What defines an “Older Horse”?
Older horses are generally defined as being aged from 15 to 25 years old, and they are still active and reasonably healthy in their disciplines. Geriatric horses are defined as being aged 15 years or older and have health issues. For example, a horse who is active and healthy at 20 is considered older, but a horse that has chronic health issues such as Cushing’s Disease (PPID) can be considered geriatric at 15. For information on feeding geriatric horses and horses with Cushing’s Disease please see our past blog posts on these topics. Here we explain special considerations when feeding older horses:
What should we consider when feeding an older horse?
- If you have a horse that has recently reached their mid-teens, we highly recommend having a diet evaluation done with an equine nutritionist. As horses age their immune systems start to deteriorate, so making sure their diet includes good levels of anti-oxidants like Vitamin E is essential to maintaining their health and physical activity. This is particularly important in breeding horses as fertility will also start to decrease with age. Ranvet offers a complimentary diet evaluation service and can help you tailor a perfect diet for your older horse for any discipline. Click here for Ranvet’s FREE Diet Evaluation Service.
- Older horses also start to lose their ability to use amino acids to make protein that helps to maintain muscle. You may notice that as your horse gets older they start to lose their top line. Making sure that the older horse has good levels of amino acids and good quality protein will help to maintain peak muscle mass so they can continue to perform for years to come. Ranvet’s Topline FX is ideal for older horses as it has concentrated levels of plant based essential amino acids and is safe and easy to digest for older horses.
- Older horses also begin to lose their ability to digest starches efficiently. This may cause them to lose weight. Adding more non starch based energy to the diet such as hay or oil can be beneficial. Oil is particularly beneficial for older horses as it is easy to digest, non-heating, and helps to maintain a healthy immune system.
- You may also notice that your older horse will gain weight and become obese instead of getting thinner as their metabolism begins to slow down. They may not be as active in the paddock as they used to be so they may start to gain weight. These horses will need to have their energy levels decreased in the diet while still maintaining good levels of vitamins, minerals, and protein. Ranvet’s Ration Balancer is a great way to boost the vitamin and mineral levels in a horse’s current diet if the amount of feed must be decreased. This is important if you feed a mixed feed and are no longer feeding the recommended rate on the bag.
- As your horse ages you may notice that they take longer to recover from the same level of activity that they used to do easily. They also start to lose their ability to thermoregulate (take longer to cool down), this is especially important for endurance horses. You may need to alter their training and recovery times to suit their changing metabolism.
- This is also a very good time to look at adding a joint supplement such as Ranvet’s Flexi Joint Plus to their diet as joint supplements work even better as a preventative than they do as a cure once joint degeneration begins. Ranvet’s Flexi Joint Plus also contains the benefits of Vitamin C and Curcumin which are both strong antioxidants.
Other Management Considerations:
- Having a regular deworming program is vital for older horses. We recommend having faecal egg counts done with your veterinarian to make sure you are using the most appropriate treatments.
- Regular blood tests to rule out metabolic disorders such Cushing’s Disease (PPID) is important. This will also check to make sure they have healthy kidney and liver functions as these will start to deteriorate with age.
- Keep a close eye on horses in a herd situation. As horses get older they may lose their place in the pecking order and become stressed. This is particularly important to help maintain healthy and happy brood mares.
- Regular evaluations from a qualified farrier to maintain optimum hoof health.
- Introducing pre and/or probiotics to help maintain a healthy gut flora. Ranvet’s Sea-5 Paste is an excellent organic prebiotic and helps to boost immune health in older horses.
In Conclusion your older horse may not need any changes to their diet or regime, but it is certainly a very good idea to start investigating if they do need any extra assistance. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.