How to look after your senior horse and ensure their quality of life

When our beloved horses become older, whether they are still active or starting to “retire” from their previously active lifestyle, they definitely deserve to enjoy their golden years with all the comfort and care we can offer them. Many horses can live well into their 20s or 30s with good health care and while senior horses should not be over-exerting themselves, they often make lovely, trustworthy mounts for new riders or children. They can also make great companions for other horses and serve a valuable purpose. However, as horses age, their care needs change, and it is important to provide them with appropriate care to ensure their quality of life.

How do senior horses’ change physically?

As horses age, their bodies change and they are more vulnerable to certain health problems. Dental problems, such as tooth loss and wear, often arise. Weight loss may occur due to decreased nutrient absorption in the gut. Senior horses are at a higher risk of colic, including blockage of the small intestine from fat tumours. Arthritis can limit their range of motion, and muscle wasting, particularly in the topline, can also occur. The immune system of senior horses becomes less effective, resulting in a higher risk of infection. Recurrent airway obstruction, similar to asthma in humans, becomes a more significant concern in aging horses. Both mares and stallions may experience a decline in fertility. The heart and blood vessels also become more vulnerable with age, and slight reductions in coordination can impact their agility. Because of these potential health challenges, we should take certain steps to care for older horses.

How to care for your senior horse:

Here are 7 essential tips on how to look after your senior horse and ensure their quality of life.

1. Regular Veterinary Care: Schedule routine check-ups with your vet, including checking lumps for cancer, deworming and vaccinations. This will allow you to monitor their overall health and address any age-related health issues. Regular check-ups and bloodwork can help detect and manage any medical conditions early on, allowing for prompt treatment. Senior horses that are kept active along with show horses may also need more frequent vaccinations, particularly against diseases such as strangles, herpes and influenza. Older horses often develop lumps under the skin. Monitor these for size during each medical exam. Also check your horse’s body weight and signs of arthritis.

2. Balanced Diet: A senior horse’s nutritional requirements may differ from those of a younger horse. Their diet should consist of high-quality forage, such as hay or pasture, to maintain healthy digestion and weight. Senior horse feeds or supplements specifically formulated for older horses may also be necessary to meet their nutritional needs, especially if they have dental issues that affect their ability to chew. Make sure your senior horse has a high quality diet. Most major feed companies make “senior” diets. These are often pelleted, easy to chew and have more energy than other concentrates. Always follow feed instructions carefully and make sure the horse gets enough vitamins and minerals.

3. Dental Care: Dental health is crucial for senior horses as they may develop dental issues such as worn or missing teeth, gum disease, or other oral problems. Regular dental check-ups and floating (filing down sharp edges on teeth) can help maintain their oral health and ensure proper chewing and digestion.

4. Joint Care: Arthritis and other joint issues can be common in senior horses, leading to discomfort and reduced mobility. Joint supplements, medications, and appropriate exercise can help manage joint pain and stiffness. Consult with your veterinarian for suitable joint care options for your senior horse.

5. Regular Exercise: Regular exercise is important for senior horses to maintain muscle tone, cardiovascular health, and mental well-being. However, the type and intensity of exercise should be appropriate for their age and physical condition. Gentle exercise, such as daily turnout, walking, or light riding, can help keep them active and mobile.

6. Make them comfortable: Provide your senior horse with a safe and comfortable living environment. Make sure their pasture or stall is clean, dry, and well-bedded. Consider providing shelter from extreme weather conditions, such as heat, cold, wind, or rain, to help them stay comfortable. Senior horses may have a harder time maintaining their coat and hooves due to age-related changes. Regular grooming, including brushing, bathing, and hoof care, can help keep their skin, coat, and hooves healthy and comfortable. If you still ride your senior horse, check their saddle fit. Senior horses often have less back muscle, which is more prone to saddle sores.

7. Ensure their emotional wellbeing and quality of life: As your horse ages, monitor their quality of life by observing their behaviour, appetite, energy levels, and overall well-being. Regularly assess their comfort, mobility, and mental state, and make adjustments to their care plan as needed to ensure their happiness and well-being. Senior horses can benefit from social interaction to prevent boredom and loneliness. Turnout with compatible pasture mates or spending time with other horses can help keep them mentally stimulated and emotionally content.

By providing your senior horse with the attention and care they need, you can help them enjoy their lives comfortably and happily. Consult with your veterinarian for personalized care recommendations based on your senior horse’s individual needs.

While we all hope to be blessed with many more years with our horse companion, it is also good to be prepared for the inevitable future. Consider an Earthpet farewell plan to take care of your horse’s remains when that sad day comes. Find out more about how it works: