What Your Senior Horse is Telling You About Dietary Changes

Recent studies indicate that about 30% of the horse population in the U.S. may be considered “senior” horses. The appearance of the senior horse may give useful suggestions as to what changes need to be made in its diet.

Loss of body condition may be the result of more than one type of change. If the fat cover, as measured by Body Condition Score, has decreased, the horse needs more calories. These calories can come from added fat from vegetable oils, high quality fiber or controlled amounts of starch and sugar. Increased energy intake from highly digestible sources can restore body condition score.

If there is a loss of muscle mass causing a visual and measurable change in the appearance of an old friend, this will not be fixed with just increasing the energy intake. The senior horse may need additional a high quality protein source containing the essential amino acids lysine, methionine and threonine, the first 3 limiting amino acids, to rebuild muscle mass. The loss of muscle mass may also be accompanied by dull hair coat and loss of hoof quality.

The change in hair coat and hoof quality may also be associated with a deficiency of key trace minerals in the diet as well as key vitamins.

Changes in body condition, muscle mass, hair coat and hoof quality may all indicate the need for dietary changes. The easiest solution may be to switch to a senior feed especially designed to meet the changing dietary needs of a senior horse. Your old friend will show you the results!


18 Replies to “What Your Senior Horse is Telling You About Dietary Changes”

  1. Roy
    I’m interested in understanding, from a feed and care outlook, at what age do you consider a horse Senior?
    The 30% comment in the article is a sound figure, I would just like that age range consideration to tie it to.

    1. Hello Lantz,

      We generally say to watch for signs of being a senior beginning around age 17. Some horses may never act like a senior, and some may go younger, but that’s a great starting point.

      Thanks ~ Roy J.

  2. Just sent my husband to TSC to get the BOGO Nutrena Senior. He was told that the feed was 19.59 a bag but was on sale for 17.59, but no free bags. Why advertise these specials if they are not active, or allow stores who won’t honor them to carry the Nutrena brand?

    1. Hello Blake, Thank you for checking in with us. You will need to take this issue to TSC, as the issue lies with their pricing system. The stores should all be accepting the Nutrena BOGO offer as long as you have the printed copy of the coupon with you. Ask to speak with a manager if need be.
      Thank you ~ Gina T.

      1. We go to Cal-Ranch, it was on sale for 17.59 a bag too; Nutrena supplied us with three coupons for Senior feed and Cal-Ranch honored the Nutrena Coupon, hassle free.

        Hope you have a Cal-Ranch close by.

  3. We have a 27 year old horse that we’re feeding Nutrena Senior. Our Veterinarian also wants him to be mutually fed Rice Bran, do you make a Rice Bran? Any suggestions welcome too πŸ˜€

    Thank you,
    Jan Ferguson, Casa Grande, Arizona

    1. Hello Jan,
      Thanks for checking in with us! We do make a rice bran supplement – our Empower Boost product. Check with your local retailer on availability.
      Thank you ~ Gina T.

  4. Our winter last year was very harsh. A number of horses here dropped a lot of weight and muscle tone. On our 13 year old gelding we increased fat in the form of a flax based weight builder. We discontinued after two tubs and added a senior feed this coat and hooves look awesome. We have wormed regularly with ivermectin. We have used Nutrena seinior feed and recently switched to Safe Choice special care along with a 12% sweet feed (equal portions). He is not nearly as ribby looking and his energy / activity level has increased and not as lethargic. What kind of vegetable oils are good to increase fats but not adversely affect feet and other things negatively?

    1. Hello Steve, Thank you for your comments, and we are glad you are having success with the SafeChoice Special Care. To easily increase calories, we would suggest discontinuing use of the sweet feed and exclusively feeding the Special Care (or at least significantly lowering the sweet feed and increasing the Special Care, if it needs to remain for palatability). This will provide the calories AND the nutrients needed for overall health as well as hoof health. Adding oil alone will add calories, but not any other nutrients – so while they won’t ‘hurt’ the hoof quality, they certainly won’t help them either.
      Good luck ~ Gayle R.

