Most horse owners understand the trials and tribulations of horse ownership. First, the challenge of finding a suitable horse, then the ongoing equestrian workouts and horse riding lessons. And, if you're lucky, the thrill of being involved in horse sports and games.
However, just like us, horses start showing signs of physical degeneration as they age. They may develop arthritis, become less agile, and even lose their vision. These changes aren’t always obvious until they happen.
Here are 10 things to look for and how to help your horse thrive into their golden years.
1. Changes in Performance
If you are involved in horse competition, it's likely that the first place you'll notice your horse's advancing years is in ridden work. Perhaps he's no longer as fast against the clock when jumping; maybe you can no longer get quite the same bend. All you know is that something is not the same.
At this point, you can help tremendously by getting proactive about your horse's health. Identifying what might be causing problems will help you adjust your horse care routine. Sometimes, the solution can be as simple as switching to warmer blankets in winter or providing thicker bedding for a horse who'd like to lie down to sleep rather than stand for long periods of time.
2. Weight Loss
Another obvious sign of aging is unexplained weight loss. You may question your regular horse nutrition plan if the feed your horse once thrived on no longer keeps her in peak condition.
When determining a feeding ratio for your horse, a horse weight chart or horse weight calculator will give you a good idea of the ideal weight. If she continues to lose weight on her normal feed, it may be time to consider a senior mix. Should you see unexplained weight loss, seeking advice from a veterinarian would be our first point of call to ensure there is nothing else going on.
3. Arthritis and Joint Issues
Like us, horses' joints change over time. In some cases, arthritis can be the result of a previous injury. Other times, it's simply a case of wear and tear.
Fortunately, this doesn't mean the end of horse competition for you and your older horse. In fact, regular exercise is a good way to keep joints lubricated, as well as strengthen the joints and ligaments that support them.
Other ways of caring for your horse could include regular use of a therapeutic blanket, along with exercises for suppleness and flexibility. Should you need help for specific joints, there is a great range of therapeutic boots on the market.
4. Weakened Immune System
As horses age, their immune function diminishes due to changes in white blood cell function. They may become susceptible to illness and take longer to recover if they've been ill. Also, vaccinations may prove less effective in older horses.
This means you will need to take greater care that your elderly horse is not showing any early signs of disease or that parasite control is effectively implemented. Signs to look out for can include temperature spikes, runny noses, and listlessness.
5. Dental Troubles
It's well known that you can determine the age of horses by looking at their teeth. Horses' teeth continue to grow throughout their lives, allowing them to withstand the constant grinding needed for grazing.
However, with time, this growth begins to diminish until your aging horse may have trouble chewing roughage well enough to take nutrients from it. This is often the cause of age-related weight changes and other health conditions.
Regular dental visits are a good way to manage these changes and seek advice from an equine nutritionist.
6. Vision Impairment
If you've suddenly noticed your usually bombproof horse spooking at objects or backing off from jumps that were never a problem before, it could be due to changes in vision. As prey animals, vision loss can be unsettling for horses, not to mention for you, if you're coping with horse riding injuries due to unscheduled dismounts!
Take heart that this is likely not from horse riding mistakes but from the fact that your horse is trying to adapt to perceived changes in surroundings.
7. Muscle Loss
Muscle is another thing that degenerates over time. Diminished topline, less defined hindquarters, and narrower shoulders are all age-related changes. These issues will affect tack fit as well as performance.
This could impact your horses’ ridden work as you learn to help your horse find new ways to use her body efficiently. You may need to adjust your equestrians’ work routine to add more flexibility exercises to help your horse move more freely. Obviously, there is a limit to the number of years you can expect in the horse arena, but you can extend these by enlisting a horse chiropractor or physiotherapist and increasing attention to hoof and dental care to keep your horse feeling at his best.
8. Changes in Tack Fit
With weight and muscle loss, you will notice that your horse's tack no longer fits correctly. This will mean more regular visits from your saddle fitter as muscles in the topline begin to fall away or shoulders become less sturdy.
You can expect your aging horse to be far less robust than he was in his prime. Ensure that your saddle fits impeccably, and consider a gel pad or lambskin pad to avoid chafing.
9. Coat Changes
While very dense, shaggy coats can be an indication of a condition called Cushing's disease, in older horses, they are often a natural part of aging.
If your senior horse is growing a thicker coat that takes longer to shed when the seasons change, this could mean that she needs extra warmth.
If you're a competitive rider, you might find it frustrating if your horse sweats more heavily during horse riding training.
If you opt to clip, take care to keep your older horse blanketed when temperatures drop.
10. Increased Need for Expert Care
The sum of all of these issues is that as your horse ages, he will likely need more care to keep performing well.
Obviously, there is a limit to the number of years you can expect in the horse competition arena, but you can extend these by enlisting a horse chiropractor or physiotherapist and increasing attention to hoof and dental care.
Retirees also need extra TLC. While some believe that a retired horse can happily be turned out to pasture, this usually isn't the case. Along with regular equine care, an aging horse may need more supplementation and more easily digested feed than his younger pasture mates.
With the right care, you and your horse can enjoy a long and fruitful partnership together. Whether in the show ring or simply enjoying a happy retirement, your older horse can have many years of good health.
Contact Country & Stable USA for great tips and a full range of products for you and your horse.