In the realm of livestock or larger species pets, horses generally have expansive lifetimes. From cult to foal to adulthood, many breeds can live well into their 30s. As with any type of animal (or person for that matter), with each age comes unique characteristics to consider in order to ensure the animal continues to have a high quality of life. We will address eight things an owner of a horse should consider in the care of their senior animal.
The Physicality of a Senior Horse
One of the most common physical ailments of an older horse is arthritis. A glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, etc. supplement is a great way to treat this illness of the joints. Not surprisingly, horses are also prone to foot injuries or hoof malformation/weakness. If the feet of a horse are unattended, they can worsen the symptoms of arthritis. A farrier should see your horse on a regular bases whether you continue to ride the horse or not.
Nutritional Implications for an Older Horse
In an article published by UGA Extension, they indicate that the nutritional nuances of geriatric horses can vary anywhere between intense diet modification needs to no modifications needed. When analyzing if a horse’s diet needs to be altered, it’s important to see if nutrients are being absorbed correctly. In order to figure this information out, a physical may need to be done on the horse to reveal if the intestines, stomach lining, etc. are damaged and therefore malfunctioning. Additionally, blood work can be performed to ensure there are no gaps in nutrition. Horses need a balance of fiber, protein, equalized fat soluble vitamins, fat, calcium, B-complex, etc. There is a fine balance of empty nutrition and valuable nutrition.
Analyze How you Feed your Horse
In a general sense, this point of triage relates directly to the one prior to it. After designating any nutritional problem areas, you also need to consider that the horse may not be able to feed in the ways it once did. They may not be able to graze or chew tough grains. Luckily, there are innumerable food alternatives that have fully integrated vitamins, but are also created in a way to allow easy chewing. Triple Crown makes a nutritional supplement that is blended into a mash and is marketed towards senior, starved, or ulcerative horses.
Allow them the Freedom to Move
It is a natural inclination to see an aging horse and think it needs to be stalled and kept from moving too much. However, allowing a horse the opportunity to move about freely can help eliminate stiffness associated with arthritis, muscle weakness due to disuse, and irritability from boredom. While it may be important to keep them separated from the herd so as to avoid injury, movement is often invaluable in senior horses. In a study done by Rutger’s University that was later outlined by Horse Channel, it was discovered that senior horses benefited from exercise just as much as younger ones. Both in heart rate and joint pain, they reaped benefits from being worked. The study did indicate, however, the importance of being aware of the horses limitations and to also take into consideration that a senior horse generally burns out in half the time of a teenage horse.
Address any Dental Needs
Living Legends posted an article fully outlining the importance of a horse’s dental care. They indicate that good teeth means your horse will be able to consume their food effectively and without pain. For horses under the age of 20, an annual dental appointment is sufficient. For any animal over the age of 20, twice a year is most ideal.
Stay Engaged with the Horse
Observe, interact with, and continue to spend time/exercise the senior horse. Often times that is the best way to catch any developing problems, but it also gives the horse a sense of security as it ages.
Address their Immune System
Much like humans, the older demographic of horses are a lot more susceptible to outside influences of illness. Their immune system is far weaker than that of a teenage horse and unchecked it can have catastrophic effects on an elderly horse. There are several immune system boosting products available like turmeric, chinacea, or ginseng. There are also homeopathic options like massage or acupuncture that some may want to try as an alternative.
Consider Environmental Quirks
This may seem like a minor consideration, but the physical comfort of your horse is an important area worthy of attention. Make sure their space is well ventilated, that they have access to tepid water, that they are shielded from the elements during bad weather, etc. All of these contribute to the overall well-being of the horse.
As horses grow older, while they sometimes bring with them new shifts and turns in their care, they are always well worth the routine adjustments.