How To Care for Your Senior Horse: Learn the essentials to senior horse management

Managing the Senior Horse

Learn about common senior horse health concerns and what you need to know

Horses are living longer and enjoying a high quality of life as they age. Gone are the days when a 15-year-old horse was old! Now horses are living into their 20’s and 30’s.

This is fantastic – but what does this mean for you and your horse? How do you care for a horse in their 30’s? What does a 20-year-old horse need? How can you be proactive and help prevent any age-related issues from becoming serious conditions for your horse?

In this blog we drill down into how to care for your senior horse:

  • 6 common senior horse health concerns
  • Strategies for senior horse care
  • 6 things you need to know about senior horse care

As always, please do not hesitate to contact your veterinarian with any questions about your horse’s health. Do not make any changes to your horse’s nutrition, exercise, or routine without discussing this with your veterinarian. This is especially important for senior horses.

6 Common Senior Horse Health Concerns

Make sure you’re aware of these 6 common senior horse health concerns:

1. Teeth and dental challenges

The years of constant chewing and grinding put a lot of stress on your horse’s teeth. This can cause teeth to wear down unevenly, create sharp jagged edges on teeth, and may cause teeth to loosen. This can create cuts and tears on the inside of your horse’s mouth.

And like humans, your senior horse is susceptible to cavities, gum problems, and tartar. Remember, your horse is smart and will do their best to hide any dental and tooth discomfort.

2. Eye and vision problems

Your senior horse may develop cataracts or problems with their retinas. This is a completely normal part of the aging process. The good news is it’s very rare for your horse to become blind or have severe vision loss.

However, senior horses are at risk of developing equine recurrent uveitis or moon blindness. This eye issue can be very painful and may lead to cataracts and blindness. Talk to your veterinarian about the signs of uveitis so you know what to look for.

3. Endocrine concerns

As a horse owner, you’re likely aware of Cushing’s Disease. This health condition is common in senior horses and is caused by a benign tumor in the pituitary gland. This tumor can affect your horse’s hormones, resulting in a range of symptoms from weight loss, foot problems, laminitis, fatigue, and more.

Pay attention to any changes in your horse’s behavior, mood, and general health status. When caught early, Cushing’s Disease can be managed, ensuring your horse has a good quality of life.

4. Digestion and weight challenges

Your horse’s gut health is central to every aspect of their health. When your horse has trouble digesting food or absorbing nutrients, this can trickle over into a range of health challenges including weight loss, nutrient deficiencies, constipation, diarrhea, and other intestinal issues.

Because the quality and health of your horse’s intestinal lining decreases with age, you may want to discuss different feed options for your senior horse. One approach is to focus on providing forage with feed that is smaller and easier to digest.

5. Joint issues

Joint health issues are a constant for horses, and for senior horses, joint health needs to be a top priority. Unfortunately, most senior horses do have some type of joint condition, such as arthritis.

Pay attention to how your horse is moving, their willingness to exercise, and changes in their behavior. Do not force your horse to move and exercise – there is a reason why your horse doesn’t want to be active. Pay attention to how your horse walks and stands after exercise. Always talk to your veterinarian and trainer about changes in your horse’s gait, energy levels, interest in exercise, and changes in behavior.

6. Hoof challenges

As your horse ages, their body composition changes, including muscle loss, weight fluctuations, and bone health. All of these changes impact your horse’s hooves and feet. Talk to your farrier about signs of hoof and foot concerns and know what to look for.

Pay attention to uneven wearing of their hooves, how your horse holds stands and moves, and the health of their hoof walls (chips, cracks, and flares).

Essential Senior Horse Health Care Strategies

Keep in mind these essential senior horse health care strategies as your horse ages:

  • Feed your horse the food they need for their age, activity level, weight, and unique digestion needs. Do not assume that there is only one way to feed your horse. Talk to your veterinarian, read and do your research, and talk to your trainer about senior horse nutrition and feeding strategies.
  • Don’t assume your horse is drinking enough. Check your horse’s hydration levels daily and pay attention to any changes. One of the best ways to monitor your horse’s hydration levels is by feeling the inside of their mouth – if it feels dry – then your horse is not drinking enough. Talk to your veterinarian for different ways to get your horse to drink enough. It is not uncommon for horses to be bullied by other horses, preventing them from getting to their water.
  • The right shelter at the right time. In the winter and on cooler days, your senior horse may need a blanket or not want to go outside at all. This is normal. Just like us humans, our tolerance to cold (and heat) changes as we age. Be aware of how your horse responds in hot, humid, damp, cold, and rainy weather. You may need to change your shelter options to ensure your horse is always comfortable.
  • Provide consistent hoof care. Through-out their entire life, your horse needs regular and consistent hoof care. A small problem with a hoof can quickly turn into a large issue – remember prevention is the best way to keep your senior horse healthy and happy.
  • Look inside your horse’s mouth. The health of your horse’s teeth and gums can tell you a lot about their overall health and wellness. Pay attention to how your horse is chewing and how long it takes for them to eat their food. Talk to your veterinarian about any changes in your horse including weight loss, bad breath, dropping their food, nasal discharge, and opening their mouth when eating.

Spend time with you horse – you know your horse better than anyone else. Look for any changes in their behavior. Listen to the signals your horse gives you when you walk into the barn, during rides and grooming, and how your horse is moving and relaxing after exercise.

Your horse is smart and works very hard to hide any discomfort or health challenges. Remember, your horse depends on you for every aspect of their health.

6 Things You Need to Know about Senior Horse Health Care

As part of your daily horse care routine, remember these 6 things you need to know about senior horse care:

  1. Monitor your horse’s vitals: routinely document your horse’s temperature, pulse, and respiration (TPR) rate. Read our guide to taking and understanding TPR measurements.
  2. Stay up to date on vaccinations: your veterinarian may recommend vaccines to help prevent against age-related issues and concerns.
  3. Keep an eye on your horse’s weight: weight loss and weight gain could be signs of larger issues. As horses age, it can become difficult to digest protein and fiber.
  4. Stay on top of dental care: your senior horse’s teeth wear down as they age, potentially developing sharp points and cavities. Schedule regular dental exams for your horse every six months.
  5. Keep up with bone and joint health: always be aware of how your horse is moving (or not moving). Do not assume that small changes in gait or behavior will fix themselves – talk to your veterinarian and trainer about any changes in your horse.
  6. Pay attention to hoof health: keeping your horse on a consistent schedule with your farrier is key to keeping their hooves healthy. Be proactive when you see a chip or crack in their hoof wall – talk to your farrier and veterinarian about this.

Read our full blog about the top 6 things you need to know about senior horse health care.

Here’s to a long and healthy life for your horse. We frequently hear from the Grand Meadows community about horses living into their 30’s and having a high quality of life.

Remember, age is just a number – but as your horse ages, they do have new health concerns and priorities. Always talk to your veterinarian about any questions you have about your horse’s health.

Thank you for making your horse’s health and wellness a priority. Your horse is lucky to have you as their person.

We’re here to answer any questions you have about your senior horse. Contact us with any questions or concerns you have about your senior horse.

by Nick Hartog

In 1994, Nick Hartog became an owner and President of Grand Meadows Equine Supplements bringing his talents and extensive background in domestic and international equine sales and manufacturing. He has a reputation for plain speaking of the truth. In 1997, when the US horse supplement market was something akin to the Wild West with a complete lack of standards, Nick personally tested 32 different horse joint supplements to see if they matched the label. Unsurprisingly, to him at least, only 2 products matched the label claim. Read more...