Veteran Care


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Veteran Horse Care


It is estimated that about 20% of the horse population in the United Kingdom are horses over 15 years old. Most of these equine senior citizens can remain productive and useful for most of their lifespan with proper diet and lifestyle.

One year of a horse's life is equal to an average of three years of a human's life; thus a 15-year-old horse is equivalent to a 45-year-old person.

If either regular health care or a nutritious diet are lacking, serious problems may occur in the older horse. As they age, horses become more susceptible to infectious diseases, climatic changes, and the detrimental effects of parasitism. Body systems function less effectively, teeth wear out or are lost, and aging-related disorders begin to occur. The old horse needs regular attention to prevent stress and minimize these effects.




Loss of body condition is one of the most common causes of complaint from owners of older horses, particularly of the harder-keeping breeds, such as Thoroughbreds. Aged horses cannot readily replace weight losses and become more susceptible to stress and disease.

On the other hand, the older horse should not be allowed to become too fat, as obesity can aggravate arthritis, lead to laminitis (founder), and stress the cardiovascular system.

Causes of Loss of Condition

The two main causes of loss of condition are poor teeth and reduced digestive ability. These two factors are linked, as the horse must be able to thoroughly chew his feed for proper digestion to proceed in the intestinal tract. An examination of the manure will tell you if your horse has a digestive problem; the presence of noticeable amounts of grain and much un-chewed hay in manure is a clue that much of the horse's feed is passing through underutilized.

As the horse ages, his teeth become progressively worn, and once the hard enamel wears off, the softer dentin inside the teeth erodes faster and more unevenly. Teeth will be lost as the rooted portions become shorter and weakened from years of grinding feed. Broken teeth and root abscesses are also more common in older horses.

Older horses should have their teeth checked regularly -- every 6 to 12 months-by a veterinarian competent in dental care. The cost of good dental care is easily recouped in improved health and savings in feed costs.

Good Nutrition

Nutrition is the key factor in maintaining the health of the aged horse. As mentioned before, it is linked to the ability to chew and digest, but the older horse is also prone to decreased digestive efficiency in the intestinal tract. One needs to choose feeds that are easy to chew, highly digestible and made with top-quality ingredients.

There are few geriatric commercial feeds available, but one can select from the many readily available products to prepare a ration which meets the needs of the aged horse. It is extremely important that the best quality of feeds be used, saving a few cents on each bag of feed is false economy as more of the proper product will have to be fed to meet nutritional needs.

Older horses require a higher amount and a higher quality of protein. Also, a readily digestible source of energy that does not overload their hindgut with too much starch, and slightly higher levels of certain vitamins and minerals are also needed.

One can readily meet these needs by feeding the concentrate part of the ration in the form of broodmare or growth feeds. The other half can be made up of pellet concentrates of "complete feeds," or beef-pulp added feeds. Beet pulp is a good source of energy and protein, but should not make up more than 30% of the total ration.

Three additives useful to the older horse ration are water-retention laxatives, probiotic digestive enhancer and corn oil.

Bran and psyllium seed are two feed products which help retain water in the large intestine and these facilitate the proper flow of feed through the gut. If the fluid balance in the hindgut is not maintained, the gut contents dry out and can cause impaction, resulting in life-threatening colic. Feeding bran mashes, adding a pound of bran to daily feed or feeding psyllium seed (one teaspoon daily), will help prevent impactions, especially in the winter when horses often drink less water.

Probiotic digestive enhancers include various products which contain lactobacillus or other "digestive" bacterial cultures, yeast cultures, or digestive enzymes. These enhance the intestines' ability to digest feeds,, often improving weight gain, reducing feed intake and making the horse more energetic.

Corn oil has 2.225 times the energy of an equivalent weight of corn. Oil is almost totally digestible from the small intestine, so it does not promote colic or make the horse "high" as heavy grain diets can do. One cup of corn oil can replace two pounds of sweet feed in a ration, and horses generally find it very palatable. It also puts a gloss on the horse's coat.

To formulate a proper ration for your aged horse, consult with your feed nutritionist or your veterinarian. Every horse is an individual and needs an individual ration plan.

Good care of your aging horse will ensure many more years of active companionship and reward him for all the years and miles already given you .

Needs of the Older Horse

  • Adequate shelter from weather.
  • Regular de-worming every 60 days.
  • Regular vaccinations.
  • Exercise.
  • Supply of fresh, clean water.
  • Access to hay.
  • Freedom from stress.
  • Annual health exam by veterinarian.
  • Regular examination hoof trimming and care.
  • Daily examination and love.

Signs of teeth problems are when the horse:

  • holds head sideways while chewing
  • drops feed from the mouth
  • hay wads drop from mouth
  • exhibits pain when drinking cold water
  • has foul odour from mouth
  • develops "bit-fighting" head-tossing or other behavioural irregularities

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