Old age is difficult for every species, be it humans or horses. Advancing age in horses can invite a lot of troubles from arthritis to respiratory problems. Years ago, when horses were used for work, farming, and transportation, very few were able to live in their golden years. In fact, the earlier the horses started to work, the quicker they get worn out.
Now that time has changed, the workload has reduced as today’s horses are primarily used for pleasure or competition. There can be seen improvements in health care and nutrition for horses that have increased their lifespan remarkably. Now senior horses can also bloom in their golden years with better nutrition, lighter workloads, and some special care.
Consider each horse as an individual how quickly he ages is not always necessarily related to his calendar years. The chronological age of a horse may be quite different from his psychological age. Some might be time-ravaged in their teens, while others are very active at 30. You can notice signs of aging or loss of performance in some horses earlier than others. This can be due to their previous use, genetic, or other environmental factors.
Take your cues by their changing behavior and attitude and start your special care. Additionally, you can also use a record-keeping system of observations in your horses. This should include regular observations of their body weight, body condition, muscle mass, alterations in fat deposition, changes in their hair coat, and neck or belly circumference. With age, you can increase the frequency of taking these observations to once a month and even every other week.
In this article we will guide you on how to take care of a senior horse by paying attention to some crucial areas so that he can easily thrive in his golden years.
- Change your horse diet based on the age
Some old horses might face some trouble absorbing nutrients from the feed and forage. However, age is not only responsible for changes in dietary needs, there are the conditions that come with age that demand so. There are so many physical problems like tooth wear and endocrine disorders in old horses that require changes in their diet.
Here are some suggestions to make the necessary changes in the diet of old horses:
- Make sure to keep an eye on the old horse’s condition as there is no need to change the diet unless you see a change in the horse. Try to look for a cause if you see any change in the horse, do not just assume because he is old he may be losing weight. Other reasons for his weight loss might be he is not getting enough hay or his teeth have some problem that is making it hard for him to chew hay.
- Include forage with green grass and good hay in your old horse’s diet. Forage is beneficial for their intestinal function and it also provides enough calories for old horses that do little or no work.
- Old horses on a forage diet might be deficient in some vitamins and minerals, and for that, you should use concentrates and supplements. In the market, there are many types of senior feeds and other nutritionally balanced commercial concentrates are available to fulfill the need for essential vitamins and minerals in the horse’s body.
- Choke is a very common problem in old horses hence, you should give your horses special dining arrangements. Either you can give your old horse small but frequent meals or you can soak the feed or spread it out in a large pan to avoid the risk of choking. Old horses with teeth problems may take a longer time to eat, so you should give him as much time and feed him as many times a day as necessary.
- Keep your old horse active
Many older horses tend to become inactive as they are no longer competitive and are not being ridden as much. Some might have arthritis problems that are limiting their movements. Regular exercising within the limits of the horse will make him healthy and happier.
Here are the signs in the older horses that you should watch out for:
- Check the exercise intolerance of your horse even if he seems to be fit and active. In old age, horses overheat easily, tire quickly, and lose more fluid in sweat during exercising. With age, there are many changes that happen in the body of a horse like cardiovascular function changes, and the ability to regulate body temperature and fluid balance gets decreased. You might consider changing the intensity and schedule of your horse’s exercise like you can skip your ride on hot days and do less intense work.
- Make sure you check the change in the horse’s topline as it affects the saddle fit. With age, the muscles, tendons, and ligaments that support the horse’s spine become weak and the back begins to sag behind the withers. However, you can delay this sagging of the spine by regularly exercising your horse, but you should consider refitting the saddle first.
- Ask the veterinarian to check your horse for arthritis if you see stiffness or soreness, especially at the start of the exercise. Chronic arthritis in horses can worsen over time, but some light to moderate exercise regularly can benefit the horse as it will keep his joints moving. You should also make sure to hard, rough, or sloped footing for your horse if he has arthritis.
- Let them breathe in open
Horses are always happy when they are outside breathing in the open air, whether they are old or young. Horses living in stables breathe dust and other contaminants that get built up in the enclosed spaces. It is very important for old horses with respiratory problems, like heaves, that they can move freely outside.
