Putting your senior horse out to pasture is emotionally tough. It’s the moment you realize the end is near. But the good news is, thanks to advances in equine care, horses are living longer. The end may be more distant than you think if you commit to providing optimum care for your senior horse.
Like humans, numbers don’t tell the story of equine age. The true age of a horse depends on the individual horse. Caring for your aging horse comes down to observation. The horse tells you when it’s getting old and experiencing discomfort. The horse tells you when it’s truly “senior.”
Jane Starr (equine blogger) identifies 15 as the age when a horse may be considered a senior. Karyn Malinowski, Ph.D. at Rutgers University, says that technically a horse is a senior at 20 and older.
Considerations for care
To establish an accurate picture of your horse’s needs, consider objective documentation. If you have already been monitoring your horse’s body condition score to determine feeding requirements, and to determine whether she is suffering from Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome, you are well-prepared to note when she is at the senior level.
Malinowski also recommends recording TPR (temperature, pulse, respiration) measurements, and your horse’s weight when he is healthy. Keep a record and find a time to compare condition score and the other measurements as your horse ages. In addition to an annual physical examination, consult your veterinarian when you note a change in the measurements.
According to researchers at the University of Florida, nutrition problems,teeth, lameness, vision issues, lower immune response, and hormone changes are all problem points that may arise for the senior, “geriatric” horse. With proper care, the physiological changes a horse goes through will not be problematic.
The big picture
In addition to having a care strategy to address specific problem points, a big part of keeping your senior horse happy and healthy is providing it with ample turnout time. Exercise is therapeutic for the horse, and aging joints will appreciate the use. With enough exercise, quality nutrition, limited stress, and hopefully some social time to horse around, you may not note any drastic, negative changes in your horse’s condition.
Some horses age gracefully and hit the age of 30 in stride. Others require advanced care due to genetics, stress, and the extent to which an owner takes care of them from the get-go.
Managing senior horse care will ensure your horse has a long and rewarding life ahead for many years.