An older horse is a great joy. He has much to offer you, based on his years of experience, and can be a truly wonderful companion. Older horses may be more gentle and forgiving with young children and inexperienced riders, depending on their previous experience.
Senior horses do have special needs, and some of them are similar to those of young, growing horses. However, they also have problems that are unique to aging equines, and they depend on you to be proactive in caring for them as they age.
Feeding the Older Horse
As your horse ages, his ability to absorb nutrients and digest food is less efficient than that of younger horses. Senior feeds are specially formulated for elder equines, so that they receive all the nutrition their bodies need.
- High protein feed is usually used for older horses, in order to provide the proper amino acids, like methionine and lysine. This helps with their hoof quality, metabolic functions and muscle maintenance.
- Give older horses extra fat, for extra calories. Omega fatty acids are especially beneficial.
- Organic trace minerals should be more available to the digestive system of older horses, more than traditional sources of minerals.
- Prebiotics and probiotics such as microbials and yeast cultures will help the senior equine digestive system.
- Senior feeds are softer pellets than feeds for mature horses that are not yet aged. The food must be easy to chew, since older horses may have missing teeth. In cases where there is extreme dental loss, you can mix his feed with warm water, to form an easy-to-eat mash.
- Enhanced phosphorous and calcium levels are included in senior feeds, to help in guarding against the demineralization of bones.
- If your horse is unable to properly chew hay, his diet may be changed to four or five smaller feedings of quality senior feed, to give him the roughage he needs.
In any age horse, changes to feeds should be made only gradually. A horse can colic and die if you suddenly switch him from one type of feed to another in a day. It takes a week to two weeks to properly and slowly transition your horse to a new feed.
Checking His Teeth
Watch your older horse for signs that he is no longer able to maintain his normal weight on his current diet. If you find clumps of partially chewed hay in his stall or pasture, this means he cannot chew well enough to gain the nutrients from the hay. You may also notice undigested grain in his manure.
Floating or filing your horse’s teeth, by either your veterinarian or an equine dental specialist, will allow him to get more nutrition from his food and hay. In addition, blood work can be done for Cushing’s disease and other issues with your horse’s metabolism. It’s important to rule out any physical problems before you adjust his diet. (Continued…)