3 steps to a healthy senior horse

Promote health and longevity in your senior horse with these simple steps.

Although a little slower now, your senior horse can still enjoy an excellent quality of life if his special needs are met.

1. It starts with diet

In addition to normal equine nutritional requirements, seniors have special needs depending on their circumstances.

  • Supply high quality free-choice grass hay. Smaller amounts throughout the day are easier on the intestinal track than two heavy meals. It also helps with a positive emotional outlook.
  • Offer three to four pounds per day of early-cutting alfalfa, which has smaller stalks and more leaves and is therefore easier to chew. It also provides extra calories, protein, calcium and other trace minerals. Some horses are sensitive to alfalfa and this shows up as soft soles; discontinue use if this is the case.
  • Provide a high fat/low sugar feedstuff such as rice bran and ground flaxseed. This safely adds extra calories and essential fatty acids without contributing to blood glucose spikes.
  • Add a supplement designed for your type of hay. It should include vitamin E and selenium if these are deficient in your area.
  • Assure that free-choice loose white salt is available and consider adding two tablespoons per day to feed to support proper hydration.
  • Supply a high quality probiotic for a healthy level of good gut bacteria.
  • Provide soaked hay cubes if dental issues inhibit proper chewing and grinding.
  • Offer fresh fruits, vegetables, seeds and nuts to supply extra nutrients, “life energy” and excitement to the meal.

2. Watch out for dental issues

Supplying a balanced diet is important, but dental issues can hinder a horse’s ability to properly chew and therefore utilize their food.

“From a dental standpoint, horses are considered geriatric between 18 and 20 years old although this varies depending on previous dental care and environment,” says advanced certified equine dentist, Wes Campbell. “It’s imperative that all horses, especially seniors, have correct tooth balance. Keeping the arcades [back teeth] balanced with the incisors and temporal mandibular joints (TMJ) provides proper chewing ability and therefore absorption of nutrients.

“A dental issue unique to seniors is loss of teeth,” Wes adds. “Horses have a reserve crown stored in deep pockets within the jaw and that crown erupts continuously throughout life. However, once that reserve is gone, it’s gone, and it either falls out or becomes a bony matter which can attach itself to the alvelor process [bone]. Typically, the number nines, fourth tooth in the upper arcade, are the first to expire. Once a certain number of teeth are gone, the horse’s ability to chew coarse food is greatly reduced and special diets are required.”

Although loss of teeth is a normal aging effect, abscesses, inflammation and infection can develop because of missing teeth and periodontal disease. Any odor coming from the mouth needs to be addressed by a qualified dental practitioner and veterinarian.

3. Feet don’t fail me now

Movement is essential for your senior horse. Hooves are his foundation and ensuring balanced, healthy feet is crucial for promoting an active lifestyle.

  • Frequent trimming every four to five weeks should be done by an experienced hoof care provider. Balanced feet reduce strain on already arthritic joints.
  • If possible, strive for active frog pressure; this helps absorb shock and increases circulation through the whole body.
  • Trimmers need to work with your horse’s comfort level. Many seniors have joint and muscle discomfort and forcing a leg into the normal trimming position can be extremely painful.
  • Provide frequent breaks during the trimming session. Remember, it gets tiring holding a leg up and a reprise is always welcome.

Finally, don’t forget to provide interest and excitement in the form of play or exercise – it help keeps both the mind and body young.