How to Properly Care for Your Older Horse
Most of us horse owners sooner or later will face that our horse is aging and that his remaining years are limited.
Just like the human body, the aging process takes a toll on your horse’s body. His strength may wane, digestion may become more difficult, and stiffer joints may make movement less comfortable than when he was younger.
As caregivers and handlers, we need to pay close attention to our horses’ health and bodily changes so we can help them age gracefully and comfortably.
We may need to make adjustments to diet, exercise regimen, health care, or other areas to make their latter years comfortable and even productive.
In general, horses are living longer today than in years past. It’s not uncommon to find horses living on into their 30’s.
With that in mind, below we have some guidelines and tips to help care for your aging horse.
Disease prevention for the older horse
After age 20, your horse’s immune system doesn’t have the same capacity to fight disease, plus his body doesn’t rebound as quickly from illness. As he ages, he becomes more prone to certain diseases, including dental disease, Cushing’s disease, choke, colic, arthritis, and laminitis.
Therefore, a sound regimen of preventive care is critical for your senior horse. He should have a thorough veterinary exam, including a dental exam, at least annually. Depending on your horse’s overall health, you may want to ask your vet about the need for a complete exam more often.
Another potential health concern for older horses is insulin resistance, which hinders your horse’s ability to metabolize glucose. Carrying extra body fat—often characteristic of older horses as muscle turns into fat—compounds the problem of insulin resistance.
Increased body fat also complicates arthritis, which most horses experience in some part of their body after age 20.
To keep your senior horse as healthy as possible, take proactive steps to monitor and adjust his nutrition and activity level before he begins to pack on extra weight.
Your geriatric’s digestive system may need attention
As you horse ages, his body often will not work as effectively or efficiently as that of a younger horse. For example, an older horse has more difficulty digesting fiber. Consequently, you may need to make changes in his diet such as providing high quality hay or beet pulp, or possibly changing his feed. Also, his digestive system may function better overall if given pre- or probiotics, yeast, or vitamin supplements.
Research has found that older horses also have trouble digesting protein. In addition to increasing his protein intake and quality, supplementing his nutrition with amino acids such as lysine or threonine has been shown effective in building muscle mass in equines.
Winchester Feed offers a complete selection of supplements for your aging horse. Contact us with any questions you have and we’ll be glad to steer you in the right direction.
Exercise him regularly
Regular exercise is crucial to maintaining an older horse’s weight, as well as keeping his joints limber.
Karyn Malinowski, PhD, founding director at the Rutgers Equine Science Center, maintains that horses love exercise and do best by staying outdoors where they can remain active. “I think we do them the most good by keeping them moving…If a healthy older horse is just standing in a box stall, we’re doing him no favors.”
An exercise regimen could include simple hand walking, riding, or even light work. If arthritis is a factor for your horse, consult with your veterinarian about giving him a pain reliever and/or anti-inflammatory medication to make him more comfortable.
As a note of caution, be careful exercising an aged horse in extreme temperatures, especially heat. Not only are heat and cold just generally harder on geriatrics, older horses don’t have the same capacity to thermoregulate their bodies when exercising as younger horses do.
To sum it all up
Just because he’s “over the hill”, that doesn’t mean your older horse can’t have good quality of life. With proper nutrition, exercise, and preventive care, your old friend can live a long, comfortable life to perhaps 30 and even beyond.