Twenty nine year old Royal Bargain flips his tail over his back and strides away.
Head up in the air, twenty-three year old Draken proudly trots across the field.
These two senior Standardbreds have quality of live and are pain free. As owners how can we achieve that in our 20+ year old horses? Nutrition, dental work, deworming, farrier and veterinarian support all come into play to develop a plan to keep our elder horses living longer.
In their younger years our senior Standardbreds would have had been seen by a equine dentist at least once a year. We need to continue that plan or as often as a equine dentist suggests. If you see hay or grain dropping from their mouth while chewing they need to be checked by a equine dentist. As horses age several things happen to their teeth. They have been consistently worn down in some spots while sharp points can develop along the edges in other areas causing ulcers and cuts inside their cheeks. Routine floating can keep the teeth in good shape.
Older horses tend to eat slower so watch for that horse bully that may eat more than their own share of feed. Aged horses may need some protection against those aggressive horses out in the field.
Consult with your vet regarding a deworming program. Routine deworming is a must to maintain your horse’s health and longevity. Parasitism is the most common equine disease. A deworming program is determined by the age of the horse, the season, pasture load, other pasture animals and the location of the horse. Vet’s like to start with a fecal exam, depending on the resulting egg count that number determines the best dewormer for the horse. A post fecal egg count tells them whether or not the horse has a resistance to that particular wormer. You have to adjust your deworming program accordingly.
Nutrition varies from summer to winter, horse to horse. Draken holds his weight evenly with only grass during the summer months, but receives grain twice a day along with 2nd cutting hay during the winter. While year round Royal Bargain is given a sweet feed and pellets three times a day along with alfalfa cubes and a good timothy hay. Some geriatric horses may need the easily chewable senior horse feed. Having a softer pellet grain and hay will help the older horse from choking on their feeds. Remember not all senior horse feeds are a complete feed; some only met the horses minimum nutritional needs. Check the label on the bag to make sure what you are feeding.
Keeping your senior from being overweight can be tough but being too heavy can cause difficulties in their aging joints. Laminitis, heart disease, arthritis, and navicular syndrome are just some of the problems that can occur with an overweight horse. Check on the internet under horse weight calculators, by using them you should be able to determine the best weight for your horse. When a geriatric horse starts to lose weight and a special feeding program does not help it’s time to consult your vet for additional help.
Talk to your veterinarian also about the metabolic changes that might occur as your horse ages. Hormonal unbalances like Cushing’s disease, metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance are common in senior horses. Cataracts show up slowly, have your vet check your horses eyes when you have that yearly Coggins test, Potomac Fever and other vaccinations done.
Many owners feel older horses need less exercise. Not so. Light riding or driving is a good way to keep those muscles toned and joints flexing. Local horse shows offering leadline, walk or walk/trot classes are a great way to give your horse a job while not overtaxing them. If your horse isn’t able to do a little riding or driving make sure he has ample exercise in a pasture. Being outside grazing 24/7, with a shelter, keeps joints from stiffening up and it’s also good for their mental well-being.
Aged horses still need to have routine farrier work performed. Proper trimming can help arthritic conditions and other joint diseases. Depending on the horses feet, ground that they are on, and their jobs; the farrier and you can determine whether they need to have shoes on or not.
Senior horses sometimes have that chronic limp that just doesn’t go away. After consulting with your veterinarian as to the cause perhaps they can recommend medications to improve your horse’s soundness. Pin firing is seen on many of our former racing Standardbreds legs. The scars are still very visible but the healing has been completed long ago. Bowed tendons are another injury to the tendons that are hard to look at but have healed. Each horse must be analyzed individually. As owners we need to make sure the quality of life is good and the horse can handle the lameness comfortably.
Salt blocks are a must all year long. Numerous types of salt blocks are on the market, decide which is best for your situation and continue to have them available for your horse. Water, whether it is in a stall bucket, outside water tank or from an automatic waterer should be clear and fresh. Stagnate water is an invitation for mosquitoes and other bugs to infect your horse with diseases.
In the winter a lukewarm bucket of water helps the digestive system digest feed much better, keeping the risk of colic down. Our senior horses don’t take to the cold very well so a winter blanket may be necessary. Take the blanket off at times to assess his weight. Add or subtract hay or grain from his diet according to what you see.
There are retirement farms that will take over the proper care of your horse for you should you not be able to do it yourself. They will take the time to consult with their local veterinarian, farrier and equine dentist, together they’ll make a long term plan on how to make sure your senior horse has good quality of life and is as pain free as possible.
Caring for your senior horse is challenging but very rewarding. With the proper plan we can obtain the standard of life that any 20+ horse deserves. Watching senior horses like Royal Bargain and Draken trot proudly around their fields makes us realize we can accomplished that goal.