Horse Life Expectancy

When we first started talking about buying a horse, we sought out advice on the internet and from people we knew with horses. It was universally suggested that we should purchase an older horse, 15-20 years old, especially if we we’re mostly interested in pleasure riding. It is reasoned that older horses are generally more gentle and usually have more riding experience. This made perfect sense to us, even though we ignored it to buy the horse (now horses) we have now. As regular readers will know, we have two horses, 6 and 8 years old. That’s pretty young even in “horse years”. One benefit to their youth, however, is that we probably have many years to look forward to, if we keep them (and we plan on keeping them). Just how long could that be? In my quest to answer that question, here’s what I discovered:

  • Although some sources indicate the average horse life expectancy to be between 20-30 years, I found accounts of horses living much longer.
  • The Guinness Book of Records shows a record of 62 years old. The horse was named “Old Billy”, born in 1760. This, however, is not the norm.
  • One of the Champion horses lived to be 41! See Just Like Gene and Roy.
  • Some locals here in Tennessee report horses normally live into their 30′s.
  • We’ve been told that a “Horse year” is equal to 3 human years. This is the “dog years” approach, where we compare horse life expectancy to human life expectancy. The average American is living to be around 78 these days. In “horse years” that’s 26.

To be honest with you, some quick internet research shows “horse life expectancy” estimates all over the place. I’ve seen 20 years old and I’ve seen 46. My non-technical way of making sense of the wild variation is to average it out. My un-educated guess is that, barring unforeseen circumstances, our horses should live to be up to 30 years old. For me, that means when Moonshine is a senior citizen, I will be able to sympathize, as I will almost be one myself.

What have you heard or experienced?

About Mikki

Born and raised in Arizona...lived in the city for 25 years after growing up. Moved to a tiny little town in east Tennessee in 2005 and somehow ended up with 5 dogs, 2 cats, 4 chickens, 3 goats and, of course, 4 horses. Lovin' the country life!
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46 Responses to Horse Life Expectancy

  1. Laura says:

    I’d heard horses live to be about 30, but there’s a horse at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary (http://bestfriends.org/) that’s 45! By the way…if you’re ever in SE Utah, go to Kanab and visit/volunteer at Best Friends. This place is HUGE (30,000 acres+). You can volunteer for an hour, a day, a week, or whatever. You also choose which animals you want to work with (cats, dogs, birds). I’m not sure if they have volunteers in the horse area.

  2. COD says:

    I’ve heard 30ish too, and I know several horses that are 30 or close. BTW, we too got all that buy an older horse advice.

    We bought a 5 year old.

  3. HorseApproved says:

    I think the average age life expectancy is 28-30. Though I know many that have lived passed 30 and still riding. We bought a horse for my daughter that we were told was 18 but come to find out the vet said he was around 22. So he would be about 24 now if the vet was right. He has a little arthitis but it doesn’t bother him much. He has a wonderful temperment but also has a wild side. When ever I take my mare out for a trail ride the stallion (he’s just a wanna be stallion)in him comes out. He will not stop running and whinning until she comes back. When his coat is thick like it is now he gets very sweaty.
    So don’t let age fool you. Those older horse can have a lot of spunky. I think if you take good care of a horse they can easily life to 30 or older.

  4. Shelly says:

    I just recently had to put down my 28 year old horse. We only quit riding him a year and half ago and that was simply because his legs were starting to get bad, he would stumble constantly and wasn’t as sure footed as he used to be. But he was so full of spunk when we were out working the cattle to the point of bucking at times, but in the next instant you could put one of my neices on him and he was a perfect gentleman. Don’t ever let age fool you, it all depends on the size of their heart and my horse had the biggest heart ever. Sadly I think cancer got him in the end, but he’s better off now.

  5. Calvin says:

    ive heard that in Quebec there are at least 3 canadian horses on active stud duty that are over 30 years old.

  6. Bill says:

    Thanks for sharing, guys.

