Taking Care of Your Older Horse – Part 1

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There comes a time when every horse owner will realise that his horse is getting old. As horses age 3 times as fast as human beings, a 20 year old horse would be roughly equivalent to a 60 year old human being. The horse’s reflexes will slow down and he will become far less agile. However, just like with human beings, this is not yet the time to give up on your faithful old horse but it is vital that you start caring for him in a different way.

Apart from the age in absolute number of years, the aging process of a horse will also be dependent on its breed, workload, conformation, medical history and the care he received in his life. A horse living a hectic, stressed out life will age far quicker than one which is free to roam the pastures and go on leisurely strolls. These are factors that can be well within your control so do take note of them. Also, it will be good to bear in mind that every horse is an individual so how they age will also differ accordingly. With that said, there are a few things that you will have to pay attention to more closely when it comes to aging horses. One of the most significant ones is the horse’s teeth.

As horses are grazing animals, their mouths are set up just right for that angled neck hanging down to graze, nip and shear grass off to grind and chew it. The constant repetition of this action tends to wear their teeth surfaces down and might even cause them to eventually fall out. Once situations like this occur, the horse will start to find it very difficult to eat properly which can easily affect his physical and mental condition. Your older horse will then start loosing weight and condition quickly.

Regular checkups at the vet are important to helping your old equine keep a good set of teeth. In fact, from the age of 16 or 17, you should endeavour to have his teeth checked twice a year. Get your vet to check your horse’s teeth for abnormalities, wear, waves, hooks and sore gums. Between visits, check your horse’s mouth and watch for problems with eating, like quidding, head throwing, choking or difficulty drinking. Older horses often have difficulty eating long fiber food.  You can solve this problem by switching to shorter cropped hay or add high fiber cubes as mash or straight.  It is a good idea to offer damp hay to soften it so it is easier for your old friend to chew. You can put a biscuit of hay in a Hessian bag and let it soak for 5 or 10 minutes in a big bucket full of water. After that time, remove the bag and let the hay drain. Serve “al dente”!

As your horse ages, you will need to adjust his feed accordingly. There are now on the market some excellent feed for geriatric horses. These feeds are especially designed to accommodate the less effective digestive system of older equines. When horses cannot chew their food properly, the morsels that are not broken down do not get digested, therefore all nutrients do not get ingested either. It then becomes a vicious circle because your horse won’t get the nutrients he needs, he won’t only loose weight, but his immune system will also be lessen, making him more vulnerable to illnesses. As we all know, it is a lot harder to recover from sickness when we get older.

Giving more food to your horse won’t make any difference either. It is not the quantity, it’s the quality.

Horses at grass are not immune from the effects of aging and you might need to supplement with specialised feed, and definitely have their teeth checked twice a year.

As your horse reaches his golden years, which are between 15 and 20, it is good practice to have a full vet check up once a year, including a full blood test. This test is around $90 in Australia and is worth every cent as it will show any infections and areas of concern.

Many people think that because a horse gets older, he will loose weight and deteriorate quickly. This is not true if you take care of him correctly. The care you take in this will allow your horse to eat and maintain his health for a far longer period of time.

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