If your beloved horse is entering his golden years, it is time to embrace a multi-faceted approach to his care. Just like humans, our aging equine companions go through an array of changes both physically and mentally, that require specialized care and attention. You might need to take careful considerations when it comes to feed, shelter, exercise, and mental stimulation. We’ve outlined some of these aspects of senior horse care that will help keep your cherished senior happy, and healthy.
When it comes to providing shelter for our senior horses, there are a few special considerations that warrant our attention. As horses age, their tolerance to extreme weather conditions may decrease, making them more susceptible to heat stress, cold temperatures, and inclement weather. So, it becomes crucial to ensure their shelter is designed to provide adequate protection and comfort.
Your senior might still enjoy standing out in the snow and rain and prefer to be outside. However, it is important to give him the option of seeking shelter when he needs it, and make sure that shelter is adequate protection for a senior. Ensure sure his shelter has good airflow to prevent overheating in hot weather, and insulation and draft-free areas to keep him warm and dry during winter. Using deep and soft bedding can help relieve any joint discomfort and provide a cozy resting spot. Blanketing during winter storms or severe cold weather is a decision based on the body score, health, and shelter options that your senior horse has. A low body score or health issues might necessitate the use of a blanket.
In hot weather, a shady place will be much appreciated by your senior to escape the heat. If your senior suffers from Cushing’s disease, he might be slow to lose his winter coat. If you believe he might have Cushing’s, consult with your veterinary to make a plan for his care.
Again, his preference might be to hang out outside, but give him the option to seek shelter during inclement weather.
Nutrition and Tooth Health
Providing proper nutrition to a senior horse is essential for their health and vitality. Your senior horse will require a diet specific to his needs and environment. But, in general, the digestive system of a senior horse becomes less effective over time, requiring special care.
Senior horses often benefit from a diet that is easily digestible and formulated to meet their specific nutritional needs. This may include high-quality forage, such as hay or pasture, supplemented with specialized senior horse supplements that are designed to provide adequate protein, vitamins, and minerals. If your senior is a hard-keeper, or needs a few more groceries, consider a supplement that compliments his forage.
A supplement that is easy to chew, high-fat, high-protein, and includes probiotics can help your senior horse maintain weight and keep his digestive system healthy.
Additionally, regular dental check-ups and, if needed, dental interventions can ensure proper chewing and digestion. Loss of teeth or dental issues can cause weight loss and make it harder for your senior to graze. Pay close attention to his dental health and be prepared to tailor his feeding program to the condition of his teeth.
As he ages, his exercise needs may change, but it’s still an important part of his care. Light exercise can help keep your senior horse from becoming stiff and sore. It can help manage weight if he proves to be an easy keeper.
Regular exercise also helps improve circulation as well as joint mobility. If he is capable, light riding can benefit your senior’s well-being. If he is past the point of carrying a rider, slowly ponying him behind another horse is an option. So is hand-walking or hand-grazing. Turn-out time will not only help meet his social needs but can provide him with time to stretch his legs and move around. Ample time to graze and walk around can minimize the impacts of arthritis and give him gentle exercise to keep him from stiffening up. Monitor him for signs of exercise intolerance and base your plans around his needs. Avoid heavy exertion during severe hot weather. And, be mindful of riding on tough terrain that might be difficult for his sore joints.
Turnout and Mental Stimulation
Being “turned out to pasture” is a common saying. It entails a senior being left to live out his days in knee-high grass. This is a lovely sentiment, but don’t just kick your senior out and forget about him. Check him often for body condition, injury, signs of ailing health, dental and feet needs, and to provide him exercise. If he is turned out with younger horses, or competing for feed, he might find himself on the bottom of the totem pole. If he is living with more dominant horses, you might need to feed him separately to ensure he is getting proper nutrition and time to eat.
Check with your vet about grazing time for your senior. If he suffers from metabolic issues, or laminitis is a concern, tailor his feeding program to those needs. If your senior equine can’t handle full-time turnout, or requires a carefully monitored diet, keep him active and mentally stimulated in other ways. Pull him out for a thorough grooming session. Not only does this give you a chance to look him over closely for injury or changes to health but provides bonding time. Senior horses can often be overlooked when there are younger horses to be ridden. Groom him, give him a bath, hand-walk him around the property, and keep his mind stimulated. This doesn’t need to be a daily thing but let him know he hasn’t been forgotten.
Give Your Senior the Golden Years He Deserves
Addressing the unique needs of our senior horses is certainly a multi-faceted approach. His nutritional needs, exercise regime, and health concerns all change as he ages. He’s spent years doing what you need him to do, repay the favor by giving him the golden years he deserves.