  7. Gordy says:

    I was curious just as you were just to get a technical “horse year” equation. I’ve always heard 25-30. We have a horse, who will turn 29 in June. We just recently quit riding him within the last year and a half, not because he stumbles, but because he seems to have almost no eyesight. Some neighbor kids walk around on him, but he pretty much just hangs out. He was always very gitty, scared of everything. So needless to say, being almost completely deaf and blind, things would easily scare him now. Uncommon when healthy, you can actually sneak up on the old boy. His companion was the same age within a couple months. She died 4 years ago. So we do not ride him, but he can still run as he took off today in the field scared of some noise. He is a full blooded Quarter Horse, which I’m sure may make some difference in age. I would say it has to do with work and stress and diet and breed.

  8. Bill says:

    Gordy, thanks for sharing your story. It’s both sad and touching. I’m happy to hear you’re able to let him live out his years on your farm. “Work and stress and diet”…sounds like us too, doesn’t it?

  9. Suzie says:

    I have a mare that will be 32 this spring. She’s been with me since she was 8. She has arthitis, and gets meds daily. But, she is full of spunk! Gotta keep an eye on her…at least other’s have to…she loves me (her momma) and is very gentle around me. When her time comes…it’ll be just like losing one of my children.

  10. Chris says:

    Hi, I am about to buy a horse for my wife, I am getting her an 11 year old mare. Any tips on what I should feed her to keep her healthy for years to come?

  11. Amanda says:

    i just recently got into horses and already had bad experinces, such as loosing mother and foal. We perchased a registered palomino quarter horse, we found her mom that is for sale. we thought it would be neat to have them. shes 17, and i thought that may be a little old and didnt want to spend alot of money, on something that wouldnt last long. but many people that have horses, have told me that expectancy is about 30. so now i feel better about buying the mare

  12. Bill says:

    Thanks for your comments everyone.

    Amanda, sorry to hear about your losses. 17 doesn’t sound so old at all to me. At a 1:3 horse to human life ratio, it sounds like your horse is about 50 in human equivalent years. You probably don’t want to race her but there’s a good chance she has a lot more years in her.

  13. Gretchen says:

    I have a gelding that will 30 this fall. He has some muscle proplems in his hind legs but he’s still going strong. He is a good pet now. I got him as a young child when he was 1yr old and it will defintly be very hard to loose him because we grew up together. He doesn’t seem to have any major hearing problems he just ignors you, he has always been a sound sleeper so you don’t walk up to him while he’s sleeping. He’s calm and kool doesn’t mind much of anything except the neighborhod dogs that he likes to chase. I haven’t rode him steady in several years due to his muscle spasms in his rear legs. Just wanted to let everyone know that horses are great and can live a long happy life. Good luck to everyone.

  14. Bill says:

    Thanks for the note, Gretchen. Wow, 30! It sounds like you’re going to let him live out his days in peace. 30 years seems like a long time and yet not nearly long enough.

  15. Julie says:

    Last Sunday I made a very difficult decision to put my best friend of 17 years down. He was 35. He came to me in 1990, I used him for trail riding until my daughter grew out of her pony, then she rode him at pony club. They won most showjumping and horse trials comps that they entered, and also went to state games.
    Cobber was born in the wild, a brumby, in Queensland Australia, and was transported to Victoria, Australia with his mother as a foal with many other brumby’s. Cobber was nearly trampled to death, so a vet took him home and gave him to his son, Robert, who nursed him back to health and broke him in. Robert’s 3 sons rode Cobber in his hey day, then at 18 they gave him to me. He was a tough old boy, never sick, had the strongest feet and was a real character. He touched so many lives in those 35 years.
    The last 5 years he just bummed around in his paddock with his ex-race horse mate, River, only being ridden very occassionally over this time. In the past few years he became quite stiff in the back end, the vet and farrier confirming that he seems very happy.
    In the past week he has become quite wobbly in his back end and I noticed that he hasn’t been lieing down and seemed to be in a lot of pain. It was time!! My daughter and I feel so empty, and his paddock mate keeps watch over his grave, it is heart breaking.
    My Cobber, was the best horse in the world, I think.

