Weighing the pros and cons of various equine retirement facilities isn’t easy – but it’s incredibly important. Here are a few things to consider when making the decision.
With the advancement of good health care and feed, horses are living longer than ever. But finding a good retirement facility for your aging horse can be difficult. The older horse often requires more management both in food and care, and simply turning him out to pasture is generally not the best option for your retired friend. This article outlines a few of the most important factors to consider when choosing somewhere for your horse to live out his final years.
Many horse caretakers find it challenging to keep weight on their older horses. This is often because elderly horses eat and digest food differently than the young. They eat much more slowly, become more particular about what they’re fed, have chewing challenges due to worn and/or missing teeth, and may require pelleted dry feeds to be wetted down to ease chewing and help decrease the risk of choke and colic from poorly masticated food. In addition, the digestive tract of an elderly horse often isn’t as efficient at processing and absorbing nutrients, so care must be taken to make sure he is eating the right food to maximize digestion efforts.
Also, if your horse needs daily medications, make sure the retirement facility you are considering is willing to make sure his gets those meds each day.
Water is an important aspect of the older horse’s life. Ideally, water sources should be clean and readily accessible so the horse doesn’t have to cover a large distance or navigate difficult terrain. During the colder months, older horses also shouldn’t be required to break ice to get a drink. Geriatrics can be prone to impaction-type colics and an easily-accessible water source can help minimize these intestinal problems.
An individual pen with shelter for at least part of the day is ideal. This assures that feed can be eaten as slowly as desired without the older horse having to compete for food. For many aged horses, a large percentage of their daily calories should come from a pelleted-type ration. It also isn’t uncommon for older horses to take breaks from eating; it may take them several hours to finish a feeding. An independent pen assures your horse is getting the correct amount of feed, and makes it easy to determine if meds are being consumed and if eating habits have changed. It also gives barn staff a chance to give your horse a daily once-over to make sure all is okay.
Some sort of shelter from the elements will make your old friend more comfortable as well. Elderly horses don’t tolerate heat and cold as well as they did when they were younger. If a shelter is shared with others horses, make sure your older equine isn’t the one being left out in the weather because a more dominant horse doesn’t want to share the space.
Just like senior humans, older horses usually have a bit of stiffness and arthritis. If possible, the retirement facility should provide daily turnout in an area where your retired horse can walk around and get a bit of exercise each day. When evaluating the turnout area, take into consideration your horse’s particular needs. A lush pasture for grazing may not be ideal if your horse has feed restrictions due to a medical condition like insulin resistance, and difficult terrain like steep hills and irrigation ditches can be difficult for elderly horses to navigate.
Turnout mates should be considered too, but some younger horses can be a bit rambunctious and play too roughly with the older ones. In general, older horses make the best companions for each other.
This may be the last home your retired horse has, so taking the time to choose the right retirement facility will alleviate a lot of stress for you and make sure your horse’s remaining years are golden.