Take Care Of them Right to Help them Live Longer

Horses, compared to other livestock and companion animals, have relatively long life spans, often living into their late 20s and early 30s. Many horses have productive careers into their 20s. In fact, in many disciplines, horses do not peak until their teenage years. Good nutrition, maintenance, and veterinary care have allowed horses to lead longer and more productive lives. However, as the horse ages, its needs change, and additional care may be required to keep the horse as healthy as possible.

Older, more experienced horses  can be ideal for younger, less experienced riders. You can help them live longer, healthier lives with careful senior horse care. | Photo by Darrell Dodd

If you have an aged horse, you know how his needs may have changed in recent years. We’ve gathered some tips and reminders for senior horse care that’ll touch on signposts and horsekeeping for senior horses.

  • An idle horse’s poor circulation makes it difficult for digested nutrients to reach his muscles. Coupled with lack of use, those muscles will shrink. If your senior horse has a problem that makes exercise difficult or painful, there may be special exercise methods–such as swimming, hand-walking/ponying, passive muscle flexion, and other methods of physical therapy–that can improve circulation without compounding an existing problem. Consult your vet for more info.

Older Horse 2

    • Your older horse has decreased reserves, increased vulnerability to serious infections, and increased risk of dehydration and impaction colic. So, don’t treat colds lightly. The money you spend treating a col early could save you big bucks down the road-and save your horse from serious health problems.
    • Older horses are more attractive targets for biting insects than younger ones. It’s not uncommon for senior herd members to be virtually covered with mosquitoes and flies, while younger ones are only marginally bothered. Veterinarians believe this is due to a combination of factors, including declining immunity, thinning and increasingly dehydrated skin (easier to penetrate and less sensitive, thus eliciting less defensive tail-swishing and skin-jigging by the horse), and less overall activity, making an older horse easier for bugs to find, land on and bite. Check to make sure your horse is adequately protected from biting insects.
    • Older horses may be more sensitive to heat and cold. Make sure your senior horse has draft-free shelter that will protect him from the elements, and make sure he’s housed with herdmates who’ll allow him access to the shelter.
    • If you notice your senior horse is shivering despite the shelter, blanket him accordingly. Check him at least once a day to make sure his blanket is securely in place and he’s not overheating.
    • Malnutrition is a prime cause of lower body temperatures in an aged horse, due to lack of energy intake. Be sure he’s getting enough heat-generating fiber during the cold weather months. Work with your veterinarian to develop a ration that provides 2 percent of your horse’s body weight per day in high-quality roughage.
    • If your senior horse has problems chewing roughage, check into options like extruded complete feeds (roughage in kibble form, such as Wendlands One ‘n Only) and chopped and pelleted hay.
    • A winter coat can hide weight loss. Begin a monthly check by running your hands over your horse. If his ribs become more prominent than normal, adjust his ration accordingly. Consult your vet if your horse loses weight for no apparent reason.