  16. Stephanie says:

    Thanks for that mum. Got me all teary again. Yes he was the best horse and friend anyone could ever wish for. He had a cheeky personality that you could not help but fall in love with. He was a boof head but if you were sad or feeling low, he was so gentle and was always there to make all your worries go away. He never stopped giving.
    Love you Cobber, you will stay in my heart, always and for ever.

  17. Nichole Anastas says:

    Hi,
    Loved reading your story, just stumbled onto it when i was goggling trying to find out how old our pony is in human years. My grandmother bought him for my 8th birthday and he was 2 then. I am now celebrating my 40th, and even though he is not ridden anymore he is still a healthy pony.Like the other stories i have read he can still get a bit spirited but mainly now just grazes all day. It will be a sad day when the day comes to say goodbye as he has given many years of pleasure to myself and my cousin who now looks after him.

  18. Linda says:

    Hi! We bought my daughter’s first horse when daughter was nine and horse (Penny) was 16. Penny is 31 now, and still pretty spunky. Horses begin losing their molars in their mid-late twenties, and need extra care that they get proper nutrition from then on. In the wild, they would starve without the ability to grind pasture. With the senior feeds now available, I think the age limits will rise. Enjoy your horse!

  19. Mandy says:

    Have been reading all your comments on older horses.

    We have been offered a 24year Highland Pony Mare – she has been there and done it – riding schools etc. Very laid back with a bit of go if required!! I am very tempted but worried about her age – how many years has she got with us ? A little arthiritis in her leg has been spotted and is she too old for my boys (age 10 and 12) to ride out on her? . Has anyone any idea how many riding years we can expect out of her and when it would be kind to just let her retire and graze? She is very sweet but I feel her age may not suit out needs – any comments would be greatly appreciated.

  20. Vyckee says:

    My mare Comet lived to be 32. I got her when I was young. She saw me thru my teens, twenties, thirties, and into my forties. I couldn’t put her down, I had to let God choose that day. She looked as if she were 4 when she died. She never got poor, or lame and she never even acted as if she didn’t like to be rode. At least on the outside. I rode her till she was 26. She never complained, but I could tell she was not the same. So I quit riding her. Something in my heart told me so. But she looked as if she was a 4 year old even at 32. Her body was fat, her hair slick, and she moved with no pain, she was not lame. She became blind though at about 29, moonblindness. Appy’s are a breed that gets it alot. She was the best horse I will ever have and the one that fit me the like a glove. I have many horses now, and I keep looking for my Comet, yet I think like most things in life, you get one of the best and the next one will only be workable. Not to say the other horses are not good, but they will never be my Comet.

    • Gail says:

      Appys have big hearts…….I had one growing up that was like you described yours to be….all my kids learned to ride on her also. Now at age 57, I too have been searching for her “twin”. I now have a 25 yr old rescue Appy mare that is almost as good…..even at her advanced age, she is full of get up and go…she gets very light riding…mostly by small children and is the best kid’s horse I have ever seen. If an adult gets on her she is ready to boogie! We have to make sure she doesn’t overdo…..big hearted….sweet mare….I will treasure the few years I have with her.

  21. debbie says:

    My Appaloosa mare Patches is 34 and I have had her since her birth (I was in college). Although she has been retired for many years now, she was the perfect horse for adults and children. She has the usual problems associated with old age: deafness, growths in eyes (not painful according to vet), and some problems with chewing. She eats Senior Equine pellets twice a day. In addition, we plant seasonal grass for her so she always has something tender to eat. She spends most of her day sleeping and occasionally grazing. Caring for her requires time and patience, but we do not mind. She earned her right to live our her life by babysitting our boys as they learned to ride the speed events on her. She was not the fastest horse around but she was consistent. Also, not many horses will stop and wait when their rider falls off. I hope she will live for many more years.

