This weekend while at the Pomona Horse Expo I spoke to numerous owners of senior horses. Maybe it was because I was giving a talk on senior horses and so those owners were gravitating to my booth but time and again owners shared that their horse was 26, 35, 24, 29 years old and what could they do to keep them going. My first response was that they must already be doing a lot right to have got them that far!
Aging is a very individual thing. Some horses barely look a day over 10 when they are in fact in their late 20's and others look used up at 16. What is a senior horse and how many of them are there in the US? Growing up in England we used to have show classes for the best senior horse and entrants had to be over 15 years old. However today the National Research Council considers 20 to be a cut off for becoming a senior. While it is an individual thing horses that are 18-20 years old are entering their golden years. Over 17% of the US horse population is estimated to be over 20 years of age based on a survey carried out by USDA APHIS which is a good proportion of the horse population.
So what do you the horse owner need to know about the feeding and management of your horse as he ages? What things might you expect to change that you should be keeping your eyes open for? Generally speaking changes occur in four main areas; dentition, nutrient absorption, environmental stress and disease.
Senior horse's often suffer from issues relating to teeth and their ability to chew and this in turn negatively impacts their ability to utilize the nutrients available to them in feed. Adding to that is the decreased capacity for nutrient absorption requiring more easily digestible forms of nutrients. For these reasons your senior horse may require a specialized equine senior feed. Ability to handle extremes of weather are reduced and the senior horse has an increased risk for a number of age related diseases and medical conditions.
I will be going into these areas in detail in subsequent blog posts so stay tuned to learn more about managing your senior horse.
This work by Dr. Clair Thunes PhD is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.