November 7, 2023

Care Tips for Senior Horses: Ensuring the Comfort of Your Aging Equine Companions

As the crisp autumn air ushers in a chill, it's time to turn our attention to the special care that senior horses require to remain comfortable during the colder months. Just like their human counterparts, senior horses demand extra attention and consideration to ensure their well-being as temperatures drop. In this comprehensive guide, we'll delve into crucial care tips for senior horses, equipping you to provide the utmost care for your aging equine companion.


Determining When Your Horse is a Senior

The age at which a horse is considered geriatric varies based on factors such as breed, individual health, and overall care. In general, horses are often considered geriatric when they reach approximately 20to 25 years of age.

However, it's crucial to remember that aging is a gradual process, and labeling a horse as "geriatric" doesn't imply they are inherently unhealthy or unable to enjoy life. Many older horses remain active and robust well into their 20s and 30s when they receive proper care, nutrition, and regular veterinary attention.

Owners should closely monitor their horse's evolving needs and health as they age, adapting their care routines and management practices accordingly. Routine veterinary check-ups, dental care, and a balanced diet form the cornerstones of caring for geriatric horses, ensuring they relish a comfortable and active retirement.


1. Assessing Body Condition

Before the onset of colder weather, it's vital to assess your senior horse's body condition. Weight fluctuations are common in horses during colder temperatures. Older horses may struggle to maintain weight, and the drop in temperature can exacerbate this challenge. Determining the extent of these changes can be tricky. Trusting our visual assessments can be deceiving. To accurately monitor your horse's weight, use a weight tape regularly, ideally every two weeks. Ensuring that your senior horse maintains an ideal weight before winter sets in is essential, as a well-fed horse is better equipped to cope with the cold. If you notice significant weight loss or gain, consult your veterinarian for guidance and advice.


2. Nutritional Considerations and Digestive Efficiency

As horses age, their digestive system may become less efficient at extracting nutrients from their diet. This can lead to decreased nutrient absorption and potential weight loss. Senior horses may have different energy requirements compared to their younger counterparts. While some older horses maintain their weight well on high-quality forage, others may benefit from senior-specific feeds that are richer in fat for extra energy.


3. Protein and Fat

Protein is indispensable for maintaining muscle mass, supporting immune function, and overall health. Senior feeds often contain higher protein levels to support aging muscles and bodily functions. Ensure the protein source is of high quality, such as soybean meal. Including fat in the diet can provide a concentrated source of energy for older horses, aiding in maintaining body condition. Common fat sources include vegetable oils like corn, soybean, or canola oil, or specialized fat supplements.


4. Fiber and Minerals

Fiber is a crucial component of a horse's diet, particularly for gut health. While older horses may struggle with long-stem forage due to dental issues, consider providing alternatives like chopped forages or beet pulp to maintain fiber intake. Ensuring that the diet provides a balanced mix of essential minerals and vitamins is also vital. Depending on the forage and feed used, some senior horses may require additional supplementation to meet their nutrient needs.


5. Hydration and Forage Quality

Older horses may become more sensitive to changes in temperature, potentially reducing their water intake in colder weather.Encourage adequate hydration by offering fresh, clean water at a comfortable temperature. Wetting feeds or adding electrolytes can help motivate horses to drink more. Furthermore, ensure that senior horses have access to high-quality forage, as they may struggle with grazing on pasture or consuming hay due to dental issues or reduced mobility.


6. Exercise and Movement

Don't let colder weather deter you from providing your senior horse with regular exercise. Promote gentle movement, even if it's a daily walk or turnout in a secure paddock. Exercise enhances circulation and maintains joint flexibility, contributing to overall comfort.


7. Monitoring for Arthritis and Pain

Cold weather can exacerbate joint pain in senior horses. Keep a vigilant eye out for signs of arthritis or increased discomfort, such as stiffness or lameness.

Check out our Joint Health Video Series on Arthritis for an in-depth discussion on the management and treatment options. As always we are here to answer your questions on appropriate pain management.


8. Regular Veterinary Check-ups

Consistent veterinary check-ups are vital for senior horses, especially during the colder months. Routine examinations empower your veterinarian to detect and address health issues early, ensuring your horse's well-being. As autumn arrives, it's essential to understand your horse's internal changes. With the fall season, horses naturally experience an increase in adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) production, even if they don't have Pituitary Pars Intermedia Dysfunction (PPID), commonly known as Cushing's Disease. Elevated ACTH levels in the fall are associated with a higher risk of laminitis. Additionally, the sugar content in fall grass can further elevate this risk. Stay informed about your horse's health by scheduling regular blood work. Your veterinarian may also recommend monitoring insulin and glucose levels to detect insulin resistance (IR), another significant factor in laminitis risk.

9. Dental Care

Dental problems are a common concern for older horses, impacting their ability to chew and grind forage efficiently. To address this issue, consider providing softer, more digestible feeds. Soaked hay cubes, chopped forages, and hay pellets are excellent alternatives to traditional hay.Regular dental check-ups and tooth floating are crucial to ensure proper chewing and reduce the risk of choke.

10. Addressing Chronic Health Issues and Parasite Control

Older horses are more susceptible to chronic health conditions such as arthritis, metabolic disorders, and dental problems, which can impact their overall well-being. Additionally, senior horses may be more vulnerable to internal parasites due to weakened immune systems. Implementing proper deworming and parasite control measures is essential.

11. Hoof Care

Pay special attention to your senior horse's hooves when the weather turns cold. Wet and muddy conditions can predispose them to hoof issues. Being barefoot might not be the best idea in colder weather, as senior horses are more prone to bruising. Regular farrier visits and proper hoof care are essential for preventing problems.

12. The Role of Blanketing

When temperatures plummet, consider using blankets for your senior horse. Older horses may struggle with regulating their body temperature, and a properly fitted blanket can help them remain warm and comfortable. It's imperative to monitor the weather and adapt the type and weight of the blanket accordingly.


13. Social Interaction and Mental Stimulation

Senior horses may experience loneliness or isolation during colder months, particularly if they are no longer in work. Ensure your horse has opportunities for social interaction with other horses or companionship to combat boredom and stress. Break out their favorite grooming brushes and give them a good curry too.


14. Environmental Factors

Maintain a clean, dry, and sheltered environment for your senior horses, especially during adverse weather conditions. A comfortable, well-insulated living space shields them from the elements and contributes significantly to their well-being. Adequate ventilation is also critical to prevent respiratory issues.


By implementing these cold weather care tips for senior horses, you can ensure that your aging equine friend remains comfortable, happy, and healthy throughout the colder months. It's important to remember that every senior horse is unique, so consult with your veterinarian for personalized care recommendations. With the right care, your senior horse can enjoy a cozy and content fall and winter season, leading a fulfilling life in their golden years.