Recent advances in equine health care have expanded the lifespan of senior horses. We are seeing more 25, 30 and older horses still being ridden and being shown. Medical advances give your horse a better chance of leading a happy and productive life well into his 30’s and maybe into his 40s. It wasn’t that long ago when we thought 20 was old for a horse – now I have clients who are still showing their 30 year old-plus horses.
This leads me to our newest acquisition at Ricigliano Farms, “Dave.” Dave is a rescue senior horse-pony cross we just acquired. Dave had a kind eye and a beautiful face, but as soon as you looked in his mouth you could see he was in the latter part of his 20s. This older age would make most people shy away from him, believing that he is basically done. However, with the advancements of veterinary care we look at Dave as a great opportunity for our therapy riding program. A senior horse, who has seen it, done it and who has a sweet, safe temperament, is worth their weight in gold.
Horses have started living longer, more productive lives due to better nutrition, veterinary care, including dentistry, parasite treatment, recognizing endocrine issues, arthritis and farrier care. All of these advances have dramatically lengthened the horse’s life. Today we can give our older horses a single small pill, hidden in a carrot, that will help ease his aches and pains and will not irritate his stomach like medicines of the past.
A knowledgeable horse owner recognizes that concentrates are a better grain choice and value instead of just throwing some sweet feed in the feeder. Feed concentrates are scientifically balanced combination feeds in pellet form. They are designed by equine nutritionists to meet your horse’s specific needs, be that showing, sensitive stomach, insulin resistant or senior specific formulas.
Vitamins, fats and minerals are already added for better digestibility. You feed less and the horse receives better, more specific food for his nutrition needs. Excellent quality hay is necessary as well.
Older horses are candidates for supplements that target arthritis and breathing issues. There are long-acting injectable medications that help the older horse become more comfortable. Your veterinarian will be able to guide you in the correct direction.
Yearly veterinarian visits will allow your veterinarian to pull a blood panel on your horse to see what his metabolic issues and health is looking like. He can also assess the horse’s teeth and update all vaccinations along with suggesting a deworming protocol so that the horse can go into another year well protected.
During the year, if you notice your horse is losing weight or has difficulty in chewing, he’s spitting out little balls of food (quidding), or has a bad odor coming out of his mouth, don’t wait, call your vet, as the older horse is more prone to abscesses and loss of teeth. Even with little to no teeth, today’s older horse can be managed with the feed so that it doesn’t impact his weight and health.
Alternative therapies, such as acupuncture, shockwave therapy, chiropractic, massage and bodywork will help to maintain soundness.
Remember, don’t push your older horse. He will require a longer warm up time and slower conditioning. Even though the older horse may want to power through the ride, take it slower for his benefit. His mind may relish the idea of a hard run, but his body will thank you later for restraint.
If your older horse seems to be slowing down just give him a break and make sure he is comfortable or review if he should be doing a less stressful activity. Senior horses make amazing walk down the trail horses, which is one of the best ways to enjoy being with your friend in his golden years! Happy Trails!