Some things just get sweeter with time. We love our “golden oldies” so as responsible owners, we need to make sure that they’re getting the helping hand they may need in order to age gracefully. In this article, we’ll touch on a few key points to remember when managing our mature herd members.
1) Senior Dental Care: Regular dental care is imperative in older horses. Horse’s teeth continue to grow throughout their lifetime and require more frequent checkups as they reach their 20’s to ensure they’re not developing sharp points, ramps, or infected teeth. A senior horse will lose weight quickly if they’re not able to efficiently chew their forage and feed. Consider having your veterinarian check your senior’s teeth at least twice a year with their semi-annual vaccines. If you notice your horse dropping more feed than normal or “quidding” their hay, they may need their teeth checked.
2) Senior Nutrition: As senior horse’s teeth become more worn, owners might consider switching to a feed that’s specifically designed for older horses. Many of the major feed manufacturers have created “complete” feeds that are softer, more palatable, and nutrient dense specifically for senior horses. Forage in the form of hay or pasture should also be made available free choice, however some horses may need their hay soaked or a chopped forage that’s easier to chew and digest. Overweight or Cushinoid horses should have their forage intake closely monitored, and a muzzle may be necessary in some situations.
3) Maintaining Mobility: You may be able to ride your senior horse or you may have been advised by your veterinarian not to ride them. If you’ve been advised that riding is not in their best interest, be sure to allow your horse access to open spaces where they can stretch their legs and keep their joints moving. For older horses, creaky joints can actually become more comfortable with regular use. If you’re able to ride your senior, try to exercise them three to four days a week at a low intensity…think a walking (with some trotting, possibly cantering) trail ride for about an hour. However, be sure to keep in mind that a “weekend warrior” mentality when it comes to your horses is not in their best interests. For example, if you worked out as hard as you could for two days straight, would you be comfortable the rest of the week? Many senior horses enjoy being in work and will be more comfortable if exercised consistently and responsibly. Of course proper warming up and cooling out will help them recover after each ride as well.
4) Pasture Provisions: Monitor your senior horse’s weight carefully and adjust their access to pasture accordingly. Some overweight or Cushinoid seniors may need to be on minimal grass or turned out in grazing muzzles to limit their fresh forage intake. Keep in mind the fact that your senior horse may have trouble keeping their position in the herd. Limit their interaction with aggressive herdmates to keep hostile interactions down. The last thing you want is a senior being bullied off the round bale or away from water. Keep in mind too that older horses are sometimes the best teachers when it comes to youngsters learning manners and herd dynamics.
5) Hoof Help: Work closely with your farrier and veterinarian to determine the best course of action for your senior’s hooves. If your senior is in work or needs some supportive care, pads and shoes may be an option. Have your farrier and veterinarian communicate about the horse’s needs and your thoughts on the matter.
Last but not least, make sure your herd matriarch and patriarchs are getting the TLC they deserve. They’ve given you the best years of their life and it’s up to us to make them feel comfortable and loved in their twilight years.