11th April 2019

We are seeing on the TV and in newspapers the result of an aging population –   it is being cited as the ‘demise’ of the NHS.  It has been reported that two fifths of the NHS spending go on patients over the age of 65years and the average 65 year old cost the NHS 2.5 times more than a 30 year old.

But we are seeing this phenomenon in the horse population as well.  Vets are seeing more horses over 20, even 30 years of age.  It is estimated that 30% of the UK horse population is over 15 years.

Because of the lifestyle and veterinary advances, we are seeing senior horses competing at top level and winning – The oldest horse to win Badminton was Horton Point at 16 years old (ridden Mark Todd NZ).  The oldest horse at the Olympics was Lenamore at 19 years old (ridden by Caroline Powell NZ). Even racehorses are getting older- Al Jabal won the Three Horseshoes Handicap Stakes at 19 years!

This is the same as Sir Steve Redgrave who won his fifth gold medal at the Sydney Olympics  at the age of 38 – dare we say it but middle age! And not to mention Nick Skelton who won gold at the age of 58, just two year off being classed as an old aged pensioner!

The increasing lifespan of the horse is great for us animal lovers however it can have the same effect on our budgets as humans are having on the NHS budgets.

What areas do we need to focus on to keep our senior horses healthy and happy?

  • Teeth
  • Body Condition
  • Signs of old age

Teeth

Teeth- Older horses have slower erupting growing teeth due to a reduction in the reserve crown, however it is still extremely important a vet or equine dental technician checks the teeth regularly as a study by Ireland et al 2012 showed that more than 95% of horses over 15 years had dental abnormalities.  This can influence dietary choice –

  • steam hay to soften it,
  • graze young grass,
  • soak high fibre nuts,
  • unmolassed sugar beet
  • Short chopped fibre like Honeychop Lite & Healthy as forage replacers

Body Condition

Body Condition – Being overweight is a serious problem for older horses.  It can occur if the nutritional intake is higher than the physical energy demand.  A balance is required between diet and exercise.  Examples of management change which can help to reduce weight include;

  • Regular exercise if the horse is well enough
  • Reduce the quality and the quantity of grass.  Maybe consider a muzzle?
  • Supplement with a vit and mineral balancer
  • Soak hay for 12 hours as this reduces the calories
  • Mix hay with oat straw or Honeychop Chopped Oat Straw if the horse’s teeth are in good condition.

We normally consider the older horse to be underweight.  This can normally be linked to an underlying condition for example worms, PPID, liver disease etc.  After these conditions have been diagnosed and treated look at dietary changes to increase weight;

  • Access to good quality hay or haylage and grass.
  • Feed a senior diet for weight gain, for example feeding Honeychop Senior along with a senior feed such as Allen & Page Veteran Vitality will supply you with all the vitamins and minerals you need for balanced diet from a fibre and oil based diet.
  • Add oil to the diet.  Increase gradually to help aids the digestion. 
  • Ensure the horse is rugged appropriately
  • Do not over feed starch as there are links to colic and EGUS

Signs of old age

  • Droopy lip
  • Grey hair around the eyes and muzzle
  • Loss of muscle mass
  • Sunken above the eyes
  • Sway Backs
  • Stiffness

If you are worried about your older horse, please contact your vet for further advice.

If you want advice on your older horses’ diet don’t hesitate to give us a call on 01359 230 823!!