No matter how much we wish it weren’t true, horses do eventually grow old. Eventually, they will inevitably enter the senior ages and if we’re lucky we will have gotten to grow older with them.
Horses are now living longer than they ever have before. Part of the reason is that horse owners have begun taking on more of the responsibility of owning a horse as a pet rather than a head of livestock. Horse owners are investing more into making sure their horse has the best care possible.
You too can help your horse age gracefully by following just a few basic tips.
How Horses Age
Just a few decades ago a horse that was only 13 or 14 was considered a senior. Now, however, it isn’t uncommon for a horse to still be considered young up until they reach around 20.
Of course, not all horses age the same. Some may remain young and vibrant well into their 20s while others may age slightly faster, depending on genetic and environmental factors. Each horse should be handled on its own, unique merits and health status by catering to specific needs as they arise.
Horse to Human Age Comparison
Horses do not age the same as humans do. Like cats and dogs, their actual age in terms of lifespan is quite different.
For example, a horse that is 1 in horse years is about equal to a human that is 6.5 years old, a horse that is 10 is equal to a human that is 35, and a horse that is 33 is equal to a human that is 93.
For the most part, care for a senior horse is similar to care for a younger horse with a bit more intensity in some areas. Read on for a few tips on keeping an older horse healthy and happy as they go through their golden years.
One ideal way to stay on top of health concerns is to take a close look at your horse each and every day. Check him from head to hoof for any signs of weight loss, injuries, or wounds. As soon as you notice any health concerns, take action right away to avoid any infections or complications
Assessing the condition of your senior horse as part of your daily routine will be the best action for keeping him or her happy and healthy. Determine what your horse’s baseline stats are so that you will recognize when things are off. For example, do you know what your horse’s normal temperature is? Would you know if he had a fever?
Keep detailed records of all of his stats, including his normal temperature, pulse, respiration rate, weight, and body condition score. Keeping these recorded may assist your vet in diagnosing any complications that might arise. Also, have your vet take additional baseline parameters by taking a complete blood count and testing liver, kidney, and thyroid levels
As horses age, their teeth change and they require additional attention and more frequent care. Even if you already have your horses’ teeth checked annually, you may want to consider increasing his check-ups to every 6 months. Sharp edges and hooks can develop quite rapidly on older horses. If your horse stops eating, his teeth are one of the first things that you will want to be checked out.
Speaking of eating, an appropriate diet is crucial to maintaining a senior horse’s health. Providing the best diet for your senior horse can be a very challenging and expensive part of caring for him. Pasture feeding is usually ideal for most horses, but not all pastures provide the same nourishment as others. Most horse owners have to make due with other sources of forage and concentrate they purchase from the feed store.
Avoid stemmy hay for older horses. You want the hay to be soft and easy to chew for their delicate teeth and stomachs. Some vets even attest to soaking hay in water for a bit to make it softer and easier to chew. For horses with very bad dental problems (such as lost teeth), you may want to opt for hay cubes, pellets, or chopped hay.
All horses need calories and nutrients in their diets and senior horses are no exception. There are a number of senior horse feed options that are available commercially. Many of the feeds that are specifically designed for older horses are made to be easily chewed, swallowed, and digested. These feeds may also contain more nutrients than feed designed for younger horses.
Some senior horses may also require additional supplements being added to their diets, though you should always check with your vet first. For example, omega-3 fatty acids have been found to reduce inflammation in several studies. Adding a supplement with omega-3 fatty acids may be especially beneficial if your horse has arthritis.