How to feed old, senior horses
Danielle Nielsen | 28.07.21
Senior horses can continue being happy and healthy well into old age -provided of course, that they have the care and nutrition they need. Feeding old and ageing horses has become much easier with extruded and micronised feeds.
But which feed is right for your “golden oldie?” And how do you transition from a diet that used to work in the past, to one that works now for your senior horse?
SIGNS THAT AN AGEING HORSE NEEDS A “LITTLE EXTRA SOMETHING”
There’s no senior card for horses, or a magic birthday that labels them as old. Increasingly horses are able to perform into advanced years, thanks largely to better nutrition and advanced veterinary care.
Signs of age related changes may include:
- Slower recovery from exercise,
- Requiring more feed to maintain body condition (weight loss),
- Decreased performance,
- Loss of top-line (muscles across the back)
- Decreased coat and hoof condition.
- Less paddock-play/ changes in herd hierarchy.
As horses age, their digestive and metabolic abilities start to decline. This is why owners may see a drop-off in condition or performance. The horse is simply not getting the nutrition from its diet that it used to. Adding to this, are age related diseases such as Metabolic Syndrome, Cushing Disease, degenerative joint disease and kidney or liver issues.
WHY SENIOR FEEDS FOR OLD HORSES ARE A GOOD CHOICE
There are an abundance of complete senior feeds on the market, as well as supplements to support age related issues. But as every horse is an individual, their needs as a senior vary.
A senior horse that is still performing under saddle will have very different needs to a senior horse that is retired to pasture and expending less energy. It follows that a senior horse with missing or worn down teeth may require a feed that can be served as a mash. Senior feeds that deliver on these specific needs are an excellent choice.
OLD, SENIOR HORSES AND NUTRIENT NEEDS
Just because he’s not working as hard, doesn’t mean your horse’s body gets a break from its job producing quality cells. Hooves and hair continue to grow, even if there’s not an arena to show them off in!
Your senior horse still needs nutrients. The key here is that your horse now needs highly digestible nutrients. Age has a particular effect on the digestion of protein, phosphorus and fibre.
Whilst on the topic of digestibility, it’s a great opportunity to point out that digestibility is what makes a superior quality food. Two feeds can have the same amount of protein on the label, but if the protein is from different sources then the actual amount your horse digests and uses can be very different. Quality feed mixes use quality feed sources. So before buying a “cheap feed” take a look at the ingredients list. Or your old horse might be short-changed on nutrition.
FEEDING AN OLD HORSE FOR WEIGHT GAIN
It’s fairly common for an old horse to need more calories to maintain body condition. This is due to their decreased ability to digest and metabolize food.
If weight gain is your primary goal, then look for a senior feed that promotes weight gain as a key benefit. Specifically, hone in on the Crude Fat %, Digestible Energy, and Protein figures. You will want these to be higher than your horse’s current diet if you want him to put on weight. Following this, look for a weight-building senior feed that also ticks boxes for providing complete nutrition for overall health.
HOW SENIOR TEETH GUIDE FEED CHOICE
The state of a senior horse’s teeth really comes down to a lifetime of individual habits. Typically, as the years go by a horse’s teeth wear down and reduce their ability to chew.
A horse that can’t efficiently chew its food is at greater risk of choke. It is also more likely to waste food through spillage.
Some senior horse feeds are able to be wet down to a “mash” consistency. This is a fantastic option for horses with dental challenges. To create a mash, an owner typically wets down the feed for a porridge consistency. The food is soft and able to be ingested without excessive chewing.
A horse that can’t forage on pasture or hay due to its teeth will need more frequent, small feeds through the day to keep its digestive system running smoothly. A lack of forage is also going to lead to a lack of fibre. Some senior feeds meet the need for increased fibre by providing high fibre forage substitutes, such as lupin or soybean hulls.
Dental tip: Ensure your senior horse has regular veterinary and/or dental checkups. This will help keep his teeth in optimum shape and detect any emerging problems.
Consider fibre sources that can be soaked to a mash.
Need help with complex senior feed needs? Reach out to Mitavite for free expert advice specific to your situation. Your veterinarian can also assist.