, problems should be expected and will occur. How severe the results of these problematic situations become for the senior citizen depends on the overall condition and well-being of that individual. Also, the severity of the resulting problems will depend greatly on the support system that is in place for that aging individual. If a person with dementia, for example, has loving and supportive family members around them consistently, the situation may be livable and the senior's quality of life will be sustained. If that senior does not have that loving and somewhat consistent support, it is to be expected that the quality of life for that individual will lesson greatly over a short period of time and that the demise of that individual will probably be hastened.

All I can suggest is that you make the horse as comfortable as possible. Provide the things you know he has liked in the past. Spend as much time comforting him as possible. Don't expect him to all of a sudden become that horse he 'was.' I doubt if that will happen. He is probably too 'senior' now to come back around to where he was. I have had horses as long as you have had this 'boy.' They are like the great best friend, family and beyond. If you see his quality of life so deminished that the horse is just stressed out all the time, worried, pacing, etc. there are not many alternatives. Your situation saddens me greatly and I have great compassion for what you and the horse are going through. There are no easy answers here as your 'guy' is the age he is. Humans can be so cruel to horses it makes sick. Be compassionate towards him and do not hang on to him if his quality of life becomes so much less than it was. You could try going back to the basics of some of his training. Just to see what happens, try 'sacking him out' gently a bit, ground driving and lungeing him at liberty with good treats for a good job (equine senior). Try some good, fun interation if he will do it with you and focus on you. I really don't know what else to suggest. My best to you and your wonderful horse. Good Luck and please let me know what outcomes result.

Sincerely, Franklin

(Three months later)

(Three months later)

Hi Franklin!

I am very happy to report that 3 months later my "old boy" has come around quite nicely! I started doing the very basic things that you had suggested (back to the very beginning of his training) sacking him out, lunging, little games, etc.. I made him concentrate on "me". We started taking walks. I would just lead him completely away from the other horses and their smells and sounds. The whole time we would walk, I'd talk, sing, whatever. Constantly touching him. He used to have a very thick crest (old style Morgan), and he would love it when I'd itch it for him. He no longer has that (lost so much weight), but I'd rub his neck and keep on talking to him. I spend a lot of time grooming him. I changed his feed from a molasses based sweet feed made for seniors, to a low starch/sugar pellets for senior feed. He now gets out for about 14 hours a day (along w/the other horses, just in a separate pasture).

He has gained back all but maybe 50 lbs, his attitude is wonderful, he no longer paces the wall, and his is back to being the gentleman he always was. I am sure he will gain the final 50 before winter.

Thank you so much for all of the support you gave me. Your letter made me cry like a baby (or someone who was about to loose theirs...) I took a big deep breath, and started all over again. Thank you Franklin. I wish you the best of luck in all you do.

God Bless you!
Sheri (and Gambler)!

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