Taking Care Of Older Horses

We have all met horses over the age of 23 that act like they are still 7 years old.  The fact that a horse is 23 or 24 years old shouldn’t mean automatic retirement.  Age is only a number and other criteria should be evaluated before making a decision to put him/her “out to pasture”.  Listed below are a few problems our older horses encounter and how to manage them.

Weight Loss
A good deworming schedule is a must with the older horse.  A physical exam should eliminate any liver or kidney failure, tumors, and malabsorption.  Does your older horse have adequate shelter to help him keep warm during inclement weather?

Older horses are requiring a higher quality and a higher amount of proteins. They also will require an easily digestible energy source that will not be overloading their hindgut. It should contain a slightly higher level of specific minerals and vitamins and not so much starch.

Bran and psyllium seeds will, as feed products, be helpful to retain water in a horse’s large intestine. These two products will allow for a proper flow of horse feed through the animal’s gut. If your horse won’t maintain a proper fluid balance in its hindgut, the contents in the gut will dry out which may cause impaction, which might result in a life-threatening colic.

If you add a pound or so of bran, bran mashes or psyllium seed (1 teaspoon a day) to your daily feed, you will be able to prevent impactions, particularly in wintertime when usually horses drink not that much water. So this is something horse owners really must pay attention to.

Wear and tear on our bodies and joints results in painful arthritis that can cripple all of us including our older horses.  Early morning stiffness is normal and once the physical activity is started, the joints begin to warm up.  Confining an older horse to a stall is even worse as he can’t get the activity he needs to stay flexible.  In advanced age, a horse may become reluctant to lie down as it is so difficult to get back up again.

I have seen them shake physically upon getting back up when the hocks were so sore.  Anti-inflammatory drugs should be recommended if the horse is in the chronic stage.  There are many alternatives on the market that help our older horses and I recommend looking into them.  A very good alternative is called Horse Sense Herbs and red also this post on traditional Chinese medicine and horse characteristics.

Antioxidants such as vitamins C and E can be beneficial in combating cell damage from free radicals and they can help boost your horse’s immune system.  Herbs such as meadowsweet, white willow bark, devil’s claw, and yucca can be used to help relieve the inflammation and discomfort associated with arthritis.

Giving your older horse a nice massage will make you both feel better and animals are grateful to you if you show kindness. You can also do carrot stretches with your horse. I find that a Herbal liniment rub can also be incorporated to help with circulation.  Older horses may be a good choice if you want to go horseback riding in Utah or Arizona. 

Tooth Loss
Regular dental care (twice a year) is a must.  The check-up should be done by a professional who knows what they are looking for.  Access to good pasture is preferred but not always possible.  Also, coarse hay wears the teeth down a lot better than the fine flakey hay. The caretaker of the horse should provide soaked feeds being cognizant that they can ferment during summer and freeze during winter. The cost of good dental care is easily recouped with improved health. This is a common fact in older Peruvian horses.

Kidney and Liver Function 
Reduced kidney function can cause renal and bladder problems along with weight loss.  Horses with kidney failure should be put on a low calcium diet.  Good quality grass hay and corn or complete pelleted rations formulated for aging horses are the feeds of choice.  An excellent formula for a toxic liver is Equi-Boost.  This product is very good to help the horse with a weak immune system that has been damaged due to vaccinations, pharmaceutical products (like Bute), bacteria and infection.

Pituitary and thyroid
dysfunctions are common in aged horses.  Management of the clinical signs includes clipping the long hair during summer and feeding low starch complete feeds. Have fun with your older horse. Don’t just turn him out to pasture and forget about him. You could teach him a trick or something else to keep him interested in his life. Older horses,  have so much to offer us like wisdom, companionship and a bit of nuzzling in the ear. The nuzzling in the ear is the highlight of my day.

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