With the advent of new veterinary technologies and the determination of many horse owners to provide their equine companions with the best care possible, horses are now living well into their twenties and beyond. Older horses often have far more complications and needs than their younger counterparts.
Caring for older horses is not difficult; it just takes a little extra knowledge and precaution.
Feeding the Older Horse
Older horses generally require a slightly different diet than younger horses. An older horse needs more protein and fat, and a form of fiber that is easily digestible. As a rule all horses need good quality hay. Good quality hay will smell sweet, not be too full of stems, and not be dusty.
An older horse is likely to have trouble keeping weight on and so will often need more than just hay. For older horses it is usually best to feed grain specially formulated for their age group. Corn Oil is also a good additive for horses that have trouble keeping weight on. Other good options include beet pulp and rice based feeds such as rice bran, both of which add easily digestible calories for older horses.
All the good feed in the world won’t matter if the horse can’t chew it properly because the majority of the nutrients will be lost. Aside from proper teeth care, which all horses need regularly, some older horses will need additional care to be able to fully enjoy their food. Soaking grain in warm water for a few minutes to make a mash will help older horses eat and digest their grain, and will be enjoyable on those cold winter evenings.
Sheltering older horses
While all horses need shelter from the elements year round, it is doubly important for older horses that tend to be thinner and less able to regulate body heat. As a result older horses will probably need a winter blanket during the colder months and plenty of shade and water during the summer.
Having older and younger horses housed together can present some difficulty as younger horses tend to eat much faster, and then move onto others’ food. This means that older horses may need to be fed alone and given plenty of time to eat. However they would not enjoy being separated permanently.
The logical and most used method is to stable horses at night, where they have plenty of time to eat, and then turn them out as a group during the day. If this is not an option however the horses will have to be monitored to figure out the best arrangement.
When feeding in a large group it is important to have at least one pile per horse so that everyone gets a chance to eat.
General care for older horses
All of the things that apply to the care of younger horses are much more important for older horses. An illness or lameness in an older horse is often much harder or impossible to remedy and so prevention is the best bet. This entails regular shoeing, and deworming.
In addition to a regular visit from the veterinarian for teeth and vaccines, it is important to give a careful examination of the horse nearly every day to check for any cuts or swellings, odd behavior that could indicate illness or anything that is not normal for that horse.