When Is It Time for Senior Horse Feed?

Horse owners are constantly asking “when should I switch my older horse to senior feed?” As nutrition experts we are here to help!

The Growing Population of Senior Horses

It is interesting to note that 30-35% of the current horse populations in the US are “Seniors”. Surveys show 54% of all horse owners own at least 1 “senior” horse. By age definition “senior” horse has been defined as 15+ years of age.

Due to improvements in veterinary care and nutrition, horse routinely live 25-30 years of age, some into their 40’s. It is not uncommon to see horses in late teens and twenties performing at high levels. The key is that we need to treat horses as individuals. So when is a “senior” feed required?

Signs Indicating the Requirement for a Senior Diet:

When your horse can no longer maintain good body condition on a normal hay and grain diet it can be time to consider a senior diet. Other signs include:

  • Weight loss
  • Poor topline condition
  • Hoof quality and hair coat tell a story
  • Dropping feed while eating, may be a sign of dental issues
  • Loose stools
  • Quidding – dropping partially chewed hay out their mouth while eating.

As the horse ages, nutrient absorption and utilization decrease due to breakdown of the digestive system with age. Research has shown that senior horses experience poor nutrient absorption, which occurs particularly with phosphorus, vitamins and protein. Enzyme production may also decrease.

Key Considerations for Choosing a Senior Horse Feed

When we look at a senior diet there are some key points to consider. You want to choose a feed that is:

  • Highly digestible to accommodate less efficient digestive system.
  • Look for higher and improved protein quality to make up for small intestine inefficiency.
  • Does the feed contain higher fiber, and can it be fed as a complete diet, to make up for decreased large intestine efficiency, and possibly replace hay if the horse has dental problems.
  • Higher fat helps provide added safe calories.
  • Enhanced vitamin and mineral fortification are needed because of loss of digestive efficiency.
  • Use of pre- & probiotics in senior feeds can aid in gut health and the digestion of fiber.
  • Does the feed have the ability to be served as a mash? Not only are senior feed mashes highly palatable, but they also kelp keep the senior horse hydrated.

The Results of Proper Senior Horse Feed

Below are the results of a recent feed trial. Cleo is an 18 year old Quarter Horse mare. We changed the diet from a maintenance level feed to senior feed. The results after 6 weeks were impressive!

This is Cleo, on her "maintenance" feed diet.
This is Cleo, on her “maintenance” feed diet.
This is Cleo, 45 days after starting on SafeChoice Senior horse feed.
This is Cleo, 45 days after starting on SafeChoice Senior horse feed.

At Nutrena, we believe proper nutrition plays the biggest role for a lifetime of health and happiness for every horse. That’s why Nutrena horse feeds are specifically formulated for every life stage and activity level. 

Learn more about our feeds formulated specifically for Seniors to ensure your horse is getting the optimum nutrition at feeding time, every time.

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18 Replies to “When Is It Time for Senior Horse Feed?”

  1. What feed can I feed to my Cushings Mare who foundered last year. She is on Formula4 Feet, and she is 15 years old; but needs additional feed for maintaining weight that will not conflict with overuse of vitamin/nutrients.

    1. Hello Littlebit, Thank you for the question. An excellent option to add calories without conflicting nutrients, is our Empower Boost High Fat Rice Bran supplement. The vitamins and minerals it contains are included at the level needed to nutritionally support the additional calories being provided, thus it is suitable to be added to any existing diet. The addition of 1-2 lbs per day for your horse will add a nice level of additional calories to help provide her the body condition she needs.
      Thank you, Gayle R.

  2. I am currently feeding regular Safechoice for my 22 year old grade QH. Would like to switch him to the Senior, how should I go about the switch process?

    1. Great Question! I would recommend making the transition over a 7- 10 day period.

      I would start by feeding 1/4 SafeChoice Senior in the ration and 3/4 Original for 3 days. Then I would combine the ration at a 50/50 ration for day 4 , 5 and 6.
      One days 7 , 8 and 9 I would feed a 75 % Senior ration and 25% Original. On day 10 you should be at 100% transition.

      Please follow the tag directions as to feed rates based on your horses weight. If you find you need to feed an additional amount, increase the feed rate by 1/2 pound per day every 3 days, until you are at the recommended feed rate. Begin any increase in feed rate ONLY AFTER YOU HAVE COMPLETED THE FEED TRANSITION.

      Thank you ~ Gayle R.

  3. Amazing-in 45 days a horse grew a tail, changed her mane to the other side and got spots.
    Whatever happened to truth in advertising. If the product is good you shouldn’t need to fabricate a story that doesn’t even LOOK real.

    1. Hello Jill, Thank you for your comments. In the 2nd photo, Cleo has her mane braided and a fake tail in for show. Here is a note from Cleo’s owner, Susanna, and we’d be happy to put you in touch with Susanna directly if you’d like.