  22. Asia says:

    My mare name is john and I had him every since i was 12 years old he is really fun to ride and i am glad that i got him when he was young becasue now he is like too old to do anything but i still have him becasue he was a gift from my parents and i love him so much. Now I want to share this experiece with my kids and I am thinking about giving them a horse and I do not know what horse to give them. But I want to give them one that is young so that they can have fun with him like their mother did… But when I became older my heart told me that maybe i should give my horse a break so that is what I did and stopped riding her… But I know that my Horse will always be apart of my family no matter how old he gets… I will always love my horse…

  23. Teresa says:

    Thanks for all the stories. I just got my first horse last summer. I always wanted one and we both are learning and growing together. Jasper is 4 this year and I am 42. I figure we will be ready to give up riding at about the same time according to the stories here. I have already told my family to just put us both out to pasture.

  24. Erica says:

    I have a half arab/half TB gelding that just turned 30 years old this past February. He is still being ridden by several young girls who are learning dressage on him on our farm. He is doing great and is very healthy. Most people say that he looks about 15! We have been together since I was 9 and he was 6. (So we have been buds for 24 years now.) Reading these stories about others who have had horses a long time really touched my heart. I hope that General will be in my life for more years to come. Horses can live well past their 30′s and can still lead productive lives indeed. However, I agree, it does help if you take good care of them overall throughout their life. Good luck to those of you in search of your horse friend. I could’nt have asked for a better companion!

  25. Anne says:

    We were given a 23 year old gelding for my 9 year old daughter. He is an absolute god send. Mac is sound and we ride him 5 days a week. He still has all of his teeth and acts like a spring chicken. The nice part about his age is he is teaching us, an absolute must have for the novice horse owner. He is the perfect match for my daughter as they are quite the pair. But don’t let age fool you, no horse is bomb proof, he has actually crow hopped with my daughter in the show ring. We worked through it and we are becoming better riders. We are careful not to overwork him due to his age as we want to make him last forever….

  26. Luis says:

    I don’t know much about horses, but I love to ride. I am thinking in buying one. which breed and how old the horse do you recomend?

  27. Teresa says:

    I am like so many others. I am buying my first horse and I am being advised to get a 15-20 year old horse. I have been focused on a horse that is 3-7 years old. I have come to realize that a well broke horse in this age group will cost more. For me, I want a safe horse, and I am not looking at personal injury. With each year of age on the horse, I am looking at one year less that I have with my horse. I fully expect loosing the first horse will be like loosing my first cat and my first dog. It is heart breaking.

  28. Carol says:

    I bought my lesson horse at 16, but she recently has developed a horrible case of heaves at 19. I am very worried about her, vet has her taking alot of drugs to control symtoms but I cant believe that all the drugs will extend her life, just make her more comfortable while she is here. I am heartbroken and wish I could do more to relieve her breathing problems. Wish me luck to get her to a decent old age!

  29. Bill says:

    Carol, I wish I had some good advice for you but I’m terribly unqualified. Knowing how much I love our horses, I can sympathize with how this must hurt you to watch her go through that. It’s great she has someone who cares for her enough to be heartbroken. Best wishes.

  30. Dava says:

    Older horses are wonderful. I have a retired thorouhbred that’s 21 and a tennessee walker that is 18. They’re my girl’s first horses even though she’s been showing for 4 yrs. We love them and wouldn’t trade them for anything in the world despite their age.

  31. Jamie says:

    I stumbled on this website today during a sad time for us. We were lucky enough to have a wonderful, sweet, white quarter horse for almost 27 years. He would have been 30 this year. He pulled me through some of the most difficult times in my life, and we were blessed to have him long enough for my two girls to be able to ride him. He was going strong and was being ridden in lessons several times a week up until yesterday when colic took him from us. He touched so many lives and will be missed.

  32. carol groleau says:

    i also know a race horse that is 39 ,he just likes to hang out now .

  33. carol groleau says:

    jamie ,i am so sorry ,it brings tears and momeries of two horses i loved dearly whom ate something and got very sick and i had to put both of them down .god i will cry with you .it has been 2 yrs actually going on 3 and everyday i still think of them ,i have the filly to the mare and the sister to the gelding ,my only saving grace for being heart broken

  34. Liz says:

    I ride a gelding horse that just turned 31! He falls asleep during grooming and bath time, but other than that he has so much life left in him, still jumping and tearing around in the field!

