Similarly to humans, as horses get older they may require more care and new routines to maintain their health. Although we may not like to see our horses get older, it does not have to be hard on you as a horse owner. There are steps that you can take to keep your horses comfortable and happy in their older age. Keep in mind that caring for an older horse is much different and requires more patience than a young or middle-aged horse. Senior horses may have more limited mobility and functionality, but they can still live a happy life. Take some time to read 10 senior horse facts that you may not know:
1. Senior horses can get “cold stress” - During the colder weather, senior horses tend to limit the amount of water they are drinking because drinking cold water will bring their body temperatures down. The dropping of the body temperature can worry the horse and make them “cold stressed''.” It is important to make sure that your horse is not dehydrating themselves to avoid this feeling. You can do this by feeding them warm water-soaked food or adding salt to a horse's diet to encourage more water intake.
2. The life expectancy of a horse has gone up - Horse life expectancy has continued to rise to levels that it has never been at before! 25 years old is the average horse expectancy at this point and many horses even live into their 30’s. This could be because people are learning to take good care of their senior horses and helping them live longer. A well-balanced and nutritious diet, regular exercise, and proper veterinarian care are all factors that have lent to this rise in life expectancy.
3. Horses age differently - Horses begin to show signs of their age at all different times of their life. Some horses will show their aging young while others will grow much older before they begin to show any signs of their aging. There are many factors that could lead to this difference including the result of previous use, genetics, or a bunch of other environmental factors. What is important is to keep an eye on all your horses and treat them on a personal and individual basis. Every horse is different and requires different care so monitor their health as they grow.
4. Senior horses still need regular movement - Although the mobility of horses diminish as they get older, they still need some movement in their daily lives to keep their muscles from getting too weak. They may not be able to exercise and train as they once did but even just a daily walk or some lighter conditioning will keep your horse's muscles and joints healthy. Take them for a trail ride where you walk alongside them so that they can get some fresh air, new scenery, and get back to the movement they were used to at a young age.
5. Horse’s body shapes may change as they get older - Along with internal aging and changing, a horse’s physical stature may change as they get older. Changes in their back shape could make it uncomfortable for them to participate in certain exercises or trail rides. If your senior horse is still being ridden, keep an eye on its changing shape and adjust with a new saddle if necessary. That way you can continue to ride your horse and ensure that they are still comfortable.
6. Hoof care can become harder - As horses get older, it may be harder on their joints and muscles to constantly be lifting their legs and shifting weight to each of their legs. When doing hoof care, this is often a requirement as you want to get under their hoofs to clean or check them out. In a senior horse, this kind of movement could hurt their muscles and bones and leave them in pain. This does not mean you should abandon hoof care altogether, instead find a way to limit how much weight is put on the other legs of the horse or give them some safe anti-inflammatory medication before doing their hoof care.
7. Senior horses don’t regulate body temperature as well - With age comes a horse’s inability to regulate their body temperatures as much as they once could. This means that they may need help to not be too hot or too cold during big weather changes. One way this can be done is by regulating how much time the horse stays outside when it is very hot or cold. Putting in a run-in shelter can help teach them when it is time to go inside and it can keep them warm in the cold winter months. Adjust the run-in shelter according to the weather and this can be a safe haven for your horse to keep their body temperature at a normal rate.
8. Respiratory issues are more common in senior horses - Another health issue that comes with age is a higher chance of a respiratory problem. This could be caused by previous exposure to bad conditions or just old age. Some ways to help with this would be to make sure your horse is getting outside into the fresh air and less time in the stuffy barn. You should also limit their exposure to ammonia and dust to keep their airways as clean as possible. Putting more hay on the ground will encourage the horse to lean their heads down to get it and this can clear mucus from their airways and help them breathe better.
9. Looking at a horse’s teeth can give an estimate of their age - Although it is not always 100% accurate, many times the teeth conditions of a senior horse can give you a hint into their age. As a horse gets older, their teeth start to break down after years of use and you can use this wear to predict how old they may be. This should not be the only way you tell a horse’s age but it is a way to approximate.
10. Horses are very social, even in their old age - Horses are very social animals throughout their whole life so don’t think this goes away just because they get older. They still like to be around other horses and will feel depressed if they are isolated from everybody else. Although it is important to take extra care of a senior horse, do not let this care keep them away from the rest of the group. Do continue to keep an eye on them though, in situations like feeding, younger horses may feel like they can push the older horses out of their way because the older horses will not fight back. Make sure that your older horses are still getting equal treatment in the group settings.
Senior horses may need some additional care as they continue to get older but we love them like family and there is nothing we wouldn't do for our horses. To learn more about caring for your senior horse and to meet our very special senior horses, head over to our website.