Our senior horses have helped us for years and years. Whether they were a riding companion, a work horse, or something else, they provided for us and now it is our turn to return the favor.
As horses age, their bodies deteriorate just like humans, so caring for them to keep them in good health is very important.
Every horse (and senior horse) is different, meaning they may need different care for different problems. If you’re lucky, there will not be many age related problems and they won’t begin until well past the two decade mark. However, it is always important to be prepared!
Today we are going to discuss aging issues and how to care for your older horses in these areas:
- Dietary Changes
- Dental care
- General needs
When horses age, their digestive tract stops working as well as it once did. Some of their issues can include weight loss or loose manure, blocked small intestines from fat tumors, and a gut is unable to absorb nutrients very well.
Here are some signs that may indicate your horse needs to have a senior diet:
- Weight loss
- Hoof and hair quality decline
- Loose stool
- Quidding (dropping partially chewed hay while eating)
Older horses can also have dental issues that would require a change in their diets.
The reason digesting food and absorbing important nutrients becomes more difficult is due to hormonal and metabolic changes. Due to these problems, their diet has to compensate for their less productive digestion.
When changing their feed, make sure the diet includes these standards:
- Food that is easy to chew and swallow
- Incorporates 12-16% of protein
- Has enough fiber to aid digestion
- Supplies the horse with enough energy to continue their body function
- Provides essential minerals (calcium and phosphorus) and vitamins (vitamin C and B)
- Contains fat from a vegetable source (promotes healthy skin and hair, aids digestion and energy intake)
With these dietary changes, your horse should continue living a happy and healthy life. In making these changes, you are helping their health even when their digestive system is not operating as efficiently as it once did.
Dental care is such an important aspect of a senior horse’s health. If their teeth have issues, then their entire quality of life will suffer.
When your horse can chew all of their feed properly, it receives all the nutritional value offered to them. This means they will have the proper nutrients to stay healthy and strong as well as ward off issues like choking on large pieces and colic.
When you have a horse that is 20 or older, a veterinarian should do biannual checks on the horse’s teeth.
Issues like tooth loss can impact a horse’s ability to properly chew all of their food. Also with tooth loss, other teeth in the area will grow down into the space where the missing tooth once was and make it even more difficult for the horse to chew.
If your horse struggles with chewing, try giving them “soups” (soaked hay cubes) or beet pulp along with pelleted or extruded feeds specifically for older horses. These soaked feeds should be able to be eaten in a single meal, which means you may have to feed your horse three times a day in order for them to consume the right amount of nutrition.
Arthritis is when one or more joints become inflamed, which causes pain and stiffness in the area.
Horses can show they suffer from this when they avoid laying down and struggle to get back on their feet afterwards.
To find out if your horse has been laying down, check for stains or bedding on their belly, thighs, or tail.
Horses lie down every two or three days and it can be dangerous for them to go much longer than this without getting off of their feet. These horses can have abrasions on their front legs and may fall while sleeping, causing even more trouble.
We see this problem the most when horses have been stuck in a stall or have very little room for exercise.
While arthritis is a chronic condition, here are a few tips for how to make your horse as comfortable as possible:
- Discuss the how to trim their shoes with a farrier or a veterinarian
- If the horse is in chronic pain, use anti-inflammatory drugs via vet recommendation
- Do not let the horse become obese
- Do not confine the horse to a stall (unless for medical purposes)
By allowing the horse to roam freely and using these other methods, their arthritis could be kept from worsening.
Not all senior horses find themselves facing issues like these at the same time. For some it will happen much later than others and vice versa. However, here are some things to look out for when trying to figure out if your horse needs extra help:
- Grey hairs appearing on the face and sometimes the coat
- Less muscle definition and strength
- Stiffness in joints
- Gum and dental disease
- Increased napping and less mental alertness
- Weight issues
- Less elasticity in the skin
When your horse begins to age, they should be spending most of their time outside of the barn and their stall. This helps negate the respiratory problems that come from the dust and contaminants in closed areas like a stable. It also can slow down arthritis since they are moving around as opposed to standing in a small enclosed space. They also can interact with other horses, just make sure the younger horses aren’t bullying them which has been known to happen.
Along with the new upkeep for older horses, make sure you are still providing them with regular hoof care, grooming, and exercise.
While you can look out for your senior horse and be attentive to all their needs, make sure you contact a veterinarian if something does change in their health. This way, you can have the most accurate diagnosis and care plan.
Use this information to help keep your horse as happy and healthy as possible for as long as possible.