      Hi Jill,

      I got Cleo in August to show at Quarter Horse Congress in October. We switched her to senior feed to help her get in show-ready condition as quickly as possible. I was most happy with her ability to build muscle, especially topline, and transition from “pasture pet” back to a to show horse.

      The before picture was taken in sunlight on a windy day at the end of summer. The light washes out her fleabitten color, and she was also lighter from being outside all summer. Her tail was not actually that short, it is just blowing in the wind. The After picture was taken on a cloudy day, right after we finished showing at the Congress. She has a fake tail in, and her mane is braided for the events that we showed in. I hope this clears up any questions you might have.

      I have lots more pics of Cleo if you would like to see more, we had a great time showing and the change we were able to demonstrate with her before and after pictures was just an added bonus!


    2. Oh Jill don’t mean to be rude but if you would of pulled the pictures up you would see the horses mane was braided and the tail is fake. I have never known Nutrena to lie about their products and I have been using them for a while and always get great results. Why some people like you try and hurt a business I have no idea.

  4. AQHA Congress entries are usually due mid to late August. Buying a horse in such condition and immediately entering it is certainly an optimistic schedule. Most people I know that show at Congress work for months or even years with their horse before deciding to take it to Congress. Perhaps though, there is more to the story.

  5. It’s obvious that the horses tail is enhanced for show. And yes their feed is capable of transforming a poor horse into a healthy beautiful horse. Who doesn’t bloom when they eat healthy? I get so tired of Nay Sayers. I have four active TWH who thrive on senior feed and Safechoice regular . THanks Nutrena for a great product and keeping us informed on health and nutrition !

  6. I’m a true believer in Nutrena. My 18 yr old Fox Trotter is on Safe Choice Special Care and has never looked better. My vet recommended it a year ago after some digestive issues. My boy is feeling great, and his coat is beautiful- no one can believe his age! I too have before and after pics, and in some he doesn’t look like the same horse!!

    1. Hi Jodi,
      What an amazing story, so glad to hear that SafeChoice has helped your horse! Would love to see the pictures if you were willing to share.

      Robyn A.

  7. What is the BEST overall feed for my senior horses (2) I read and read but I don’t know the best to buy…I am looking for a brand that has all of the supplements and nutrients so that I do not waste money on “extra” that I really do not need. Both of my horses are in good shape and they get plenty of grass and hay.

    1. Hi Don,
      Thanks for the great question. A very good comprehensive Senior feed option is SafeChoice Senior. It’s ideal for horses over 15, especially those suffering from unexpected age-related weight loss, sluggishness or issues with muscle or coat quality. It also includes something called, Nutri-Bloom Advantage that increases fiber digestion up to 15%. It’s high-fat, controlled starch formula helps to meet the needs of older horses. Are there any specific concerns you have with your senior horses that you are hoping to address? It sounds like they are in great shape and just in need of a complete Senior feed like SafeChoice!

      Best of luck!

  8. I have a 39 year old TBQ mare that is starting to be harder to maintain. She retired from polo at about age 25 and from being ridden due to hoof problems at around 32. Weight loss is my concern. She LOVES soaked OA cubes and receives a 5 gallon bucket full each day along with 2 cups of senior and her joint supplement, but that doesn’t seem to be working any more. I have given her hay occasionally but she doesn’t seem to like it. There is a lot of waste no matter what type I buy. I do no like giving her alfalfa anything as from the time she was young she has gotten hot. I try to keep the sugars low because of her foot problem. Her paddock has fair grass in it. What should I be feeding her? Right now I have her on aprox 8-10# grain and hay pellets with a few cubes thrown in for “crunch” each day. Other than the weight loss and the foot problems she is in great health.

    1. Hi Debi,
      Thank you for your question. My last gelding passed away at the ripe age of 37 so I can certainly relate. He had very little tooth left and thus we maintained him the last 5 years of his life on 15#/day SafeChoice Senior along with chopped high quality alfalfa/grass hay. Ideally we want to target no less than 2% of their ideal body weight in total dry feed/hay intake per day, so if your mare ideally would weigh 1100#, then we’d want to ensure she eats at least 22# total (dry weight before adding water) of the grain/pellets/cubes combination. I would recommend gradually increasing both your senior feed and your cubes/pellets to meet that mark. If she won’t consume that much, you may have to transition to a higher calorie senior feed and bring in a higher calorie forage including some alfalfa.
      Best of luck!
      Abby K.

  9. my gelding is 27 and can’t eat hay anymore as his teeth are almost gone. he also never drinks water so every meal i give him is saturated in water. up till this month, he was able to eat grass in the pasture but now that isn’t an option anymore.

    i’m going to do the senior feed and timothy pellets and soak everything unless that’s really bad for him….. he’s not getting any other water so i feel i have to improvise to save his kidneys.

  10. I have a 26 year old TWH that is free range with hay in winter and grass in summer. He has lost weight and am have hard time getting it back on. What food is best. I currently feed safe choice original with calf manna and corn oil and coop senior feed once a day

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