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Caring For Your Senior Horse

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Senior Horses: 4 Tips for Caring for an Older Horse

Each horse ages differently, so it’s difficult to assign one blanket age to represent an “old horse.” Overall, horses are living longer these days, even well into their 20’s and 30’s. But genetics and the life a horse has lived (and the care he has received throughout) plays a large factor in his physiological age, which may not match his calendar age. A 20-year-old horse may act like a youngster, while another horse only twelve years old may appear much older. This means it is just as important - really, even more so - to watch your individual horse as closely as you count his birthdays. Here are four key areas of importance when caring for a senior horse:

1. Environment

Monitor your older horse’s status within the herd. As he ages, he may fall in pecking order and be kept away from food, water, and shelter. Feed your older horse separately from younger horses if necessary. Remember older horses do not tolerate extreme temperatures well, particularly cold. Keep him cool in warm weather with fans and body clipping when necessary, and keep him warm in cold weather with shelter and blanketing.

2. Preventive Care

Rather than an annual visit to your equine veterinarian, increase your visits to twice a year. Each visit, ask your veterinarian to perform a comprehensive physical exam, and be sure to review and adjust deworming, vaccination, and dental care schedules as needed to take into account how your horse is aging. In particular, routine deworming is an integral part of your older horse’s health care program; the deworming program of a geriatric horse needs to be vigorous.

3. Exercise

Older horses need more time to warm up and cool down; they also do better with regular, daily exercise as opposed to sporadic rides and outings. Closely observe your horse’s response to physical activity. It is crucial that you provide adequate appropriate exercise to maintain muscle tone, flexibility, and mobility. If your senior horse is experiencing arthritis or another painful condition, work with your veterinarian to develop a management plan that may include pain relievers, anti-inflammatories, and joint support. We’ll touch on this further in Diet.

4. Diet

Older horses have more trouble digesting fiber and protein, which requires special attention. Fiber is important as it provides energy and promotes a healthy gut. Offer your senior horse more easily digestible fiber in the form of high quality hay, soaked hay cubes, beet pulp, or complete feed, as well as prebiotics, probiotics, yeast, and enzymes. Higher quality protein (and more of it) is also a must. An increase to 14-16% protein (up from the 10-12% recommended for younger horses) is recommended. Vitamins and supplements are worthwhile investments for your older horses, as their aging bodies need more of them but produce and/or absorb them less efficiently. Vitamin C and B-vitamins, amino acids (lysine and threonine), and omega-3 fatty acids (for anti-inflammatory properties) are most essential.

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