Seven tips to keep your older horse fit and healthy
“Give a horse what he needs, and he will give you his heart in return.”
Horses are living longer than ever before due to advances in management and veterinary care. The average lifespan of today’s horses is 25- 30 years old, with many still enjoying life far past thirty years. Advancing age can lead to a multitude of troubles ranging from weight loss to arthritis or respiratory problems. However, lighter workloads, better nutrition, and supplements, and, if necessary, a change in status to valued companion can help most horses make it to their golden years.
The late teens, 17-20, are generally considered to mark the start of old age for equines. However, age is just a number. Horses can be fit and spry at 25 or arthritic and worn out at 18, so it is imperative to go by behavior, physical, and medical observations when determining if your horse has reached their senior years. It is important to consider horses as individuals as they age. Genetics, management, and environment can affect a horse’s aging process, and care and feeding should be based on each horse’s requirements.
Below are seven tips to keep your aging horse healthy and happy:
1. Make sure your horse is getting the feed needed for its age
As horses age, their nutrition requirements may change. Their metabolism often slows down, requiring less food, or they may need an easy to digest senior food. They may start to become arthritic which would require adding supplements to their diet. You can keep an eye on your horse’s condition by using an objective yardstick such as the Henneke Body Condition Scoring System. If a change is apparent such as losing weight or muscle, look for the cause. Older horses often have tooth, digestive, and sight issues, which can all contribute to changes in their body weight.
2. Supplement with natural products
The main issue with older horses is arthritis. Treating it with injections or drugs can cause additional stress on the aging body and could potentially do more harm than good. When looking for a way to alleviate arthritis symptoms, opt for a natural compound such as organic dried rosehips. High in vitamin C, rosehips are proven to provide relief of osteoarthritis symptoms. Their high levels of biotin and Vitamin E aid in skin, coat, and hoof health. Plus, they offer a huge boost to aging immune systems helping to ward off illness.
3. Keep them moving
Many older horses are inactive due to retirement from competition. Regular exercise can be beneficial, assuming it is within the horse’s abilities; it helps to keep them sounder and happier. Watch out for any exercise intolerance, as muscle loss can affect how tack fits, and arthritis can make a horse tire out quicker than in their younger years.
4. Horses are happier outside.
Both senior and young horses are better off outside. When outdoors, they are not breathing in dust and contaminants that tend to build up in stables, plus they get a chance to move more. Outside living or exercising is especially important for horses with respiratory problems common to senior horses such as heaves or COPD. Additionally, senior horses stay sounder if they can walk around freely.
5. Expect Tooth Trouble
Keep an eye on how your horse eats. If you witness grain falling from his mouth or wads of half-chewed hay dropping to the ground, your horse may have tooth issues. After a lifetime of eating grass, grain, and hay, dental problems are almost unavoidable. Teeth sometimes wear unevenly, and sharp points can develop that scrape the mouth. Cracked or missing teeth can cause discomfort while making it difficult for the horse to get the nutrition it needs. Have a qualified veterinarian or equine dentist check your horse regularly to address problems and create a care plan specific to your horse’s needs.
6. Deworm consistently
Just because an older horse is working less, it does not mean their health needs lessen. Older horses often have higher fecal strongyle-egg counts than middle-aged horses. Deworming regularly can help keep parasites in check and reduce the strain parasites can have on the immune system.
7. Watch out for extreme temperatures
Senior horses are not able to regulate their body temperature as easily as when they were young. Hot summer days and cold winter nights can be difficult to endure. Help older horses in the summer by providing them with shade outdoors or a fan in their stalls. Avoid working them during the hottest part of the day to reduce the risk of overheating. Watch your horse’s body weight in the winter. If they are burning more calories to stay warm, they could lose weight rapidly. Adding additional calories into their regimen and investing in a warm blanket will help them stay warm in cold temperatures.
A little extra attention can go a long way
Aging horses can still work and enjoy life when given the proper care. Paying attention to their changing needs and following these seven steps will give your horse the best possible chance to enjoy their senior years happily and pain-free.