Advances in nutrition, management and health care are helping horses are live longer, more useful lives. It’s not uncommon to find horses and ponies living well into their 20s and 30s. While genetics play a role in determining life span, you too, can have an impact.
You may think that turning your old-timer out to pasture is the kindest form of retirement. But horses are individuals. Some enjoy being idle; others prefer to be a part of the action. Whatever you do, don’t ignore the horse. Proper nutrition, care and exercise will help the animal thrive. Follow these guidelines to develop a total management plan for your older horse:
- Observe your horse on a regular basis. Watch for changes in body condition, behaviour and attitude. Address problems, even seemingly minor ones, right away.
- Feed a high-quality diet. Consider adding high-fat feeds such as rice bran oil to your old horse’s diet. It will provide energy and maintain weight without increasing the risk of laminitis which can happen when feeding a diet high in carbohydrates and starches. Avoid dusty and moldy feeds.
- Feed your older horse away from younger, more aggressive ones so it won’t have to compete for feed.
- Feed at more frequent intervals so as not to upset the digestive system. Two to three times daily is best.
- Provide plenty of fresh, clean, tepid water. Excessively cold water reduces consumption, which can lead to colic and other problems. Supplement your horse’s feed with a balanced electrolyte solution to encourage water intake during the colder months.
- Adjust and balance rations to maintain proper body conditions. A good rule of thumb is to be able to feel the ribs but not see them. Consider adding psyllium husk pellets to your horse’s diet for 5 days every month to help prevent the accumulation of sand.
- Provide adequate, appropriate exercise to maintain muscle tone, flexibility and mobility.
- Groom your horse frequently to promote circulation and skin health.
- Be aware that older horses are prone to tumors. Look for any unusual lumps or growths from head to tail as well as beneath the tail (especially on gray horses).
- Schedule routine checkups with your equine veterinarian. Routine bloodwork can allow for early detection of any problems. Discuss testing your horse for Equine Cushing’s disease if your horse is showing signs. Call immediately if you suspect a problem.