Here are some things that you must keep in mind:
- There must be a run-in shed or a similar shelter for horses living outside as an option to get out of the weather
- Generally, an older horse holds a low rank in a herd and may be bullied by other younger horses or they can be pushed aside at feeding times. So it is very important to watch your horse and separate him from the herd if this is happening
- Check for tooth problems in older horses
Signs for a dental problem in older horses are not always very obvious. Sometimes the sign may be how he holds his head when he chews his feed. Subtle signs like this can go normally unnoticed. Keep an eye on your horse during feeding times, signs like grains dribbling from his mouth, or wads of half-chewed hay collected in his cheeks can show that he may have some dental problems.
After years of grinding hay, excessive wear of teeth and other dental problems in older horses are very common. Problems like sharp points that irritate the mouth, uneven wear, molars ground down to stubs, and cracked or missing teeth cause discomfort and this makes it hard for the older horses to eat and get the nutrition they need. Make sure you get your horse checked with a qualified veterinary dentist every 6-8 months to address the specific problems.
There are also many old horses that can’t eat at all due to the severity of their dental problems. For them, there are available different replacements for hay such as hay cubes, chopped forage, and hay-stretcher pellets.
- Regular vaccinations
With age, horses become more susceptible to infectious diseases even if they have pre-existing immunity due to infection or vaccination. A development called immunosenescence lessens the ability of a horse to mount an immune response with age. Old horses, especially those with Cushing’s disease have an even lesser response to vaccinations.
Regular vaccination can deal with the problem of a weaker response in older horses as they can keep their immunity at protective levels. Go for twice-a-year vaccination for risk-based vaccines like West Nile virus and equine influenza if your horse is still traveling, competing, and mingling with other horses. Make sure the visits of your older horse to a veterinarian are comfortable and safe and for that you can use customized good quality trailers from renowned manufacturers like Double D Trailers.
- Routine Care
Although an old horse is working less, basic care is very important for them. Here are all the basic care tips that you can consider for your old horses:
- Trim their feet regularly as many senior horses have arthritis, and in this condition skipping hoof trimming for long can put stress on the joints.
- Checking for parasites in senior horses is important as they have a higher count of fecal strongyle-egg count than the younger horses. This does not mean that senior horses need frequent deworming, not that this is not the solution. You just have to check for fecal egg counts more often just to be sure that parasites are under control.
- While grooming, check your horse for any scratches, bumps, or any other signs of injury. This regular check is very important especially for older horses with equine Cushing’s disease as they tend to take a longer time to heal.
- Keep your senior horse protected from heat and cold
It is difficult for a senior horse to regulate his body temperature and hot summer days and cold winter weather can be hard on him. Here are some tips to help your senior horse in extreme weather:
- Keep him in shade in summer and avoid any type of work that could overheat him. During the hottest hours of the day, keep him inside the stable and put a fan there.
- Keep a check on the weight of your senior horse in winters to keep himself warm, he will burn more calories and shed pounds. To increase his calories, you can give him senior feed so that they can start the winter season with a few extra pounds.
- Check for his body condition and coat before putting a blanket on him. If the coat on your senior horse is thin, a blanket can help. However, if he has a full winter coat on his body, then he might not need a blanket.
- Check your horse’s water bucket for his water intake. Often in winters, horses drink less water and that puts them at the risk for impaction colic. You can increase his water intake by adding supplemental salt to his diet and adding warm water to his bucket. Other than this, you can also soak his feed in warm water to increase fluids in his body.
- Pay attention to your horse’ health
Health problems like Cushing’s disease, glaucoma, heaves, cancers, arthritis, colic, and laminitis multiply with the age of the horse. Here are some signs that you should watch out for in your senior horse:
- Notice if there is any change in the horse’s routine, habits, idiosyncrasies, or behavior
- Your senior horse might have hearing loss, cataracts, and other sensory problems. If he is missing the feed going into his bucket, or if he may eat some and then forget it, then these are the signs that there are some problems in his senses.
- Notice any change in his soundness, body condition, or attitude
It is important to remember that keeping the senior horse in good condition is very much possible. However, it may require some additional care beyond those of a younger horse.
A horse should not be treated differently just because he is old. However, if there are some problems related to aging in them, that can be solved by some changes in their medications and diet.
Hopefully, this article would help you in becoming more aware of the problems of senior horses. With this awareness, the old horses have a better chance at surviving into their golden years than they would have had years ago. If you have a strong emotional connection with your horse, you become more observant of your beloved beast and become motivated to take those extra steps it requires to maintain their health and comfort. Little changes in the routine care and dietary management of the older horses can help them in their golden years of life.