  5. I have a 23 yr old Morgan gelding that regularly out works 7 yr olds on the trail however, this winter he has shown a loss in muscle mass and even though he shows no sign of a problem keeping weight on, he seems to have developed a big belly. Could this be a sign of malnutrition or a lack of sufficient protein? He gets the same hay he has eaten his entire life as we grow hay and he’s turned out on the fields during the day in the winter. I also feed professionals choice as a supplement.

    1. Hello Angel, Thanks for the question! Yes, as horses age they lose the ability to digest nutrients as well. He very likely needs more protein in his diet. Depending on his overall diet, he may be lacking some other nutrients, however protein looks like the main culprit here. If he is just receiving hay and the Professional’s Choice supplement, and maintaining weight just fine (good cover over his ribs, at tailhead, etc), then the addition of a quality ration balancer, such as our Empower Balance, may be the best solution. Ration balancers allow you to add the needed protein in a small feeding amount (typically 1.5-2 lbs per day for a 1,000lb horse), without the addtional calories of a traditional feed.

      If he needs additional calories to maintain weight, then a more traditional feed such as SafeChoice Senior or SafeChoice Original may be a better solution.
      Thank you ~ Gina T.

  6. Hello,
    My daughters horse is now 40 years old and we have been feeding him Safe Choice Special Care, but I am wondering if we should change to Senior. We also feed him Orchard hay/Beet Pulp Pellet Mash, because he hardly has any teeth. I was wondering if we switched him to senior if we could just add it to the Orchard hay Pellet Mash and not use the Beet Pulp because the senior has beet pulp.

    1. Hello Lisa, Thanks for the question, and congrats on successfully getting your daughter’s horse to 40 years of age!

      For feeding suggestions, yes we would suggest a switch to SafeChoice Senior. It will provide the forage/roughage he needs, in a much more nutritionally balanced format than beet pulp. Beet pulp is actually pretty low and imbalanced in a lot of nutrients. You can actually even use it to replace the Orchard Hay Pellets if you want, although you can keep those going too if you prefer.

      Hope this helps! Best of luck ~ Gina T.

  7. I have heard good things about Nutrena SafeChoice Perform being used for senior horses in the place of the Nutrena SafeChoice Senior. My senior half-Thoroughbred will be 24 in a few months and has really never been able to bulk up much. I’ve heard the Perform offers extra protein to help in this situation, but decided to do some research before switching. He is in otherwise great health and puts all the younger horses to shame when working. I also add in beet pulp and sometimes oats in the winter, plus blanketing per vets instructions.

    1. Hello Angela, Great question! First, know that TB’s are notorious for being hard to put weight on, so you are not alone!

      Second, you would need to decide if he needs more muscle or more fat cover.

      If it is fat cover, then the SafeChoice Perform is higher in calories and may be appropriate, assuming he does not have any dental issues that would require him to be on a complete feed like the SafeChoice Senior. Make sure you are feeding either product according to the directions for his weight and activity level – all too often we have horse owners tell us they can’t get weight on, but they actually aren’t even close to the recommended feeding amount.

      If muscle mass is what is lacking, then the Perform and the Senior are very similar, and it’s not likely you would see much difference. If you are feeding within the recommended range for the Senior, then try adding 1-2 pounds per day of a ration balancer, such as our Empower Balance, on top of his current feed. This extra kick of protein should help tremendously with muscle tone.

      Beet pulp and oats are both fairly poor sources of protein, along with being unbalanced from an overall nutrient profile perspective, so while they would add some protein to the total diet, you would be far better served simply increasing the amount you are currently feeding of Senior, or following one of the other suggestions above.

      We hope this is helpful, if you have further questions please let us know! Thank you ~ Gina T.

  8. My 25 yr old Arabian gelding is on safe choice senior. However he is not maintaining a good weight. I had his teeth checked.

    1. Hi Jean,
      Thanks for reaching out! Can you provide us with a little more info? How much SafeChoice Senior are you currently feeding? Are you providing any forage? Looking forward to hearing from you!


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