Our horses are part of our family, joining us at a young age and becoming an equine senior citizen as a cherished family member. Just as your horse has taken care of you along many miles of trail riding, it is now your turn to take care of him in his twilight years.
NUTRITION AND HEALTH
Nutrition and health care needs for an elderly horse are different than those of a younger horse. You can place an elderly horse in a wonderfully lush pasture; however, if he is smooth mouthed or has missing teeth, he cannot properly chew the grass to get the optimal nutrition from it. Also, improperly chewed grass can cause impaction colic in older horses. Hay cubes may be the best thing to feed your elder horse because the fibers are smaller than those in regular hay and can be digested by an aging system. Along with the hay cubes, other smaller fiber foods such as beet pulp, soy husks, and bran can be included in your horse’s diet. Pelleted senior feeds can be incorporated into the diet to aid in easier digestion and absorption. All of the above items can be soaked in water for those horses that are pretty much unable to chew anything due to many missing teeth.
Always make sure there is an ample supply of clean, fresh water for your horse, which helps prevent colic. Flavoring the water and keeping a salt block available for your horse will encourage more water consumption.
KEEP THEM ACTIVE
Exercise is important for your older horse, both for his mental and physical health. Continue riding your horse if there are no health concerns preventing it. As long as he is healthy, a horse can be ridden through his 20’s and even into his 30’s. Be mindful not to over-tax him with a work out that is too strenuous. Keep in mind that you want to keep him in good tone and body condition in correlation with his age and not with how he looked as a six-year old. A leisurely ride down the road and back is better than having him stand in his stall or hang out in the pasture. This will exercise his body and his mind. Horses always enjoy having a job. If riding your miserly mount is not an option, you can hand walk him 20-30 minutes two or three times a week to allow for some exercise.
It is very important to keep our elderly horses properly vaccinated for common equine diseases. Advanced age will weaken and suppress the immune system, making our senior equines more susceptible to illness. Dental care is equally important to take care of any teeth that may be remaining.
Be keenly observant of tell-tale signs that there may be some underlying problem with your elderly horse. Watch out for markedly increased water consumption and frequent urination, gait irregularities lameness or other mobility issues; change in shape, color, and smell of manure; retention of winter coat. All of these things may indicate a potential health problem for your geriatric guy.
Older horses are easily stressed during colder weather, most likely because they are not able to process hay as easily through their hind gut, which is how they generate heat; or because they are not in optimal body condition. You may want to blanket him during the coldest of days and nights to make sure he is warm.
As hard as it is to even think about, be aware of when your trusted treasure and old friend is reaching the end of his journey. While it is never easy to say goodbye to a dearly loved horse, it is even worse to keep him languishing in poor health. Discuss with your veterinarian when the appropriate time may be to help your horse with his journey across the Rainbow Bridge.
By: Darlene M. Cox (firstname.lastname@example.org)