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10 Things You Might Not Know About Senior Horses

Horse portrait

Horses Age Differently

Most horses age differently. Some horses start to show signs of aging in their mid to late teens. Others may not show signs of aging until their twenties. The importance of this is to treat and care for each horse differently as they age. Each horse’s health concerns should be treated individually regardless of their physical age. This will allow you to help maintain your horse’s quality of life as they grow older.

Common signs of aging include: coat and facial hairs turning gray, bones in their head will look more pronounced, change in the appearance of legs as they weaken with age, backs may begin to sag, bellies may protrude, and their hip bones may become more prominent.

White horse in stall

Dental Care is Crucial

It is very important your horse has good dental care throughout its life. Senior horses often have missing teeth, which may cause the lower lip to stick out or droop, and may also cause drooling.

Ryerss horses have regular visits from an equine dentist. Horses’ teeth continue to grow throughout their lives, so the dentist periodically must file down their teeth (a procedure called “floating”) so they wear more evenly and they can chew more easily. The dentist will extract teeth that are problematic and treat any mouth and tooth issues. Check out our recent blog to learn more about maintaining your horse’s dental care.

Senior Horses’ Muscles Benefit from Exercise

Regular exercise is a great way to keep your aged horse in good shape as they live out their retirement. When taking your horse out for exercise, they need to be warmed up slowly and also conditioned. Note that senior horses likely won’t retain all the same physical capabilities they had in their younger days. If a horse appears to be struggling with some aspects of his work, consider reducing his workload or transitioning to a less physically demanding exercise routine.

Close up of horses hooves running

Hoof Care Can Be Challenging for Older Horses

Similar to their younger counterparts, aged horses require regular farrier care. Some horses have swelling in the legs and/or changes in their hooves due to age and various medical conditions. Ryerss residents are regularly seen by a farrier, who trims the horses’ hooves and applies corrective shoes when necessary. Taking care of a horse’s hooves minimizes stress on the horse’s joints and this must be a regular part of their care.

Movement is the Best Medicine for Aging Joints

Although most horses sleep standing up, occasionally a horse might lie down in the field or in its stall for a nap or bask in the warm sun. This is especially true of horses who have leg or hoof problems and sometimes like to take the weight off their feet. Most horses over 20 have arthritis, so when caring for an aged horse, it is important to be aware of these conditions. Allow horses to have regular turnout time to keep them moving to allow their joints and muscles to stay limber and active.

Person brushing horse's head

Senior Horses are Sensitive to Temperature Extremes

Aged horses may have more difficulty regulating their body temperature. The horse may need more assistance in staying comfortable in varying temperatures, such as rainy and cold days or extremely hot and humid days. A run-in shelter will provide protection from cold, damp conditions. This will also provide shade from the sun when it’s hot. Many older horses benefit from blanketing in cold or damp conditions to help maintain their body heat.

Older Horses Have a Weaker Immune System

There are many diseases horses can contract, their body is constantly under attack, meaning that a strong immune system is crucial for a horse to remain healthy. As a horse gets older, its immune system starts to decline and work slower. A great place to start with the healthcare a horse needs is to give them all their necessary vaccinations. A regular worming schedule that uses the three main types of worming chemicals is key to a healthy horse and strong immune system. Do your best to keep flies away as that is a major issue that will affect your horse’s health. There are several types of fly control products to consider, including specified feed, natural repellents, chemical repellents, and protective masks.

Horses eating hay

Senior Horses Diets Require Careful Planning

Ryerss provides its residents with an individualized diet, including various supplements to boost the horse’s ability to absorb and utilize necessary vitamins and nutrients. Older horses are more prone to certain metabolic conditions like Cushing’s disease (Pituitary Pars Intermedia Dysfunction or PPID). This can result from overfeeding or the feeding of inappropriate feedstuffs, like a carbohydrate- and fructose-rich materials.

Residents with Cushing’s at Ryerss are identified by a sign their stall doors to alert visitors not to give them treats, Horses with Cushing’s may have long, wavy coats which is difficult for them to shed, and/or a “potbelly.” Cushing’s horses should not have too much sugar in their diet, ​so feed them low sugar and/or low carbohydrate treats.​ Ryerss treats its Cushing’s horses with medications to control the disease and improve their quality of life.

Senior Horses can Develop Respiratory Problems

The residents of our farm are primarily retired horses 20 years of age or older, many with chronic health issues. Horses at any age can develop respiratory issues, but as they grow older, they can develop respiratory problems more easily, and it may be harder to recover from them. These respiratory problems can develop due to a variety of reasons, but issues like inflammatory airway disease (IAD) and recurrent airway obstruction (RAO or “heaves”) are especially common in aged horses. To keep older horses healthy, keeping them outside with access to a run-in shed will reduce horses’ exposure to ammonia and dust when they’re stalled. Another strategy to help keep horses’ airways clear is by offering feed and hay on the ground to encourage mucus to drain from the airways when animals put their heads down to eat.

Two horses standing in a field

The Oldest Horse

Most Horses usually live to be around 25 years old. However, the oldest horse, Old Billy, lived to be 62. Old Billy was born in England in 1760 and lived his life pulling barges up and down canals. He was a brown horse with a beautiful white blaze. After retiring and treated with care, Billy died peacefully on November 27, 1822. Currently, the oldest horses at Ryerss Farm are 33 years old.

Ryerss’ Senior Horses

Ryerss Farm for Aged Equines is the oldest non-profit horse sanctuary in the United States and continues to provide a haven for equines of all breeds, sizes, and backgrounds. Our mission is to care for the aged and abused horses. We devote much time, energy, and love to all of the horses that come to live at our farm. Visit our website to meet all of our horses.

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