  35. Ekhlas(Bangladesh) says:

    Hi, we have one riding fit horse of 24 years old but day by day it’s condition is dtoriorating. In our country horse are capable for riding on an average up to 15 years.Thanks.

  36. B.D. says:

    Hi I have a chance to buy a 24 year old mare. She use to be a reining mare many years ago and has points on her. She is a great granddaughter to Leo and a great granddaughter to Dry Doc. She is is good shape except a little arthritis in one of her knees. To look at her she looks like she is only about 6 years old. She still has spunk to her and is a beautiful horse she is the daughter of LEOS SPANISH BEAU. The lady isn’t asking much for her just wants her to go to a really good home which I can provide for her. But worried that maybe being that old how long would I have her. Said she is sound, hooves really good and she loves to go on trail rides. Any opinions?

  37. Cindy says:

    Yesterday I lost my 31 year old gelding. We found him in the pasture — it looked like he’d just laid down and went to sleep. I knew the day was coming but really wasn’t prepared after having him 21 years. He provided some wondering rides over the years and taught my children how to ride. I have an 11 year old gelding and a couple months back I bought a 4 year old thinking he’d provide many years of riding ahead. While I think someday he’ll be a wonderful horse, horses like people need some life experience, too. If I had to do it over, I would not let age be a huge factor in my decision. BTW, thanks for the article. I was curious about average life expectancy for horses. “Sting” physically looked like a much younger horse and many times people were just shocked when I’d tell them how old he was.

  38. GAIL says:

    I WAS A HORSE CRAZY LITTLE GIRL WHO WALKED 4 MILES WITH SADDLE ON BACK TO THE RIDING STABLES EVERY WEEKEND I CAN REMEMBER SINCE 13 YEARS OLD, MY FATHER DIDNT LET ME HAVE MY OWN HORSE, WE DIDNT HAVE ANY LAND & MAYBE HE WAS BEING FRUGAL, I MOVED TO COLORADO AND BOUGHT MYSELF A WILD ARAB/QUARTER 3 YEAR OLD MARE ON MY BIRTHDAY FOR $185, I WAS SO THRILLED, SHE WAS JET BLACK WHEN I GOT HER AND CHANGED EVERY PRETTY GREY COLOR OVER THE YEARS, DAPPLE, GRUYERE, STEEL GREY, BLUE ROAN UNTIL NOW AT 25 SHE LOOKS JUST LIKE HER DAD A FLEA BITTEN POLISH GREY ARAB!! SHE NEVER NEEDED A BIT, I BROKE HER AND WAS ON HER BACK IN 12 DAYS AND ALTHOUGH I GOT TOSSED OFF MANY TIMES SHE FINALLY SETTLED INTO A GREAT LITTLE HORSE WITH MEGA PERSONALITY, IF I DIDNT SHOW UP TO FEED SHES THE SORT OF HORSE WHO WOULD FIGURE OUT THE LOCK ON THE BARN AND JUST GO AHEAD AND FEED HERSELF, VERY MISCHEIVIOUS, ALWAYS BREAKING IN MY CHICKEN COOP, I JUST RIDE BAREBACK, HOP ON CLIP MY REINS ON THE HALTER AND I AM AWAY, SHE HAS ARTHRITIS NOW IN HER SHOULDER AND LOWER BACK BUT I JUST HAD HER CHECKED AND THE VET SAID TO WALK HER UP STEEP HILLS AND THE PULL WOULD DO HER GOOD, SHE’S ALWAYS BEEN MY CADILLAC, SO COMFORTABLE, GREAT SHOULDERS, SHE WAS ALWAYS A NOSY POCKET PICKING SORT OF HORSE, SHES LOST A BIT OF WEIGHT BUT SHE ALSO PULLS A CART AND IS STILL GOING VERY STRONG AT 25……….MY OTHER HORSE IS 28 THIS YEAR, I JUST HAD HER CHECKED FOR CUSHINGS DISEASE COS SHE HAS A FEW CURLY PATCHES THAT DIDNT SHED OUT THIS SUMMER, BUT GUESS WHAT SHE IS ALL CLEAR, NOT BLIND, NO LUMPS, BUMPS, AND NO CUSHINGS, JUST HAD THE POINTS FILED ON ONE SIDE OF HER MOUTH SO SHE SHOULD PUT SOME WEIGHT BACK ON NOW, I GIVE HER SUGARBEET PULP WITH HER FOOD SEVERAL TIMES A WEEK, APPLES, FRESH WHEAT GRAIN AND SENIOR FEED. I LOVE THIS LITTLE PETITE BLACK HORSE, SHES GOOD AS GOLD AND NEVER GONE LAME ON ME!! I HOPE SHE LIVES ANOTHER TEN YEARS AT LEAST, I MAY BUY HER A COAT THIS WINTER, THE WINTERS HERE ARE BRUTAL -25 SOMETIMES FOR DAYS. BY THE WAY I KNOW A NATURAL HERB THAT REALLY WORKS FOR CUSHINGS DISEASE THAT I RESEARCHED, IT IS WHOLE CHASTE TREE BERRY, ABOUT 9,50 PER POUND, GRIND IT UP IN THE COFFEEBLENDER AND GIVE 1 TSP TWICE A DAY, IT FEEDS THE PITUARY GLAND AND REALLY HELPS THEIR SENIOR YEARS, LOVE YOUR OLD HORSES, ALL YOU CAN THEY ARE SURELY WORTH ALL YOUR GOOD EFFORTS.

