Veteran Horses - Advice about care of the senior horse
Like humans, horses and ponies are now
generally living longer and we are seeing more active veteran
horses than ever before.
A study has shown that a quarter of the UK’S equine population
is aged 16 and over, with many horses competing at the age of twenty or
Many of us will know of veteran ponies in their twenties
or even thirties.
The most important factors in this increased longevity are probably
an improved diet and better health and veterinary care.
We know more about nutrition
and pasture management and are more aware of common diseases and the importance
of regular de worming
As a result of this knowledge our horses and ponies are benefitting from
a longer and healthier life.
HOW OLD IS "OLD" FOR A VETERAN HORSE?
Horses are generally referred to as old when they are 16 or older.
However, horses do not become geriatrics and unable to thrive well just
because they are over 16.
Horses get physically “old” at different ages. This depends
on various factors including how it was fed as a foal
and young horse, training and workload and healthcare throughout his life.
A horse's individual genetic make-up will also contribute to the rate
at which he appears to become old.
It is probably more correct to label a horse “old” when it
shows three or four signs of old age rather than when it reaches a certain
Signs of Old Age
in a Horse
Signs of equine old age include:
- Worn down or missing teeth
- Sunken back and hollows above eyes
- Trouble with chewing grass, feed and hay
- Stiffness, particularly after long periods of standing
- Loss of condition, especially through the winter, or
if grazing is sparse during summer
How to feed a
For an old horse that is very thin, the
obvious action is an increase in calorie intake - but this
may not nessarily be the best action.
If an old horse cannot chew long fibre due to tooth
problems, the only food he may be getting is the
concentrate feed he is given in a bucket.
If the feed is a starchy coarse mix,
which would be relatively low in fibre, feeding more of this
food may worsen the problem and could even result in diarrhoea.
In such situations, a senior horse or elderly
pony needs a fibre source that his gut can cope with,
such as a short chop hay-alternative forage or high fibre
nuts soaked down to a mash.
Adding an equine yeast
probiotic, which stimulates the population of
beneficial fibre-digesting micro organisms in the horse’s
digestive system is useful in cases where fibre intake is
Determining exactly what a veteran horse
is actually eating and assessing fibre content of the feed
will help in the design of a ration suitable for the individual
Digestion in the
Although a loss of condition in a horse
can be an indication of ageing, there is no proof that the
digestive system of a horse or pony automatically declines
with old age.
Horses over twenty are less able to digest protein, phosphorus
and fibre, relative to younger animals, but this is more likely
to result from old parasite and worm
damage to the horse's gut than be caused directly
by ageing alone.
Inefficient chewing due to problems with worn down teeth
which means that the horse is therefore unable to digest
hay and other fibre efficiently is another cause
of loss of condition in the senior horse.
by the ageing process
The ageing process results in some irreversible changes in
a horse's body.
The skin and soft tissue
elasticity, decreases - this causes the typical sunken back
of of an old horse.
The horse’s teeth are constantly erupting,
and eventually grow right out of the gums - As they reach
this stage, the grinding surfaces of the teeth become smoother
and less efficient.
The immune system becomes weaker and less able to fight disease
The circulation, heart and lung function, which delivers
nutrients and oxygen to the horse, is reduced.
and kidney problems become more common
as a horse or pony gets older.
These organs get rid of toxins and waste and build nutrients
into compounds that the body can use.
Advice aboutthe care of an older or veteran horse or pony.