Senior Horse Care Tips

These days, horses are living longer, more productive lives than ever before.  Thanks to advances in care, medicine, nutrition and veterinary practices, it’s not unusual to find a horse active into their thirties.  But with more active years comes the need to provide accommodations which meet the special needs of the aging equine.

Turn-out and Exercise

Senior Horse in PastureMoving is a key factor in keeping your senior comfortable.  Not only does moving about help with preserving muscle mass, motion also aids in digestion, reducing inflammation and increasing circulation.  Daily turnout is a great way to provide this opportunity, as is regular exercise.  Some ideas to exercise include light schooling, trail rides, driving or hand walking.  Whether in a pasture or dry lot, daily turnout and frequent exercise of your senior horse will go a long way in providing a happy, healthy retirement. Plus it’s more time to spend with your aging friend.

 

Dentition

As horses age, their teeth change due to wear.  Hopefully your senior horse has had the advantage of regular dental care in their earlier years, setting them up for success later in life.  Regular dental checks and floats not only help to maintain good dental health, it also provides your senior with the best chance at chewing and digesting their feed and forage.

Forage and alternative options

With the change in teeth comes some accommodation to forage.  Though aged, the equine senior still requires fiber as the main source of energy. Changes in dental efficacy as well as digestive system changes means the importance of good quality fiber is even higher.  If high quality hay (more leafy, less stems) is not readily available, hay cubes are a good alternate source of easy to chew fiber.  If needed, hay cubes can be soaked, providing an easy to chew fiber source.

Feed and Mashes

Changes in the digestive efficiency of the senior horses requires some specific nutritional needs.  As the digestive system ages, the ability to digest and absorb nutrients is more of a challenge than in earlier years.  In addition, nutrients are needed in different ratios to support the aging body.  For example, higher levels of quality amino acids are required to maintenance muscle mass in the senior horse.  Feeds that are specially formulated for senior horses provide these higher levels of nutrients in the proper ratio.  Many varieties of senior feeds are considered ‘complete’, in that they contain higher levels of fiber, providing an alternative to forage, thereby making it easier for the senior horse to get the nutrients needed.

Blanketing

You may notice a difference in your horse’s ability to stay warm during cold or wet weather.  Blanketing may be needed to help keep your senior horse warm during inclement weather.  Not only does blanketing help with warmth, your senior horse isn’t spending valuable calories trying to stay warm, burning off energy and their weight.  Blanketing in extreme cold or dampness may help your horse in maintaining a desired body condition.

Senior horse care may require some extra steps and more attention to details, but with the right adjustments, your senior can enjoy productive, happy and healthy golden years.

12 thoughts on “Senior Horse Care Tips

  1. You consider a 15 year old horse a senior! How rediculuce. My 15 and 14 year old horses are at their peak, and we do endurance.

    • Hello Sylvia, Thank you for your perspective. We say to start watching for signs of a horse being a senior around age 15-18. Many more horses may be much older before they show signs, as your horses are. However, differences in care, feeding and genetics do create scenarios where horses as young as 15 can start to need some extra care. It’s not a hard & fast rule, but rather a starting point.
      Thank you ~ Gina T.

  2. Which senior feed is best? Read that Purina changed its formula. Complaints it’s very hard & not palletable. Safe choice senior?thanks

    • Hi Patrice,

      Thanks for your question – we tend to get that a lot. There are many opinions available on this topic so I’d encourage you to ask friends and other horse owners what their experience has been. Also, you can read what other owners are saying about SafeChoice Senior. Right now, there are over 1,600 product reviews of SafeChoice Senior available on the product page found here. http://www.nutrenaworld.com/products/horses/safe-choice/safechoice-senior-horse-feed/index.jsp

      If you do opt to give it a try, please remember to transition your horse to new feed over a period of 7-14 days. We’d love to hear what you decide on!

      Best
      Megan C.

  3. We have a senior 30 + year old, great ex cow horse in our care. We are fortunate to live on acreage, so he can move freely about and go into a 2 sided shelter to get out of the rain and wind. (We live in Northern California). Because of his knees being very compromised from years of hard work, we give him Turmeric, (which is a powerful natural anti inflammatory), in his senior feed and put on his Sox for Horses socks, which come over his knees and keep them warm. We also give him orchard hay and he grazes. I have seen a big improvement in his movement with the Turmeric and the Sox for Horses help tremendously if we get a really cold spell! No other supplements or special requirements. Keep it simple as possible, I believe! 🙂

  4. My horse is 25 yrs old. He is on Empower Boost & Nutrena Safe Choice senior feed. This has been the best combination for my horse. He is thriving.MMaintaining weight, hooves have improved and he seems like he has more energy these days. I woyld highly recommend Nutrena Sr Feed & Empower Boost for your Sr horses.

  5. I just got a new senior horse and am feeding senior feed, I’m nervous about the winter coming up (I live in Michigan) I want her to gain weight and maintain it trough the winter. What are some suggestions besides feeding more hay and feed that I could give her? I’m nervous about the cold of our winters and with her getting too cold, would it be best to have her in the barn more and only out for a little bit at a time with her blanket? New to caring for senior horses and can take all the advice I can get. Thank you!

    • Hi Mikaela

      Thank you for your question. Many kudos to you for looking now to get prepared for winter already! Living in Minnesota, I understand the concerns about prepping for a cold winter. The basic equation you’re going to be managing is energy in versus energy out. It sounds easy enough, but with senior horses things can get out of balance fast.

      To start, now is a great time to have your mare’s teeth checked. I have an 18 year old mare with a ‘wave’ in her teeth. We got her about 3 years ago and don’t have much history on her care, but her wave affects her ability to chew. Each year, we have her teeth done to bring her mouth back into alignment. It’s amazing how much that helps!

      Parasite check – If your mare is new to you, it may be worth having your vet run a fecal analysis to determine her parasite load. From this information, you can work with your vet to get her on the best deworming program to fit her needs. Parasites pull nutrients away from the horse, so knocking them down now will help her make the most of her feed and hay later.

      Managing her energy ‘out’ during winter will take some finesse on your part. Horses make heat by digesting fiber (hay) so the first step is making sure she has access to good quality hay. Blanketing and turnout are very much a personal decision, but I tend to err on the side of more turnout is better, especially with a senior horse. Movement and walking around help to maintain muscles and aid in digestion. So long as the horse has grown a good fluffy winter coat and isn’t shivering, my rule of thumb is to blanket if it’s snowing/raining, extremely cold or if I notice a loss in body condition score.

      Which leads me to the most important step you can do; monitor her body condition score throughout the winter months. Starting now, use a weight tape and do a BCS to record a benchmark of where she is. Each month, check her again and write it down. If you notice a dramatic change from one month to the next, adjust your program accordingly. And of course, if you have additional questions, connect with your vet to discuss options.

      I hope this helps with some ideas for your mare. Let us know of more questions!

      Thanks – Megan C.

    • Hello Joe, Nutrena horse feed bags are a Class 5 plastic. While they are recyclable, not very many recycling facilities will take them – primarily due to the presence of feed residue inside the bags, and then some are simply not set up to handle class 5 non-rigid plastics. It’s best to check with your local recycling facility to see if they can take them.
      Thank you ~ Gina T.

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