  39. Kathleen says:

    Check out this video

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ughg6Nyqw_k

    This is my 34 year old quarter horse. A few months ago she couldn’t walk, and could barely stand with cross ties. Everyone thought we had to put her down, and that we might as well because she is so old!!!!

    I knew in my gut she had more life to live and gave her as much TLC as possible. The video is of her today, totally recovered. Our vet thinks she still has at least 5 years in her :)

  40. Liz says:

    I have a 20 year old gelding (about to be 21) that I have had for 8 years now. I am hoping he can live into his 30′s like so many others. Everyone that sees him thinks he is no more than 6 or 7! I also just got a 25 year old gelding for my husband, who has ridden twice in his life, to learn on. I’ve been around horses most of my life and have really come to appreciate the older ones! They are so much more patient and gentle and have so much to teach us. He is the sweetest thing you’ve ever met- unfortunately his previous owners allowed him to get close to 250lbs underweight, so we are steadily trying to put it back on him. Not so easy when they get this old. He is worth it though!

  41. Rachael says:

    Hi good to hear about all your aged horses doing so well. I am looking for my first horse and have found one but he is 25. Am assured he is well and not lame etc and a real good foer. Anyones opinion on whether of not I should would be much appreciated. And what sort of price would be reasonable? Thank you

  42. Nichole Anastas says:

    Hi
    Just googling and came across your site and stared to read about your horses etc. I, in my younger days, rode a small welsh mountain pony called Tomboy I received him as a present for my 8th birthday from my grandmother and he was 18 months old unbroken at the time. He is now 41 years old and though he has no teeth and a little cranky he is still healthy. Of course we dont ride him anymore but I still cherise the fun times he gave me as a child.While i dont know how he is in human years i know that he is OLD!!! Enjoyed reading about the horses thanks for the flash back of memories.

  43. Dawid says:

    I have two horses. One is 6 years old (Tara), and the other is 24 years old (Quattro).Can anyone please tell me why Tara is scared of water? He refuses to walk through water. I don’t know why! Any comments?

  44. brandi ingram says:

    Tomorrow we are having to put May, mama’s mare, down at 34. She had this horse’s mama till she died and has had this mare since birth. She was one anyone could do anything on. Ran barrels and all timed events to team penning. Wonderful horse, taught me and my brothers, cousins and friends to ride and now the grandkids. This is something that is hitting harder than most even comprehend. Want so badly to help my mom through it but don’t know what to tell her or the kids. It’s like losing a person and knowing its coming.

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